Prosper Waco, indeed, with a Fair Chance Hiring Policy.

More than 65 million American adults have criminal records, largely due to the boom of mass incarceration over the past 30 years. That means it is highly likely that one in four adults in Waco-McLennan County have an adverse criminal history that relegates them to second-class status the rest of their lives. They’re part of the one social group that we are free to hate, it is legal to discriminate against, and toward which we openly perpetuate “the feeling of being lesser than… a gut wrenching, self-worth-stealing experience,” as described to me by a young woman from our community.

All too often, they can’t get housing or drive a car, can’t find a job, are mounted with massive debt and lose much of their social support system. Often they cannot vote or serve on a jury. Locked out of society, their dignity battered and hanging by a thread, it is no wonder that many are forced back behind bars or into the shackles, whether literal or figurative, from which they came. Try as hard as they might to make a new life, the discrimination against them is legal and a lifetime of shame, derision and exclusion awaits. This is the world of the one-in-four Wacoans with a criminal record.

Those of us with the power to change things must act. Compassionately and reasonably, we must use our resources to provide fair chances for new beginnings for our neighbors and fellow citizens.

A Fair Chance Hiring Policy is one way we can act.

We must eliminate unfair and unreasonable barriers to employment for qualified workers with criminal records. One way to accomplish this task is through a Fair Chance Hiring Policy. Across the United States, more than 70 cities and counties, 13 states (from every region of the country) and numerous private businesses have embraced the opportunity to provide fair chances during the hiring process by removing the question on initial job applications asking about an applicant’s criminal record history.

A Fair Chance Hiring Policy would still allow for employers to perform background checks and discuss criminal record history with applicants. It would just push this discussion back to later in the hiring process, to a point where an applicant has been deemed initially qualified for the job. At this time, the employer can provide an individualized assessment of the applicant (as required by Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964), the applicant’s qualifications for a particular job and if the individual’s specific criminal history indicates the applicant cannot perform the job safely and satisfactorily.

Providing stable employment increases public safety, reduces recidivism, decreases costs to our economy, and saves taxpayer dollars.  A Fair Chance Hiring Policy enlarges the applicant pool and provides employers the opportunity to find more qualified employees.  In the 2013 Texas Legislative Session, lawmakers passed a law that limits the liability of employers who employ persons with criminal records.  Employers who hire people with criminal records also receive other benefits such as tax credits and insurance bonds.  The movement is a win-win-win-win-win situation.

We all win.

Waco-McLennan County must not just join this movement. It must lead it. We should adopt a city and countywide Fair Chance Hiring Policy that would not only provide people with criminal records a fair chance for a new life but also yield many significant social and economic benefits for our community overall.

Prosper Waco, indeed, with a Fair Chance Hiring Policy.

If you are an employer or someone with hiring responsibilities and you are interested in learning more, please email us. If you are a concerned citizen ready to advocate for those in need around these issues, please email us. You can also read more about these issues and proposals on this blog, especially on the Fair Chance tab and on days 13, 14, 15, 18, 19, 20, and 21. Our email is 40daysinorange@gmail.com.

Together with the McLennan County Reintegration Roundtable and its efforts to put former felons back into the mainstream of American life as well as Prosper Waco’s emphasis on financial security, education, and health for our community, the time is ripe.  Waco-McLennan County, let’s lead the way for fair chances for all.

Worship

“Authentic Christian worship is a disturbing event.  In worship, God is present among us, challenging us to recognize sin, embrace our enemies, transform our lives, and proclaim the kingdom in the world.  It is a dangerous, precarious, explosive undertaking.”

— Herbert Anderson and Edward Foley in Mighty Stories, Dangerous Rituals, p. 52

Join us for this dangerous, precarious, explosive undertaking every Wednesday during Lent.  We are not the organizers of this event, but we will be willing participants.  So, wear your Orange in solidarity and in acted out prayer for those who suffer injustice related to a broken criminal justice system.

You can buy a t-shirt for $12 at the Mission Waco main office at 1315 N. 15th St., Waco, TX 76707.  Call 254-753-4900 to check on availability.  We have only some XLs left until Wednesday, when we will get a new batch in with various sizes.  Also, email us at 40daysinorange@gmail.com if we need to arrange shipping for you.  We welcome support from anywhere we can get it!

Lenten services flyer

Orange again, sort of

Greetings friends of the marginalized!  Many have been asking me, but I am not in Orange again this year for Lent (more on that later).  Well, at least not the official Orange uniform of the imprisoned.  Instead, a small but growing group of folks here in Waco (and we hope beyond as it progresses) will be wearing orange T-shirts on Wednesdays (and perhaps other times) during Lent. The T-shirts look like this for now.

Fair Chance T-shirts

The quote on the front comes from my final 40 Days in Orange experience with Juan, as shared in this paragraph.  That’s Juan’s actual prison number.  He has agreed to share his story in the near future.  But here is my story with Juan:  “Finally, my parents are in town for the weekend so we went to a local restaurant for some takeout.  As we waited for our food, a couple of the staff mentioned that they had been reading about me.  I gave them my usual smile and thanks, and kept sipping my water.  And then Juan came up to our table where we waited.  He said he heard what I was doing and wanted to shake my hand.  He knew what I was wearing.  He had been there.  He thanked me.  I asked how long he had been out.  Two years.  And he had been blessed with a job at this restaurant since he got out.  Things were going pretty well for him, praise God.  But I could still see a remnant of that shame that we unnecessarily and without mercy place on people like Juan.  We shook hands again, he thanked me, I told him it was a blessing for me, and he concluded, ‘We’re not all bad people.’ “

Amen, Juan, Amen.

Let us know if you want a T-shirt!  Email me at 40daysinorange@gmail.com.  $12 each.

Our purpose is to advocate and build awareness for a Fair Chance Hiring Policy campaign for the greater Waco community and beyond.  We will be posting further details on what a Fair Chance Hiring Policy means and how it benefits everyone in the community.  However, a good way to refresh would be by re-reading some of the following links (see below) from last year, if interested.

As people of faith who follow a condemned criminal who provides chance after chance after chance for new life, we cannot keep silent about the dehumanizing stigma attached to those with criminal records.  When one of us suffers, we all suffer.  This Lenten season, please remember those who suffer, find ways to join with them in solidarity, and use what power you have to be a voice of grace.  In the end, isn’t this what Lent is all about?

“Are we a nation of second chances when it comes to those with criminal pasts?”

Janice

Kevin

Joy

George

Michael

Diane, part 2

Day 18

Day 19

Day 20

Day 21

Catching up

Wow, it has been a busy few weeks post-40 Days in Orange!  Trying to play catch up while still thinking about what’s next is a hard balance to find.  And to be honest most of what I have been up to is on the catching up side of things.  However, I did have the honor and privilege to write a guest column for the Waco Trib — “Are we a nation of second chances when it comes to those with criminal pasts?”  I will continue with some updates soon as we move forward with our advocacy for those who have worn and continue to wear the real prison orange.  And of course, email me at 40daysinorange@gmail.com if you want to get involved in any way!  Stories, ideas, commitment, questions, resources, you name it, let’s start talking!

Be Life in places of death!

Bittersweet

Greetings friends.  I have had several people ask me what it has been like the last few days, post-40 Days in Orange.  There have definitely been some sweet spots.  No more orange is pretty nice (see pics below for the official “shedding”).  However, I really don’t like having to pick out clothes everyday!  Having felt like I was on a marathon sprint for the past 40+ days, I gladly welcomed the rest the last few days.  Rest from writing.  Rest from explaining myself.  Rest from the glances, glares, and stares.  Rest from stigma.

And herein lies the bitter part.  I really miss it in so many ways.  My journey in orange blessed me in ways that were deeply meaningful and transformative.  I will miss those challenges that have made me stronger.  I began to understand things about Jesus’s story and about God’s presence among us that I had never thought of before.  All because I walked on the margins for a while, as one of them, the despised and oft-forgotten.  Even though it wasn’t real and I could explain myself and take it off at anytime, wearing the orange prison uniform gave me an opportunity to listen to the songs of the oppressed in ways I could never hear and experience as a white male with a middle-class, professional background.

Add to the personal formation the opportunity to speak truth on behalf of the poor and oppressed.  What an honor and a privilege.  Imagine a time when you were able to stand up for a friend or family member in a situation where they really needed you and couldn’t perhaps speak for themselves.  That’s what it was like for me.  The marginalized and imprisoned are like friends and family to me.  I love them dearly.  Their beauty and grace transform me.  I see how their afflictions often stand in the place for my comforts.  The least I can do is speak truth for them, about them, and most especially with them, any time I have a chance.  To allow for my “story” to point beyond to the stories that really matter, for those who truly suffer, was a blessing I cannot begin to describe.  I will forever be grateful for my 40 Days in Orange.

But I don’t want it to end.  It should not end.  The suffering of the poor and oppressed, the marginalized and imprisoned, the despised, cast aside, and dehumanized never ends.  Not in this life, at least.  So I have been thinking about, praying, and listening for ways to keep this experience alive.  I would gladly welcome your thoughts and suggestions.  Email me at 40daysinorange@gmail.com.  Here are some ideas from my community of support:

  • I will be writing a guest editorial in the Waco Trib to use my experience to highlight the need for jobs not jails and call for Waco-McLennan County to adopt Fair Chance Hiring Policies, in both public and private employment.
  • I can share a draft Fair Chance Hiring Policy with anyone interested in advocating in your local community for a policy that makes sense for everyone involved.  See Days 13, 14, 15, 18, 19, 20.
  • “You have to write a book”, I was told.  So maybe someone can help me figure this out!?
  • I would gladly come to speak with your church, civic group, community organization, school, or other groups.  I thrive on dialogue and believe this is the space where together we figure out what to do!
  • Connect with other advocacy groups already doing the hard work around these issues.
  • Keep wearing the orange?!  And keep blogging.
  • Start a movement of orange-clad advocates!?  This idea has been discussed with me by a handful of people.  We would need to really discuss the ramifications, identify our purpose, and be proactive in reaching out to the communities where folks join the movement.  If anyone is interested in joining this conversation, please email me at 40daysinorange@gmail.com
  • What else?!  Send me ideas!!!  Let’s keep the conversation going, the pot stirred, and the lived experiences of the poor and oppressed at the forefront of who we are as people, communities, and a nation.

    As My servant you will do even more than this,
        even more than restoring My family to Me
    And making the nation right with Me again.
        I will make you a light for the nations,
    And You will illumine them until My healing love reaches to the ends of the earth.    Isaiah 49

photo 1 photo 2

photo 4 photo 3

 

Day 40

Wow.  Last day.  Hard to believe.  What a journey.  And it ended with such a bang.  Are you serious, the New York Times?!  So blessed to carry the message of love and hope and life and redemption and beauty among the poor and marginalized as far as anyone will take it.

But I never would have imagined when I began this journey 40+ days ago that I would end it with a photo shoot.  Putting on the orange uniform, I never thought some of the last experiences would make me feel like a model.  Hold that pose.  Oh, that’s a good light.  Could you walk through that again?  HAHA.  Seriously, though, my time with the New York Times writer, Jesse Wegman, and freelance photographer, Dylan Hollingsworth, was another experience of this journey that I will cherish for a long while.  Two more kindred spirits helped spread this message of love and justice.  And both from very different backgrounds and experiences.  Yet we found ourselves at the same places, with the same desires for a better world, striving for new life for every single one of us.  Thank you Jesse and Dylan for sharing this journey with me.

But I have to admit, as honored as I was to have the New York Times cover this story, there were three other experiences just yesterday that made everything over the last 40+ days more than worth it.

In the local grocery store, photographer following me, I hear a “You just get out of prison?!” as I am reaching for the coffee creamer.  I turn to see Roddy standing there laughing.  So I begin to explain to him.  He cuts me off.  “I know what that is.  I have been there.”  So I tell him why I am actually wearing it.  I get to shake his hand.  He tells me some of his story.  He is now working with the formerly incarcerated.  We share our thanks to each other for doing what we are doing.  I feel most honored to wear the orange for my new friend, Roddy.

Later that day while playing in the backyard, I got a phone call from Homar.  What a blessing to speak to him in person!  This man is on fire for his faith.  He thanked me for what I am doing.  He shared that so many of the guys in prison with him and their families, from all over the place, have heard my story, and they are so grateful for my message.  I told him that it is the least I can do.  That it has been a blessing for me personally.  And most of all, that he is an inspiration to me.  Homar and Marie, overcoming bad choices, deciding not to let the consequences continue to steal and kill and destroy.  Receiving God’s grace, bathing in God’s love, has been their strength, the power to keep their family together, to wait, to hope.  The joy of the Lord is my strength has never been so real to me than after this most blessed phone call.  I tell him I love him, and to please tell the other guys in there that I love them and that there are a lot of people out here who love them too.

Finally, my parents are in town for the weekend so we went to a local restaurant for some takeout.  As we waited for our food, a couple of the staff mentioned that they had been reading about me.  I gave them my usual smile and thanks, and kept sipping my water.  And then Juan came up to our table where we waited.  He said he heard what I was doing and wanted to shake my hand.  He knew what I was wearing.  He had been there.  He thanked me.  I asked how long he had been out.  Two years.  And he had been blessed with a job at this restaurant since he got out.  Things were going pretty well for him, praise God.  But I could still see a remnant of that shame that we unnecessarily and without mercy place on people like Juan.  We shook hands again, he thanked me, I told him it was a blessing for me, and he concluded, “We’re not all bad people.” 

Amen, Juan.  Amen.  And that’s 40 Days in Orange.

Silenced…

Thad, silenced      Marcus, silenced     Don, silenced

Perry, silenced      Diane, silenced     Jeanne, silenced

Walter, silenced    Alberta, silenced     Scott, silenced

Mr. W, silenced     Homar and Marie, silenced

Curt, silenced       Federal Agent Smith, silenced

Janice, silenced     Kevin, silenced     Jeff, silenced

Joy, silenced     Danny, silenced     Bubba, silenced

George, silenced     Michael, silenced   Diane, part 2, silenced

Emma, silenced     Martin, silenced

Clifford, silenced     Adam, silenced     Carly, silenced

Ryan, silenced     Kristi, silenced     Clinton, silenced

Aaron, silenced     Lou, silenced     Josh, silenced

Jay, silenced     Joan, silenced     Naz and Hope, silenced

Eloisa and Nick, silenced     Noemi, silenced     Cynthia, silenced

Susan, Mr. and Mrs. Jones, Raymond, The Cruz Family, and…, silenced

Jesus, silenced

Martin Luther King, Jr., silenced

Gandhi, silenced

Oscar Romero, silenced

Countless others, silenced

We tend to silence the folks who want to level the playing field on behalf of the marginalized. And as we go, we take out the poor and oppressed with them.

You and me, silent.  silencing.  silenced.

But not for long.  Love wins.  Life conquers.  And they are LOUD.

Life everlasting has victoriously swallowed death.
Hey, Death! What happened to your big win?
    Hey, Death! What happened to your sting?

 

 

Honored, humbled, blessed

I was honored and humbled today to have an opportunity to speak on behalf of the poor and marginalized in the New York Times.  What a blessing to cry for love and justice, redemption and goodness for the imprisoned and oppressed.  Please read their stories.  This journey is for them.  Listen to their realities.  And may our hearts and minds be open to respond in compassion and reason and mercy.

And please share your stories with me at 40daysinorange@gmail.com.

Together let’s strive for the beloved community, one truly full of love and justice for all.

Good Friday

I shared this homily with my faith community earlier this week.  The message and Way of the Cross, from 1 Corinthians 1: 18-31.  Fitting for today, this Friday that is as Good as it gets.  Just in case any of the rest of you are interested…

Wow, the message of the cross in an 8-10 minute homily.  They don’t make it easy on us preachers during Holy Week.  Well, let’s give it a shot.

When I was a young kid, I loved the story of Peter Rabbit.  Still do actually, and I have forced my kids to love it as well.  It was probably because I was a lot like Peter, mischievous and ornery, stubborn and troublesome.  And I loved it so much that I remember having dreams that I lived with a rabbit family in the cozy nook of their tree-root home.  Getting tucked into bed on the dirt floor, next to the warmth of my sibling rabbits, having just eaten blackberries and drunk some chamomile tea, I recall having the warmest, most comfortable feeling as I remembered the dream the next morning.  I belonged.  I was not actually a bunny in the dream.  I was myself.  Though different, I had a home, an alternate reality that was filled with love.

Please excuse my attempts at armchair psychoanalysis, but I believe this was one of my first glimpses into the new creation of God, the alternate reality our Lord invites us into, the message of the Cross.  I did not realize it at the time, of course, and I really did not need an escape from a bad home life – in fact I was deeply loved and cared for, much like Mother Rabbit cared for Peter and his siblings – yet what I saw was this different world where everyone belonged, no matter how different rabbits and human boys were.  And I wanted more of it.  Still do.

And here in Paul’s first letter to the followers of Jesus in Corinth, Paul invites us to see a different reality, another world that is possible.  In fact, more than possible, it is a reality that is more real than the world as we often see and experience it.  Paul’s rabbit home is found through the message, the word, the logos, of the Cross.  And it is the power and wisdom of God to us who are being saved, but foolishness to those who are perishing.

We see here that Paul separates our realities into two distinctly different experiences.  Both are ongoing.  They are simultaneous.  Neither has culminated in any sort of finality.  They contrast and contradict one another in ways that make them utterly incompatible.  We are confronted in our own existence by these two realities.  And it is the message of the Cross that ushers us into the decision room, one door to foolishness and death, the other door to power and wisdom and life.

Paul writes this letter to the people of Corinth, hitting them with the contradictory and confrontational message of the Cross right from the start.  Corinth, the ancient Greek city destroyed by Rome, rebuilt by Julius Caesar, and established anew as a colony for freed slaves and other poor folk.  There was no middle class, a few rich people at the top with most among the poor at the bottom, revealing the steep social pyramid among which the Corinthian church existed.  And the Corinthian believers were not immune from the quarrels, factions, debates, and so-called wisdom of the world that came with the deep consciousness of status in one’s society.  The passage right before this one shows Paul challenging the divisions in their church, and we see that much of it came from their chasing after the wisdom of the world, a wisdom that would supposedly bring them great success, accomplishment, and status.  Foolishness, Paul proclaims.  The world does not know God through the wisdom of the world.  Chasing after the world’s ways of belonging, through education or careers or connections or status through wordly things and associations.  Foolishness.  This way is the way of those who are perishing.

The true way to God is through the message of the Cross.  God’s ultimate sign that what humans reject, God chooses as God’s very own.  The Cross.  This form of capital punishment, the electric chair or 3-part drug in a needle injected not in a small chamber but in the middle of Heritage Square or on our front lawn, for all the world to see.  The Cross.  To shame and humiliate, to demean and dehumanize the executed.  The Cross.  A sign to the world that the imperial power of Rome and all those who align with them should not be messed with.  The Cross.  Rejection, humiliation, powerlessness.  Utter folly that this Cross could be anything but just that.  Foolishness.  No way could the Cross usher God’s people into the new creation.  God is wise.  God is strong.  God is…

But the foolish are those of us who think we know who God is and what God does and how God should look and act and be in our world, associating God with worldly wisdom and wealth and prestige.  For God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength.  And God chooses what is foolish, weak, low and despised, rejected by our world, to shame those who are wise, strong, elite, and accepted.  God chooses what we reject and makes them God’s very own.

Consider the leader of our faith, Jesus the Galilean.  A Galilean Jew.  A person among a people rejected, in an unknown region of the world, populated by a despised mix of races, cultures, and religious identities.  Scorned as Jews by the Gentiles, looked down upon by the Jews as impure, God came to us through a people of multiple rejection.  Here in this place and these people, God continued the scandalous story of God’s way of salvation.  Foolishness!  Nothing good comes from Galilee.

Consider the Cross.  How Jesus the Galilean got there.  The Way of the Cross.  This message, the Word that was with God, that is God, the Word that is Love.  Consider Jesus’s life, for we are called, chosen to follow his lead.  Born to humble beginnings, from a lineage of pagans and prostitutes, slaves and shepherds.  Belonging to a despised people – the ignorant and insignificant of the world.  Inviting a ragtag group of fishermen and loose women and tax collectors to follow him as he touches the untouchables, dines with sinners, hangs among the disabled and disfigured, travels and teaches among the lowly people of Galilee, even Samaria.  All the while revealing the truth that what the world has rejected, God chooses.  Confronting Jerusalem, the strong and powerful, the wise and accepted.  Despised ones, chosen.  Foolishness!  To those who are perishing.  The power and wisdom of God for those being saved.

Being saved and chosen, called to solidarity with those who suffer, to acceptance among the rejected, to scorn the shame of the despised.  The message of the Cross.  Foolishness.  Yet among the oppressed, called by God, we are all chosen not just to bring comfort to those suffering from rejection, but empowered to confront, transcend, and transform whatever in oppressor society diminishes and destroys the fundamental dignity of human nature, a hero of mine Virgilio Elizondo proclaims.  And he continues to truthtell, “It is through the ignorant and powerless that salvation will come to the learned and powerful of this world.”

Consider our own calling today.  This message of the Cross.  How the foolishness of God confronts our own follies as we chase after the world.  Education.  Status.  Wealth.  How our groups, our institutions, our systems, what we find to make us feel accepted, yes even sometimes our life as the Church, are foolishness and lead us into the reality of those who are perishing.

But we have been given a picture of another reality, a glimpse into the new creation.  Out of death comes life.  The message of the Cross.  In God’s weakness, we find strength.  In God’s foolishness, we find wisdom.  In what the world rejects, we find God.  We discover the new reality, this new creation, our new joy of being, where no one is rejected, there is no status or distinction, where all are truly one.  In our differences, we belong.  And it is beautiful.

May we gladly heed our calling, know we are chosen among the rejected, to follow the Way of the Cross in solidarity with those who suffer, living life among the despised, and confronting the world’s foolish, death-dealing ways with another Way.  And may the message of the Cross be the power and wisdom of God for those of us who are being saved.

 

 

 

Day 39

Please somehow share this post today.  And when you do, share your own “Poverty is ______” statement.  On this day to remember suffering, let us truly focus our hearts on those who suffer. And how that means we all suffer.  Please share…

Poverty is…

“Poverty is vulnerability to death in its crudest forms.  Poverty is the relentless daily attrition of contending with the most primitive concerns of human existence: food and cleanliness and clothes and heat and housing and rest and play and work.”  William Stringfellow, My People is the Enemy, p. 6

Poverty is the young girl lured away into a life selling her soul, and all for a pair of shoes and a new purse.

Poverty is the man with a criminal record trying to make something of his life, yet hitting wall after wall after wall of legal discrimination, all because of one mistake.

Poverty is not having a textbook to take home to study, or access to a computer to do your assignments, or a classroom with ceiling tiles, or real and equal opportunities to learn and grow.

Poverty is the semi-truck trailer full of humans being told they could have a new life, while they are really being sold, commodities on the market.

Poverty is the couple with a newborn baby who cannot risk complaining against the landlord because they have nowhere else to go but who cannot keep living in the terrible conditions of their apartment.

Poverty is the young person suffering from the illness of addiction but who cannot afford private treatment, never able to find the help desperately needed to heal, ending up with a rap sheet instead of a health chart.

Poverty is the mother who can’t get a job, can’t get assistance with basic needs, can’t leave the shadows, only because she is told she didn’t walk through the right door.

Poverty is the teenager being abused but whose family won’t say anything because of shame.

Poverty is the disabled elderly woman who has a landlord keep her $99 deposit just because they think they can, stealing a large amount of her fixed-income monthly sustenance.

Poverty is waiting.  For the bus.  For the doctor.  In line for food.  For a decent home.  For the legal aid attorney to call you back.  For a stable job.  For everything, wherever you go.  Waiting.

Poverty is poison.

Poverty is vulnerability to death in its crudest forms.

That’s why speaking and listening and staring intently at poverty today is so fitting.  Today, on this day that the poor homeless criminal Jesus was put to death so many years ago.  Marginalized and oppressed, Jesus the Galilean took a journey to Jerusalem, the Way of the Cross, speaking truth to power, becoming one with the poor, and giving his life away so that we all may have unending hope, experience deepest joy, and know the most powerful weapon in world, Love.

Yet, poverty is when those of us who are not poor never care to see the poor, the homeless, the criminal right in front of our eyes.  Poverty is when our comforts come before our neighbor’s survival.  Poverty is when we become blinded by our complicity with systems of oppression and accepted social “truths” that cast people aside to the margins of existence.  Poverty is when we dehumanize the other by perpetuating the myths about the poor.

May the truth set us free.

Debunking Poverty Myths and Stereotypes (from http://www.couleecap.org Community Concerns June 2013)

In poverty, the choices you have are extremely different from the choices of those with privilege and access to resources. Those with privilege and access to resources have the luxury to make real choices about their future. The crisis of poverty rarely allows you to plan for your future. Most people in poverty do what they have to do to meet basic survival needs and to help those they love who are also in crisis. It is hard to think about having a future when your family is hungry today.

People living in poverty have to make tough choices with their money all day, every day, just to squeak by, and every dollar they spend could land them under the microscope. There’s no room for error. And, unfortunately, there’s plenty of judgment to go around from others. Many people who do not live in poverty have a tendency to criticize the poor and blame them for their supposed laziness, lack of intelligence, or willingness to make bad decisions.

There are many myths and misunderstandings that fuel stereotypes that negatively impact those living in poverty in the U.S. Here are just a few of many myths related to U.S. poverty:

1. MYTH: Poor people are unmotivated and have weak work ethics.

The Reality: Poor people do not have weaker work ethics or lower levels of motivation than wealthier people. Although poor people are often stereotyped as lazy, two-thirds of people living in poverty work an average of 1.7 jobs; 83% of children from low-income families have at least one employed parent; and close to 60% of children have at least one parent who works full-time and year-round. According to the Economic Policy Institute, poor working adults spend more hours working each week than their wealthier counterparts.

2. MYTH: A huge chunk of my tax dollars supports welfare recipients.

The Reality: Welfare costs about 1% of the Federal Budget. The majority of those living in poverty do not receive government welfare assistance.

3. MYTH: Those who get on welfare stay on welfare.

The Reality: Of those that receive welfare assistance, more than half stop receiving benefits after a year, 70% within two years, and 85% within four years.

4. MYTH: Social mobility is possible by working hard.

The Reality: Education is the key to social mobility, not “working hard.” Our current economy requires workers to be more skilled than in the past. This is not our grandfather’s era where people could simply “work hard and pull themselves up by their bootstraps.” Today, an education provides the bootstraps people need for social mobility. However, many people who live in poverty cannot afford the costs associated with secondary education.

5. MYTH: Poor parents are uninvolved in their children’s learning, largely because they do not value education.

The Reality: Low-income parents hold the same attitudes about education that wealthy parents do. Low-income parents might be less likely to attend school functions or volunteer in their children’s classrooms—not because they care less about education, but because they have less access to school involvement than their wealthier peers. They are more likely to work multiple jobs, to work evenings, to have jobs without paid leave, and to be unable to afford child care and public transportation.

6. MYTH: Poor people have babies to get more welfare.

The Reality: About $60 per month is all that welfare recipients receive for additional children, and in some states the amount is zero. The average welfare family is no larger than the average non-recipient American family. Welfare benefits are not a significant incentive for childbearing.

7. MYTH: Poverty has little lasting impact on children.

The Reality: Research is clear that poverty is the single greatest threat to children’s well-being. Poverty can impede children’s ability to learn and contribute to social, emotional, and behavioral problems. Poverty also can contribute to poor physical and mental health, and poor self-esteem. Risks are greatest for children who experience poverty when they are young and/or experience deep and persistent poverty.

8. MYTH: Poverty is a minority issue.

The Reality: Poverty is not solely a minority issue. Poverty affects people of all races. Of the Americans living in poverty today, 42% are White, 29% are Hispanic or Latino, 25% are Black or African American, and 4% are Asian. However, poverty has a disparate impact on people of color.

9. MYTH: Poor people tend to abuse drugs and alcohol.

The Reality: Poor people are no more likely than their wealthier counterparts to abuse alcohol or drugs. Although drug sales are more visible in poor neighborhoods, drug use is equally distributed across poor, middle class, and wealthy communities. Studies have found that alcohol consumption is significantly higher among upper middle class white high school students than among poor black high school students. This finding supports a history of research showing that alcohol abuse is far more prevalent among wealthy people than among poor people.