In this excerpt, Sheila decides to register for Workfare instead of heeding the warnings of her son, Michael.
“Mom, the whole focus of my work right now is to stop Black people from registering for Workfare, and get them to safety.” Michael was desperately trying to convince his mother not to go and register for Workfare. “There is no way I will let my own mother do this.”
“Son, you don’t have to worry about me. It’ll be fine. My position is a government job, and we are on the exempt list. I have all the documentation I need. Remember, your mother is nobody’s fool.”
“I know that, believe me. But I also know this president is wicked and racist, and this is his program… his baby. I watched them drag people away all day, every day. I also heard that they treat people bad in those Workfare Centers – overcrowded and filthy. It doesn’t look like they are doing any training in those places. Just stuffing people and storing them like animals.”
“And where are you hearing this from? Those REACH people? Who are they really, anyway? You sure they don’t have a secret agenda or something?” Sheila asked skeptically.
“They are a whole organization of people who understand what Earl and his Workfare program really means for Black people. They are only confirming what I have been saying this whole time. This is do or die time for Black people, Mom.”
“Michael, I know you worried, but I am gonna be alright. I just need to go down and get my registration card tomorrow.”
“Well, I already see that I can’t talk you out of it. At least let me go down there with you, just in case.” Michael had enough of these discussions with his mother over the years to know exactly when continuing to debate would be fruitless.
“Alright, since you don’t have anything better to do with your day, I am leaving work around 2:00 and heading straight there afterwards.” Sheila also knew if Michael made up his mind to come, he would anyway. “You staying for dinner?”
“Staying for dinner? What? I came here for dinner!” Michael laughing as he begins washing his hands over the kitchen sink.
“Well, help yourself. I just took the meatloaf out of the oven. It’s still hot.” Sheila enjoyed cooking for friends and family, but took particular joy in feeding Michael any chance she could get. She frequently commented on how thin he was looking, and would always ask, ‘Are you eating alright, boy?’
“Yes, ma’am. I see you added the scotch bonnet peppers, too!” Michael noted as he excitedly cut into the meatloaf.
“Yeah, it’s now a standard part of the recipe. I got to warn people, though, that it’s a little spicy!”
“Mmmmmm! Yeah, that extra spice just takes it over the top!” Michael takes a bite and savors it. “I have been dreaming about this for a minute.”
The next day after work, Sheila waited near the registration table for Michael. She decides to text him. ‘About to register. You still coming?’
Michael immediately responded. ‘Almost there. Traffic thick.’
Sheila stood and waited for five more minutes and then responded. ‘Going to register now. It will be fine. See you when you get here.’
‘I am almost there, Mom. Just wait.’ Sheila did not see that last text as she started her walk to the registration tables. There were no lines at that moment, and she was able to sit down at a table across from a young female Workfare Administration processor. She gave another glance to see if Michael made it. Nothing.
“Hello.” The Workfare processor greeted Sheila with a bright smile on her face. “Can I see your driver’s license please?”
“Hello, and yes.” Sheila reached into her bag for her wallet and packet of documents. She handed her the driver’s license. “I have all my documents right here.”
“Thank you, ma’am. One second.” The processor busily typed Sheila’s information into the computer. “Let’s see what we have here.”
Sheila opened the packet and pulled out a letter from her boss on State of New York letterhead. She handed it over to the processor. “This right here shows that my position exempts me from Workfare.”
The processor took the letter from her, and with her eyes already refixed to the computer screen, just placed it on the table in front of her. “Let’s see what we have here.” She repeats, clicking a few keys.
“Okay, I do see where you have an assignment request with the Motor Vehicles Department, but it doesn’t say that you are exempt from the training program. Let me see here.” She continued to type and stare at the screen. Sheila, on the other hand, was starting to feel restless, and perhaps a bit less confident than when she spoke with Michael.
“What do you mean?” Sheila asked, tired of her staring at the screen and typing.
“Can I see that letter again?” The processor asked.
“Of course.” Sheila handed the letter over, regaining a bit of the confidence she lost.
The processor looked at the letter and the screen, and then back at the letter. “I am sorry, but I will need to call my manager over. I haven’t handled one of these cases before.” She got up and walked over to another lady at an adjacent table. As they sat typing in her information and whispering while they stared at the screen, Sheila Dobson wore a look of deep concern on her face, her heartbeat getting louder and faster with each moment. After several minutes that seemed like an hour, both women came over to the table.
“I finally figured out what the story is, with my manager’s help, of course!” She smiled, looking back to her manager, who returned the smile. She continued, “Although you do work for a State in an exempt position, you are required to participate in the training program because you are a recipient of government assistance. I…”
Sheila interrupted. “What do you mean government assistance? I have worked for the State for 30 years!” She raised her voice in anger.
“You received mortgage assistance as part of the SCALE program, and still owe over two hundred thousand dollars on the loan. SCALE recipients are specifically qualified in section 296 of the Workfare Act.”
“This is crazy. You are crazy. I am paying my mortgage every month with the salary that I earn. That is not assistance.” Sheila’s loudness drew the attention of the WAs, and two began walking over. “Check it again.”
“I did, ma’am. And my manager did as well. You have to complete the training program, but you do have a preferred assignment back to your government agency.” The processor explained in a tone so matter-of-factly that it only made Sheila’s responses sound angrier than they were.
“Are you the manager? Can you read the letter from the Director of the Motor Vehicles department stating my position is exempt and that I am essential to the operation? What about that?” She pleaded to review the case for any appeal or review process. Anything that would put her life back in order.
“We did review that. Unfortunately, the director has no jurisdiction over the laws and the Administration’s procedures. You can file an appeal with the Administration. However, you must do so from within the training program.”
“I have a job. Can’t you read? Why would I need training to do my own job? A job I have been doing for 30 years!” She caught herself yelling, and toned her voice down midway through. “I don’t need no training.”
“Ma’am, I didn’t create the laws. I just have to follow them. Unfortunately, you do as well.” She nodded at the WAs who stepped closer to Sheila.
Sheila saw this and eyed her chance to exit the situation. She collected her documents and began to stand. “I have to talk to my boss and figure out what we can do. I will be back.”
“Sorry ma’am, but you have to come with us.” A WA grabbed her arm on either side. She violently pulled her arm away from them, but they just grabbed her again, only more firmly. They began to lead her towards the building.
“Get your hands off me! Stop! Help!” She screams as she felt her feet no longer on the ground. No longer in control of her movements.
At the same moment, Michael hurriedly parked his car, looking ahead towards the registration tables. He recognized his mother just as the WA grabbed her. Michael was about 50 yards away from them, but covered it quickly. He sprinted full bore to his mother as they carried her away against her will…