I work at Vanguard Printing in Ithaca through a temp agency. I make $9.70/hour. On average, I work around 70 hours per week. Last week I worked 73 hours.
I was released from prison earlier this year. I take as many hours as I can so that I can pay off fines and court fees and save enough to move out of where I’m living now. I have a room in Groton that’s paid for by DSS. I share a kitchen and a bathroom with five other men. I’m a pragmatic thinker, but I constantly feel frustrated with my housing situation. Housing is only as good as you can make it with other people. I don’t get to choose who I live with, and the guys don’t clean up after themselves. The place is infested with roaches and all types of bugs.
I rely on the bus. It takes me two hours to get to work, and two hours to get back. I get on a bus that takes me to downtown Ithaca and then wait to catch another bus that will take me back out. I fall asleep on the bus all the time.
I think that a living wage would help some people to stay out of prison. When I was in prison, I felt like I was self-sufficient. I didn’t have to ask people for things all the time. When you come home and you can’t earn enough to take care of your own needs, it’s hard on your self-esteem—especially when you’re younger. You feel like you’re a little kid again. At that point, you need to be able to feel like a man. And it’s important for people to see progress in themselves—you need to actually be valued at work, you need to be able to save, you need time to better yourself. I would have liked to enroll in a pre-college program, but I didn’t have time. Low wages stagnate people who are trying to rehabilitate their lives. I don’t believe that handing things to people works, but I do believe that people need opportunities.
I think that a fair economy would mean a minimum wage that keeps up with the cost of living. I also think that transparency in hiring is really important.
If I made a living wage, I would be able to pay off fines. I would be able to move out of this place where I’m living now. I would sit down in my own space and be comfortable instead of cleaning up behind everybody else. I would be left alone sometimes and that would be great for me. I like my space. I’ve been surrounded by people forever.