Stepping Up

By Sylvia A. Harvey—The Investigative Fund—December 13, 2018—

As the incarceration of mothers increases in the United States, who cares for the children left behind?

clean dusting of snow coats the hoods of cars parked along Philadelphia’s West Norris Street. The trees are mostly bare, withered leaves buried in the corners of benches. This winter morning, the massive rust-brick complex, a low-rise housing development known as the James W. Johnson Homes, is serene. The complex, which stretches for blocks, comprises 522 apartments spread across fifty-nine buildings. The front doors form a confetti of colors—vivid yellow or faded blue, forest green or desert brown.

Shirley Johnson, seventy-eight, emerges from behind a crimson door, closing it and the steel security gate behind her.* Her white puffer coat is zipped up against the cold. The platform lift is broken again, so she inches down the stoop, gripping the iron handrail with both hands, until she is standing in front of her apartment, leaning on her walker. She appears even smaller than her true five feet. In a few minutes, the free shuttle arrives, and she’s off to the senior center.

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