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Rosa Lee


The book gRosa Leeh by Leon Dash touched me very deeply. I was shocked by how much adversity and affliction she had to bear by slipping deeper and deeper into the vicious circle of drugs, prostitution and crime.


Rosa Lee`s parents were black rural share croppers from the South who moved to Washington D.C. in order to escape racial oppression, economic exploitation and segregation and to find a better life and work there.


But once in the city they faced barriers in housing, education and employment.


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During her childhood, Rosa Lee was given a hard time by the strong discipline of her mother Rosetta, which was usual for southern rural families during this time. Sometimes her mother would beat her up and slap her right in the face. She also made Rosa Lee responsible for all the household chores to prepare her for a life as a domestic worker. But Rosa Lee hated the idea of cleaning up the houses of white families.


Rosa Lee`s father was an alcoholic and there were times when young Roas Lee had to pick him up drunk from a bar and he would lean on her all the way home.


When he was drunk, her father beat her mother and her mother would beat her after that, so violence was just passed on.


At the age of twelve her father died from the consequences of his permanent alcohol abuse.


In order to look for love, Rosa Lee turned to boys in the neighborhood and got pregnant with her first child at the age of thierteen. Seven more children followed, most of them from different fathers.


She moved with and without her grandmother and mother from one low-income housing complex in Washington to another. There were times when there were as many as seventeen adults and children living together in one apartment.


Her criminal carrer began very early in elementary school when she stole the cooky money from other children. Later she stole clothes in order to look as fancy as the other girls in her class, after she was told that she was not as beautiful as them, because her skin complexion was darker.


That is an example for racism and colour consciousness within the black community.


Shoplifting became a routine to feed and clothe herself and her children and later, when she was a drug addict, to sell the stolen goods in the street in order to get money for drugs.


In this paper I want to point out and discuss drugs, prostitution and crime, some of the most important components that Rosa Lee brought and trapped her in a vicous circle.


Rosa Lee first got introduced in drug trafficking before she even considered taking drugs. She worked at a table dance bar and would sell drugs to some of her costumers in order to earn extra money. Later on she sold cocain and heroin in the street. One time she even used her five year old granddaughter as a drugrunner in order to distract attention from herself. By telling her ch she had to help Grandma so we both could eath (Dash, ), the little girl thought that this is a way of earning money for food.


After nineteen years of selling it, Rosa Lee finally gave in and tried heroin herself.


Patty and her friend, who were already doing it for some time, suggested she should try some because


gc the heroin would make her forget all about Luckyh (Dash, 111). By realizing that it really killed the pain she felt from her lesbian girlfriend dumping her, she became an addict.


Also Bobby, Rosa Lee`s son, got introduced in drugs, when he was in Vietnam. He even started an opium business over there. Back in the United States he was looking for opium, but his brother Ronnie introduced him to heroin instead. Ronnie himself started out with alcohol and a codeine-based cough syrup to help him feel more secure and adequate since he


gwas very shy and talked with a stammerh (Dash, 14). But finally one of his friends also introduced him to heroin. In the end, almost all of the familiy members and later on even the grandchildren are addicted to drugs. They often did drugs together, using the same needles and thus passing HIV from one person to another.


Rosa Lee even kept on doing drugs after someone injected her undeliberately into a nerve in her neck and she almost died from the consequences. She tried to get away from drugs and was on a methadone programm, but being around drugs all the time, living close to oil joints, having dealers on every corner of the neighborhood and having her children bringing drugs at home and selling them, it was almost impossible for her to stay away from them.


Another aspect I would like to write about, which is closely related to drug abuse and trafficking is prostitution. gILm selling sex for money for drugsh (Dash, 18), Rosa Lee told Mr. Dash forthright. When Bobby found out that his mother is selling her body, he just considered it as a way of earning money. gWhat she was doing, the prostitution, I didn`t see it having nothing to do with sex, it was about making money g (Dash, 16).


At the age of seven, Bobby got raped several times by a neighborhodd teenage boy who used to babysit him and his younger brothers and sisters. At the age of sixteen, he dropped out of school and also turned to prostitution, selling sex to women and men.


When Rosa Lees brought home her costumers, they used to have sex in the same bed Patty was sleeping in as a little child. One day one of Rosa Lee`s customers offered her extra money to also have sex with Patty, who was eleven years old at this time. Rosa Lee was struggling with herself, but finally gave in. This is how also Patty got involuntarily introduced to prostitution. They also selled their body in exchange for drugs of food.


One time even for the possibility to cook, since Rosa Lee was not able to pay the bill for electricity and got therefore cut off.


Since neither of the familiy members had a salaried, regular job, they lived on welfare.


Most of the money they received was immediately spent on drugs. Rosa Lee used to sleep with her money hidden in her socks or underware, otherwise her children would have stolen it in order to buy drugs.


One time, Rosa Lee received a big check and spent $ 14 of it to buy food. Later on, she discovered that Richard sold the food to buy crack with it.


It seems like the whole family just lived from one paycheck to another. Receiving this check is the highlight of the month, because everybody can just take off with his share of the money and buy drugs.


At this point I can understand people getting angry at families like Rosa Lee`s, because they see how their tax money is being spent on crack and heroin instead of on food, clothes and medicine.


gEven before Rosa Lee reaches the door to her second floor apartment, it flies open and Patty sticks out her head. gMama, have the checks come in yet?h (Dash, 5).


Instead of buying food, medcine or clothes, they would rather steal those articles in stores to satisfy their addiction with the money.


.


This brings me to the next topic I would like to talk about in this paper crime.


Rosa Lee began to steal money from her classmates in elementary school. She also stole change out of the pockets from people in church. Later on, she committed shoplifting in order to posses fancy clothes like her classmates. Rosa Lee also started steeling expensive clothes for her mother, because she craved attention and love from her.


Rosetta was very upset when she found out that her daughter was shoplifting and even slapped her, but she still kept the clothes Rosa Lee brought her.


One time, Rosa Lee took her granddaughter to a thrift shop and told her to try on a coat and then simply walk out with it. They were on their way to church and Rosa Lee did not want her daughter to go to church with an old and worn-out coat. The little girl was thus introduced into shoplifting as an easy and cheap way to get new clothes.


One day, Bobby and some of his friends broke into a music store and stole expensive instruments. They brought all the stolen goods to Rosa Lee`s and Rosatta`s apartment.


When Rosetta found out about it, she slapped first Bobby for stealing in the first place and then Rosa Lee right in the face for letting him keep the stolen goods at their place.


g Stealing every goddam thing. Bringing all this shit in my house. Your mother is no better than you. Doing the same thing your mother is doing.h (Dash, 18).


Crime is passed on from generation to generation and it is getting worse and worse.


As Rosa Lee and her generation gonlyh stole food and clothes, most of the time only from a thrift shop, her sons and daughters break into houses and shops. Patty`s son Junior, the third generation, got even involved into gangfights, guns and rape. The familiy lived a life in and out of prison. There were times when two or more family members were detained in the same prison. The family learned to cope with prison and drug-underworld life but not how to handle the regular, bill-paying world.


g In 187, Bobby was convicted of selling heroin and was sentenced to thirty months to seven and a half years imprisonment. In 18, he began another cycle of making parole to a halfway house, coming to live with Rosa Lee, and then purposely violating the terms of parole in order to return to prison. He acknoledges that he finds it difficult to negotiate life outside prisonh (Dash, 1).


Those are just a few aspects of the life of Rosa Lee and so many more cases like her. All those people are trapped in a vicious circle and hardly find a way to get out of it.


Only two of Rosa Lee`s children, Alvin and Eric, did not turn to drugs or a criminal life.


They lead a gnormalh life and both have jobs that let them earn enogh money to have a house and feed a family.


Alvin was always ashamed of living on welfare and hated especially the days when the welfare truck would come to bring them packages of food. On those days he would sneak away and hide so nobody would see that he belonged to a family, that depended on welfare.


Eric on the other side felt that it was disgusting that his mother shoplifted.


Both of them were very lucky to find two persons, who would help and support them.


In Alvin`s case it was a teacher, who would teach him how to read and write in extra classes and a social worker in Eric`s case.


I think a good ecucation is a very fundamental aspect and an important goal to achieve when you live in poverty.


The statistic which Leon Dash points out at the end of his book, clearly shows where one of the biggest problems is located at.


g Males make up more than 0 percent of Washington`s prison population, and the average male inmate is between the ages of eighteen and twenty-four, grew up in the city`s poorest neighborhoods, dropped out of school before completing high school, and reads just above the third-grade level no matter what grade he reached before dropping outh (Dash, 55).


Sadly, for those kids, it is very hard to receive a good education. In Rosa Lee`s case, she did not care if her children went to school or stayed in bed instead.


g You never made it a point to see that we went to school!h (Dash, 151), Eric blames her.


But even when they went to school, they faced racism and were exposed to teachers who did not care about them. One day, when Rosa Lee was in elementary school, she followed a boy up to another classroom and experienced a whole different way of teaching.


Miss Whitehead, the teacher from upstairs, cared about her students and tought them a lot. The teachers in Rosa Lee`s class did not care what their students did or if they would study or not. They would just stand in the hallway and talk to other teachers.


In my opinion, everyone should be able to receive a good education. If getting proper schooling remains a privilege of the upper class, because the only places where you can receive an adequate literacy cost a lot of money, it is almost impossible for poor, underclass people to escape the vicous circle. The rich will become richer, getting better and better education, obtaining well-paid jobs as doctors or lawyers and the poor will get poorer and poorer.


In some cases, it is even a vital necessity to be able to read and write as we also learn in this book. Simply because Rosa Lee does not know how to read, she is not able to follow the instructions of how often to take her HIV medcine properly. By taking too many of her pills, she almost dies.


In conclusion, I think that Rosa Lee is to blame for some mistakes she did wrong in raising her children, as for example not caring about them skipping school. She should have recognized by being an illiterate herself, how important those skills are and made her children go to school. On the other hand, there is also society to blame. Teachers in poor neighborhoods do not care about their pupils, they let them move up to other classes or graduate even though they can hardly read or write. This is just impossible!


By providing understanding teachers who teach properly to gghetto schoolsh it might be possible for those kids to escape the vicious circle and move into a world free from drugs and crime.





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