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 to help provide some insight into poverty for those who had never experienced it. As long as she could remember, she wanted to make the world a better place. She remembers that when she was 4 years old, she told 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 the hospitalization took everything away from her, including her dignity, self-esteem, and her son, who was in foster care for seven months. However, she gained insight into the traumas that had affected her and how to start setting personal boundaries. She is indignant about the unfairness of the way that poor people are often treated, especially by the social services system, and outraged by the inherent injustice of poverty.
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. She was making small monthly payments, hoping to eventually pay it off, but she expected it would take her 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. From her perspective, society didn’t really care about poor people or helping them get ahead.
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; while she knew they were bad for her health, she also used the cigarettes as a form of stress release and therapy. Sadly, she was diagnosed with and died from lung cancer before she turned 50. Like her mother, she became the second generation to die far too young.