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   TALKBACK | Letters from New Kensington

Walter Krasinski lives in New Kensington, PA, “in a house with three other mentally ill men among poor people whose lives were touched by Bill Clinton’s welfare reform.”

August 25, 2005
On 17 August 2005, two men were shot near the Drop-In Center for the mentally ill in New Kensington.
  The blood red thread stitches through my correspondence with you is our local shootings.
  The four year old black girl who was shot in the belly during a home invasion on Locust Street. And then learning that our mentally ill friend lived on the second floor of the Locust Street shooting building.
  The “4 Shot in New Ken” headline from the Valley News Dispatch last winter when I spyed the two Life-Flight helicopters from our kitchen window.
  When public intellectuals like Christopher Hitchens of “Vanity Fair Magazine” defend Bush’s war in Iraq as a battle against terrorism that we must embrace before we experience more terrorism on our own land, citizens of poor neighborhoods like mine wonder where was Mr. Hitchens when the four year old black girl was shot in the belly on Locust Street?
  The state police helicopters have been chasing thugs through our neighborhood for years.
  All of our neighborhood shootings remain unresolved: terrorists at large?
  Where does Mr. Hitchens live? At “Vanity Fair?”
  Dr. Cornel West is also a public intellectual. The following quote is from a chapter entitled “Nihilism in America” within his book, Democracy Matters:
  .... “And that is precisely what the historical alliance of the American and Soviet empires did together --- they defeated the fascist forces on the globe at a cost of fifty million dead, including six million Jews in Nazi concentration camps along with Gypsies, Communists, gays and lesbians.....” (page 55)
  Hitler murdered the mentally ill, too. We were unproductive citizens and a burden on the German war machine.
  To exclude the mentally ill from the world’s collective history, to ignore our existence as a class of people, makes it easier to disregard the current economic predicament among modern mentally ill citizens.
  Clinton’s welfare reform assaulted the mentally ill, too, not just poor Americans.
  In July of 2005, state Senator Sean Logan, a Democrat, presented the local Community Health Clinic with a $90,000.00 grant.
  The poor versus the mentally ill --- what an odd fight for funding?
  If Dr. Cornel West fails to acknowledge our historic sacrifice, as a group of people, during Hitler’s rule, then our programs will continue to be eliminated while ostensibly helping the poor with $90,000.00 grants. We don’t exist!
  Would a couple of Intensive Case Managers have helped Susan Smith and Andrea Yates?
  In early July, I sent my new woman friend, Jane, to the Community Health Clinic to treat a fully body rash.
  Jane had Gateway HMO insurance like us but her dermatologist had moved to Pittsburgh and she doesn’t own a car. Jane just gave up: poverty is like terrorism sometimes.
  Because her hot water heater broke --- why would the landlord buy a new one --- Jane sometimes showers at our apartment. Do you think Jane could shower at the Hitchens household, too?
  Jane showers at the homes of other friends, too, so sometimes the poor help the poor. But Jane often has to pay a fee to take a shower; it’s a film noir from McCargo Street.
  A couple of days ago, Jane visited our local psychiatric hospital for depression. Is it me, Hal? Shouldn’t Jane just take cold showers and, by damn, be a man like Karl Rove?
  Poor people aren’t trying hard enough.


September 1, 2005
  On 31 August 2005, at 9:00 A.M., Jane rang our doorbell, declaring that she needed bus fare to visit her children. (I miss Patty---her son was in a New York prison).
  “I’m broke,” I said. “It’s the end of the month.”
  “I have pasta but no sauce,” Jane said.
  “I don’t have pasta or sauce.”
  “Wreck some eggs, Jane,” I said, handing her eight eggs from our refrigerator.
  When I examine the Katrina aftermath from my hoipolli perspective, I realize that the torn Jane people in Katrina’s path were living at the end of their August paychecks: pasta but no sauce for them, too.
  And our “neighbors” who charge Jane a fee to take a shower will ignore civility during a disaster because poverty has diminished our humanity.
  A few days ago, a friend of Jane’s named Jim rang our doorbell around 1:30 A.M., announcing that Jane had been arrested, that he had given her $208.00 toward bail, and that Jane wanted me to give Jim some bail money for her, too.
  “I’m broke,” I said. “Go away.... it’s 1:30.”
  The next day when I saw her on the street, I told Jane about the bail scam with Jim.
  According to Jane, Jim was broke at the end of the month and was hustling me for money. Jim’s wife had died of cancer a few months ago and he was still crazy over his loss.... I let it go.


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