by Leidy V. González
Published on February 13, 2019
At 6 PM, when there are no more classes, after-school programs, and it was time to go home, I was out on the streets. I needed a way to stay alive, so I forged bus passes to board buses every night. Even though I was doing something wrong, I never felt guilty. It felt righteous to sleep on the bus. It was somewhere to rest my agonies and sorrows, weep, and survive every night. Writing letters to momma kept me going, but the 720 bus was my lifeline. It took me to school or connected me to homeless shelters. It was always there for me when I had no other options.
In high school, I never told anyone my mother was sent to prison and after my father kicked me out of the house for being queer, I became homeless and lost control of my life.
One evening, the pain from starvation and menstrual cramps took over. I decided to get off the bus and shoplifted for food and menstrual products. I never got back on the 720 that night. Instead of sitting in the back of the bus, I was sitting in the back of a police officer’s car. Arrested for shoplifting, my life crumbled in front of me. I tried to explain to the officers that I was homeless, hungry, and needed pads. They didn’t care. To them, I was just a criminal. I slept in a cell and and woke up to be released back in the streets.
There are hundreds of people risking their lives to cross the border, for a chance at a better life. Often, I thought that the odyssey to this country was the pinnacle of my struggles. Beyond how traumatic and depleting it was to arrive here, surviving in this country is an excursion of its own.
Once here, my struggles didn’t magically disappear. I never tell mom about the twist and turns I deal with while she’s in prison. Nothing happening to me measure up to her pain of being in a cage. She lost her freedom and her children, for simply trying provide for us, in a system set up for her to fail. My mother is one of many victims of the prison industrial complex. My mother turned to crime because the system that incarcerated her gave her no other choice. Her brown skin made her a felon. A woman, undocumented, and a hustler to support us — the police didn’t see her as my mother.
My mother’s absence, imprisonment, and severe sentencing, is what I call the “pain to prison pipeline,” a social structure that directly funnels women like my mother and me to a cell. Our deplorable living conditions and traumas incarcerated us.
I never wanted to end up in prison. I didn’t want to steal food or pads. I didn’t want to sleep on a bus or find shelters in Boyle Heights. I didn’t want to forge bus passes. If I didn’t do all that, I would probably not be writing this. At 27, I still ride the 720 bus every morning, but now, it’s to get to UCLA.
My journey is not a success story; it is a testament to the U.S. criminal justice system that caused it. It is a testament to the struggle of many people who seek shelter on buses because any other option is a crime. It is illegal to be poor in this country. Incarceration and homelessness is a revolving door of arrests and homelessness, influenced by the government. The government, though, isn’t punished for their crime.
- Davis, Angela Y. and Cassandra Shaylor. 2001. “Race, Gender, and the Prison Industrial Complex: California and Beyond.” Meridians 2(1): 1-25.
- Nichols, Laura and Fernando Cázares. 2011. “Homelessness and the Mobile Shelter System: Public Transportation as Shelter.” Journal of Social Policy 40, 333-350.
- Nelson, Laura J. “As waves of homeless descend onto trains, L.A. tries a new strategy: social workers on the subway.” Los Angeles Times, April 6, 2018.
Leidy V. González is all that remains after all her family and her roots were taken from her. She was born and raised until the age of 12 by her grandmothers in Bogotá, Colombia. She traveled 3,475 miles and crossed many borders to escape war, violence, and abuse. She is an undocumented body that has lost her ability to move but keeps walking, keeps riding her bicycle, keeps living. Leidy is the first in her family to finish middle school, high school, and to attend university. Her passion is to dismantle the criminal justice system that took her mother away for 7 years and deported her to unknown lands.