Pam was a spunky, outspoken, passionate, hard-working woman. At the time of filming she had medical benefits and a small amount of income from social assistance but most of her income came from her work as a personal support worker. She agreed to participate in the film as part of her advocacy for those who live in poverty and to help provide some insight into poverty for those not affected. As long as she can remember, she has wanted to make the world a better place. She described being 4 years old and telling her mother that when she grew up, she would “make a difference” for people who are poor and “save the world.” She joked that she couldn’t even save herself—but that didn’t keep her from trying to make a better world. Pam described herself as a “second-generation” single mom, with a teenage son at the time of filming. Her son’s father was 15 years older than she was, and became abusive once she unexpectedly got pregnant. She left him before her son was born and applied for social assistance to support herself and her son.
Pam grew up in the Kingston area with her mother and two older brothers. Her mother worked long hours at a dry-cleaning facility, leaving Pam’s two brothers to get her off to school in the morning and to look after her after school. At the age of five, Pam was sexually abused by one of her brother’s friends. This left deep scars, including posttraumatic stress disorder, a profound sense of powerlessness, and vulnerability to repeated betrayals in relationships with men and women. As she said, you feel powerless, you grow up powerless. You pick the wrong boyfriends, you trust the wrong people.
A “ nervous breakdown” in her early thirties was a turning point for Pam; she was hospitalized and received mental health care. She described that at this point in her life, everything was taken away from her, including her dignity, self-esteem, and her son, who was in foster care for seven months. During the hospitalization and during treatment afterward, she gained insight into the traumas that had affected her and how to start setting personal boundaries. Despite the trials and tribulations of her life, Pam has a strong belief in people’s inherent goodness. She fiercely defends the integrity, dignity and generosity of those who live in poverty and is indignant about the unfairness of the way that poor people are often treated, especially by the social services system. She is outraged by the inherent injustice of poverty, and the hypocrisy, pretentiousness, and mean-spiritedness she sees in many people who have money and education.
After her son was born, Pam took a couple of university courses but found herself “way out of her league” and felt like she was being looked down on. Eventually, after her hospitalization, she took a personal care worker (PCW) course through the local community college, to try to restore some dignity in her life by working and getting off the system. This left her $10,000 in debt, because she could not be in post-secondary education and collect social assistance at the same time. She was making small monthly payments, hoping to eventually pay it off, but recognizing it would probably take decades. Though she believed that education was the only way out of poverty, it was hard to see how she would ever find herself above the poverty line. She believed that society didn’t really care about poor people or helping them get ahead. Otherwise, as she said “the world would be more even and more balanced and we would have a lot more equality.”
It was intensely hurtful to her that her son swore he would never bother with a college education because he didn’t want to be saddled with debt like his mother. Pam felt that she had done the best she could for her son, and sacrificed her own needs to buy what he needed to fit in at the school in their upper class neighbourhood. But by the time he was in his mid-teens, she was very concerned about his rebellious and angry attitude, and worried that he was getting into trouble.
Pam volunteered regularly at the school breakfast program at her son’s school and she regularly attended meetings of the parent council. For her job as a PCW, Pam had several regular clients that she looked after, and she was proud of the work she did to assist them. Without a vehicle, she walked everywhere, including to her clients’ homes and for all her errands, including grocery shopping. Her inexpensive shoes never lasted very long and her feet and back always hurt. She was a life-long smoker, buying illegal “native” cigarettes, which are inexpensive because they are not taxed. While she knew they were bad for her health, she also used the cigarettes as a form of stress release and therapy. In 2011, she was diagnosed with lung cancer, which she vowed to fight. And she did, until she could fight no more. Pam died on 18 June 2013. Like her mother, she became the second generation to die far too young.