During Easter, Vanetta hides eggs at the Lodge for her children. Around the same time, one of her children pulls the fire alarm and Vanetta is ordered to move out by the next day. She immediately begins calling every apartment available. Crystal, meanwhile, has made a new connection with a woman called Patricia, whom she has started calling “Mom.” Vanetta moves in with her sister Ebony, but hopes she won’t have to stay long. Vanetta goes to the hearing of D’Sean, the father of one of her boys. She loves D’Sean, and is horrified when, during his hearing, calls she made when he was being violent with her are cited as evidence against him.
Though it is not the main subject of the book, the mistreatment of domestic violence victims at the hands of the criminal justice system surfaces over and over again. This indicates that domestic abuse plays a far greater role in poverty, eviction, and housing issues than we might assume. Such a correlation becomes even more clear when we recall that women experience eviction at higher rates than men.
Crystal’s friendship with Patricia does not last long; it ends explosively when Crystal gets into a fight with Patricia’s teenage daughter. The conflict turns violent, and Crystal spends the night in the hospital. Vanetta and Crystal are approved for a small, decaying apartment which, to Vanetta’s joy, has a bathtub. Although the apartment is on a dangerous block, they decide to take it. Soon after they move in, Crystal has a fight with someone in the apartment, pushing her through a window. Crystal leaves and Vanetta pays for the window repair. After only a few days, Child Protective Services comes looking for Vanetta, who suspects Crystal has put them onto her as an act of revenge.
Crystal undoubtedly does have a kind and selfless side, but she is also a chaotic, volatile, and conflict-prone presence. For people like Vanetta who are at high risk of losing their children, being around Crystal is a liability. Moreover, Crystal’s short temper means that she is unlikely to successfully obtain housing for any sustained period. Crystal is in great need of mental health treatment, but without a stable home she is unlikely to receive it—and so the cycle continues.
In preparation for the CPS visit, Vanetta buys a used stove and refrigerator and stocks the apartment with food. The morning of her hearing, she and her eldest son, Kendal, rehearse the plan for what will happen if she is put in jail. Vanetta’s three kids will live with Ebony, and will “stick together” and obey their aunt. During the hearing, the prosecution argues that Vanetta has better circumstances than many people they see pulled in for similar crimes, while her defense emphasizes that the crime was committed out of desperation. Vanetta herself expresses her remorse and asks for mercy for her children’s sake.
It is striking that the legal argument over Vanetta’s crime hinges on whether she had any agency in committing the robbery, or whether circumstances “forced” her to do it. Of course, some would argue that no one is forced to do anything and that we are responsible for all our actions, no matter the circumstances. On the other extreme, some believe that our actions are completely determined and we have no free will at all.
The judge acknowledges that Vanetta was in difficult circumstances during the time the robbery took place, and comments that if anything, Vanetta’s circumstances are actually worse now. The implication is that if Vanetta’s crime is to be blamed on poverty, she may well commit more crimes in the future. He sentences Vanetta to 81 months in prison. She waves goodbye to Kendal with tears streaming down her face.
Disturbingly, the judge takes the defense’s plea for leniency and spins it into a reason for Vanetta to be put in jail. The judge expresses little sympathy or hope that Vanetta won’t commit another crime, instead only focusing on the apparent risk she poses to the world.
Crystal keeps getting into fights with people at her church and thus switches to a new one. She has been sleeping with friends, in the hospital waiting room, in the Amtrak station, or on the streets for the past few months, but still basically never misses a church service. She has also been cut off from SSI, meaning that food stamps are now her only source of income. In desperation, she has turned to sex work.
It is of course possible to blame Crystal’s housing problems on her own erratic behavior. At the same time, if Crystal had access to stable housing alongside mental health treatment then she would have a real chance of flourishing.