Losing half your income after a family member goes to prison

2020.09.27, by Anonymous

I recently lost a family member to a felony crime. They weren’t a victim, at least not in the common sense—they were the ones who committed a crime. We were a couple renting an apartment, and now it’s just me alone. That’s half my income gone—so now, 69% of my take-home pay goes to rent alone.

Rent for a tiny studio apartment with no stove costs $1300 USD here. Monthly I bring home $1800 USD, though that fluctuates depending on my hours; sometimes I bring home only $1600 a month. Due to my disability I am unable to work full-time; if I could, I would earn an additional $225 monthly, to a total of $2025. My (unstable) monthly income of $1800 leaves me $500 to pay for other expenses.

I am paid too much to qualify for SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly Food Stamps), and I do not own a car. It may be unsafe for me to drive due to my disability, unless you’re comfortable with a narcoleptic behind the wheel. So I was largely dependent on this family member for transportation, to and from work, doctor’s appointments, to the library, gym, park. Grocery shopping, haircuts.

I am lucky to be close enough to a grocery store to be able to walk there: 0.5 km, or 0.3 mi. I will have to take Lyfts to work; that is $13 USD one way. You can imagine the loss of income in just one week. So, despite the risk of grave injury to myself and others—and I am fully aware of how devastating a motor vehicle collision can be, being a victim of one myself—I will have to take up driving in order to afford living in this city, which does not offer public transportation during the hours that I work, has poor public transport infrastructure, and lacks sidewalks in many areas. I don’t want to kill anyone, but I also don’t want to end up homeless.

A single doctor’s visit costs $100, and I must see the doctor multiple times a year. If I stretch my medications thin, I can cut drug costs down to $34 a month. I can, will, and am fasting (read: starving) to cut down my grocery expenses. Until I get my driver’s license and a car there’s no point in telling me to go to a food bank when a roundtrip via Lyft/Uber may cost me $30; the foodstuffs provided by these banks cost far less than that at the store. When I obtain a car and license, I’ll have to pay for fuel and car insurance, which cost $100 a month for my driving family member. This does not include auto maintenance. From now on, I’ll cut my own hair so I don’t have to pay for a roundtrip to the hair salon plus the haircut itself.

The Social Security Administration does not recognize narcolepsy as a medical condition that automatically qualifies one for disability benefits, and I earn too much to qualify for either SSDI (Social Security Disability Insurance) benefits or SSI (Supplemental Security Income) benefits; the monthly income limits are $1260 and $783 respectively. Keep in mind that $783 is not enough to rent even a single room in my area, and $1260 a month would be $40 short of my rent.

I can no longer afford things like Netflix, museum admission tickets, coffee orders (not that I drink the stuff). Someone will tell me to cut my gym membership but that is essential to my pain management—I actually need the gym in order to function as a human being, lest I be crippled by nerve pain that cannot be treated pharmaceutically in my case (not that I could afford it even if that were the case).

My family member will lose many of their social privileges, such as the right to vote, job and housing prospects. Some may say that they deserve to lose those things because they broke the social contract. However, I have nothing to do with whatever crimes they’ve committed. And because I have no others to turn to for assistance, I am now at risk for homelessness.

This family member, I must admit, did not take very good care of me; I could and would argue that they’ve been abusive to me, or at least neglectful. But unfortunately, I needed them to keep safely afloat, financially speaking. I don’t know if they ever loved me… I have my doubts, and even if they did, that’s all for nil at this point. But that didn’t matter. I need to live.

When you think about the victims of crimes, even terrible ones, please also think of the devastated families they leave behind on the perpetrator’s side.

I want this criminal out of prison because I cannot afford living with a disability otherwise.

Several studies of people with narcolepsy have found that more than half have fallen asleep while driving, and over one-third have had an accident due to sleepiness. Highway driving can be especially difficult, as many people with narcolepsy find it difficult to sustain vigilance on long drives. Overall, it appears that people with narcolepsy have a roughly three- to four-fold increased risk of having a car accident.

Division of Sleep Medicine at Harvard Medical School