How a poor-man mindset leads to not only material poverty, but to crimes against yourself and others.
A few years ago I attended a Les Brown event, and after the event I had the opportunity to talk with him on camera about my concept of “To Be Poor Is A Crime.” I believe this to be true, not only financially, but in all the primary areas of our lives including physical, emotional, relationship and family, career, and in today’s virtual world, socially.
Les turned to me and jokingly said, “Poor people will kill you,” he then went on to discuss the habits and disciplines on how to develop a mindset for success.
That statement, “Poor people will kill you,” stuck with me. Maybe because of my experiences growing up and living in places like Jamaica, South London, England, Overtown, Miami Florida, and South Central Los Angeles.
Maybe it also hit home for me because of my internship with the Miami Dade Public Defenders Office, Felony Department, when on a daily basis I traveled throughout Miami Dade County visiting Correctional Facilities.
During that stint, I took statements from people who had been arrested and charged with felony crimes ranging from grand theft to murder. They gave me their statement because they could not afford a private attorney, and whatever they said to me was what the Public Defender would use to represent them the first time they faced a judge for their charges.
When Les Brown made that statement it resonated with me because it brought back memories of some of the stories I heard when I visited the young men and women who were charged with felony crimes.
It also brought back my own memory of an incident that could have easily put me on the other side of the bars giving my statement to an intern.
It was a Friday evening, and I had just gotten paid two hundred and seventy dollars cash. I had spent twenty dollars on alcohol and weed.
Four of us were living in the one bedroom apartment in Overtown. Myself, my friend, my friend’s brother who had just came down from New York, and the brother’s friend who was also staying there.
I woke up Saturday morning and my two hundred and fifty dollars was gone, every single dime. Also missing were my friends brother, and his friend. I felt as if they had taken my whole world. That two hundred and fifty dollars was everything that I had, and I felt as if I would never get it back.
There is an unwritten street code that says if someone takes something from you, you must make a statement letting others know that taking from you is not tolerated, otherwise people will just walk up to you, and take your stuff. Sounds crazy, but seriously they will.
With this on my mind, I walked two blocks to a guy who supplied guns to the neighborhood. I explained my predicament, and he gave me a Colt 45, which at that time was considered the most powerful handgun in the world.
I went to every drug spot in town looking for them. I walked the streets of Overtown for hours, and I couldn’t find them. I didn’t see them until about two weeks later, and by that time my friend had given me some of the money back, because he felt partially responsible because of his brother, and by that time I had calmed down.
I AM NOT A KILLER BUT DON’T TEST ME
I really don’t know what I would have done had I found them that morning. I do not consider myself a “killer,” but I might have felt compelled by the street code to make a strong statement.
Would I have killed two people over two hundred and fifty dollars?
I want to make it clear that this is not just opinion-based, even though there is no better gauge than having personal experiences.
Many studies and research have been done over the years linking high crime rates to poorer neighborhoods. I know income is not the only determining factor when it comes to crime; however it is a determining factor in causing stress which is a big factor in causes of crimes.
Studies have shown that there are higher levels of mental illness in poverty-stricken communities. Being poor leads to unusually higher levels of stress, especially in males who are heads of households. This kind of stress can lead individuals to commit crimes such as robbery or other violent crimes that they would not normally commit.
Being poor leads to an actual, or in some cases perceived, inferior educational system which leads to higher drop out rates, more kids on the streets, and joining gangs as a way to feel like they belong with other like-minded individuals.
THE LINK BETWEEN POVERTY AND CRIME
In my opinion, the biggest link between poverty and crime, is that crime offers to the poor-minded individual a way in which they can acquire certain material goods which they could not, at least in their perception, obtain through legitimate means.
Often these crimes often involve the use of threat or force, because it makes the poor-minded individual feel significant. The person who sticks a gun in your face, knowing that they have the power of life or death in their hands, immediately feels significant, which is a feeling that they probably have no other way of getting.
The perceived opportunity that comes with committing these crimes, which allow this person to acquire material gains and feel significant, actually outweighs the risk of getting caught. This is just one reason why we have career criminals.
MY MINDSET KEPT ME POOR
“To be poor is a crime, and the criminal act is that it is by choice”
That is a quote from my latest book. Being poor is not about money. Sure, finances play a big role in all our lives, and it’s easy to use the old cliché, “money is the root of all evil.” But money is a tool just as a knife is a tool, and the person who is in control of that tool has a choice in how it gets used, either for good or for evil.
Being poor is about mindset more than finances. There are people who grow up in poverty-stricken neighborhoods who never commit crimes. There are people who grow up in poverty stricken-neighborhoods who become doctors and lawyers, and scientists. Those people might have been materially poor, but they didn’t have the mindset of a poor person.
When I was living in Overtown and contemplated committing crimes, it wasn’t about the money; it was because I had a poor mindset.
I had a victim mentality. I felt as if all the opportunities were only for the other people, the not-poor people, and I was not one of those people. I started to believe the hype which came from the media, and the stereotypes, which the ghetto philosophers sold to us in the form of rap music.
There came a time when I had to choose whether to carry on the mental cycle of poverty that I had been spoon fed, or to choose to see life for what it really was; full of infinite possibilities. I chose to see infinite possibilities for myself.
I made a choice to change my life, because I wanted to do more, and be more. Every mentally capable adult has the same choice, just like me and you. We can choose to continue living life the way we have been living, or we can choose to make different choices which will get us different results.
That is why I have made it my mission to transform as many lives as possible through my books, my webinars, seminars and coaching programs. I want the financially less fortunate to understand that when they start the journey of developing their mindset, not only will they see that they do have the choice of getting what they want through legitimate means; they will start to create their own opportunities.
Photo: Flickr/James Willamor