Excerpts from Jasika Nicole's journal
On being poor:
But despite all the hand-me- downs I was wearing, despite the fact that we didn’t have a car and we had to walk everywhere, despite the fact that our power got cut off periodically because we couldn’t pay the bill, the most miserable thing about being poor when I was a kid was the fact that I was in the reduced price lunch program.
Have you any idea what sort of travesty this is for a kid to have to endure?
“While the rest of my classmates entered the cafeteria with their Cabbage Patch Kids lunchboxes, complete with bologna sandwiches tucked neatly next to their thermoses of apple juice, I had to go through the lunch line letting them place wads of pizza and French fries and green jello onto my tray until I could barely lift it. At the end of the line I had to face the cashier lady as she held out her hand for me to place the one dollar and twenty-five cents into it.
I would then whisper to her “I get free lunch.”
“What’s-that-huh-what-you-say?!” she would scream out at me.
And so more loudly I would have to repeat “JASIKA PRUITT. FREE LUNCH.”
Then she would look down on her Reduced Price Lunch List for my name, her glasses sliding down the greasy skin on her nose, and she would say “Oh uh-huh, FREE LUNCH … go on, then.”And oooooh … don’t even get me started on food stamps!
(OK, you can get me started on food stamps.)
… I know that now they have that savvy and user-friendly EBT credit card looking thing for people on welfare to use, but I remember when food stamps used to come in a book, and you had to literally tear the bills out of it. You could spot a food stamp from a mile away cause it looked like oversized Monopoly money, all pastel-colored and whatnot. I was beyond embarrassed about them at 14, when food stamps were a punishment unrivaled by any grounding I had yet to be faced with. No one wants to go buy late-night popcorn and soda with their friends on a Friday night with a fistful of pink money, and whenever my mother was in line at the store to pay for our food, I would mysteriously disappear as soon as she pulled out her color-wheel of stamps.
On Shel Silverstein:
Shel Silverstein belonged to me and I wrote pages and pages of things trying to be way better than him, and of course I never was, but it was OK because it made me want to read him more and more, to try and sop up all that goodness he had inside of him. I would read “A Light in the Attic” over and over again, and I would stare at his picture in the back of the book, the picture where he is baldheaded and sitting in a chair, and his feet and toes are silhouetted perfectly against the backdrop of his crisp white shirt … I thought to myself, “He looks kind of like my Dad,” which isn’t true, but I wanted it to be.Every word he wrote was ingrained in me, and I swallowed up all his rhymes, all those crude line drawings of kids and plants and toys and animals and mommies and daddies, and I had so many of his poems committed to memory that for fun I would recite them to my mother while she cooked dinner.
For more of Jasika’s journal entries, see www.jasikanicole.com.