Education

Paying For Books With 'Guns' And Fire

As part of our look at work-study, we asked the Day To Day team for tales of working through school. Edior Jason DeRose told us about being paid to go to church while in college. Below, Heather Murphy shares a rather different tale of making ends meet, that involved the occasional burning jacket and "machine gun."

My sophomore year in college, I coordinated an after-school program for D.C. teens who'd been in trouble with the law but "showed promise" according to their probation officers. Work-study paid me tax-free $12 an hour for this responsibility and, because, I fed the kids, I also got to eat for free three times a week.

Most of my charges looked older than I did (I was 19, but looked 15) and thus the power-struggle was intense. Just when I had things under control, they would do things like light themselves on fire. ("I knew it would only burn the stitching of the pocket, Ms. Murphy, I've done it before." I kid you not.)

I drove them home after class every night in very large smelly van with questionable brakes. With the exception of my one rich Romanian bomb-creator, my students lived in far-off sections of D.C. and Maryland with thick bars on the windows and a notoriously high crime rate.

A few weeks in, just as I'd convinced myself that the sheltered people of NW were wrong to say these neighborhoods were scary, a man parked in front of me walked to the back of his car, opened his trunk and pulled out a machine gun.

I was in neutral, waiting for one of my kids to go into her house. The man holding the gun turned around to me and smiled. He proceeded to pull out more guns and hand them to a number of companions that had suddenly materialized.

In the van, we were silent.

The man cocked the gun in the air and aimed somewhere, a few feet beyond the van. He pulled the trigger.

A crackle and poof, but it was only air.

He smiled at me again and he and his gun-slinging friends begin laughing, hysterically. The kids in my van joined them.

"Ever see an air gun, Ms. Murphy?" one of my favorites asked.

I had a lot to learn.

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