Sometimes the light at the end of the tunnel can seem so far into the future that it is difficult to see the bright side. Angela, a Somerville vendor in her early thirties, is living through dark times.
In conversation, Angela does not shy away from talking about the mistakes she’ made and the difficult decisions she’ has to face. Her childhood was spent moving between a group home and short-term foster families because her mother placed her into care. “I never had a steady home” she said, and not all of her foster homes provided a good environment within which to live. The foster father and brother with whom she had the best relationship both passed away during the past six months. Sipping at her coffee, she looked directly at me, “You know, I’ve had a lot of deaths about me.”
Having survived two abusive relationships herself, Angela intervened when she saw her friend being badly beaten by a lover before Christmas. Angela, who was arrested for assault and battery, is now pessimistic about her future: “by the time everything gets cleared, I’ll be too old to get a job.” The week of her arrest, she was about to sign papers for an apartment, but that opportunity has also now been lost.
Angela started selling Spare Change News two years ago and found it “kind of rough” to begin with: “nobody knew me and I was brand new,” she says. Over time, it has become easier to sell the paper, but she suspects that more outgoing vendors probably find it easier to sell the paper. “I’m the quiet type,” she says. She objects to people who say that selling the paper is not a job: “technically, it is a job,” she states, explaining that she buys the papers and sells them for a profit. “It ain’t much, but it’s something.” The day prior to our interview had been a highpoint: she had sold eight copies and made nearly $20. Her earnings covered that day’s food and coffee.
Panhandling is more lucrative, Angela tells me. She has panhandled on the highways over the past five years and, on a good day, has made upwards of $100. But, panhandling is both dangerous and illegal, whereas selling Spare Change News is a legitimate form of work and Angela is looking for a fresh start.
In an ideal world, she would work with people, “regardless of whether it is in a group home setting, in a hospital or with the elderly.” Her newly acquired criminal record means that this is not possible in the immediate future but she has a natural affinity for this kind of work. During our conversation in Dunkin Donuts, a pale, thin man approached us and asked, in broken English, whether I was a social worker. Angela immediately took control of the situation, listening carefully to understand what he needed, advising him where he might find help, drawing a map and writing out careful directions, before double checking he had understood her instructions.
Angela has a young son whom she gave up to her sister: “I knew I couldn’t take care of him,” she said. She told me that she hopes he will come looking for her one day and, when he does, I know he’ll meet the same strong, kind, sympathetic woman who was so generous to both me and the man who needed help in Dunkin Donuts.