I know firsthand how the lottery manipulates people in despair

I’ve been thinking a lot about hope and despair lately. For some reason the two themes keep coming up in my life and in the news. Like last week I had to face one of my top four fears: My ancient car was slipping too far away from being “stickerable” for me to be able to keep her on the road.

I know it sounds crazy that life as a mom in Maine without a car is one of my top fears, but it is. It also sounds elitist because I know there are many single parents out there trying to navigate life without a car, but I just don’t know how they do it. Most places in Maine have minimal public transportation or otherwise affordable transit.

Unless you happen to live right near a grocery store, the doctor’s office, and any other organization that families need to access, it’s hard. Especially in the winter. There have been a couple times I’ve had to leave my car for repairs for a day or two, and just doing that totally freaked me out. So the thought of having to replace my car when I couldn’t afford to do so yet was despair slapping me in the face.

When you’re poor or anywhere near the brink of poverty, the despair that comes with poverty is as problematic as the lack of resources itself. I know that doesn’t make sense on the surface, but people who have been there know exactly what I mean. Despair wears you down, mentally and physically, an unbelievably strong negative force during already challenging times.

So in my despair, I went to put some gas in my un-stickered car, trying to come to terms with my reality. I knew I had no viable plan for replacing her other than to keep driving her during those unavoidable moments, while I pretended I could come up with a plan. While I waited in line to pay, I saw all the scratch lottery tickets, more than 20 glistening in their plastic case that was larger than the two cash registers combined.

The most sparkly ones were priced at $25 each. I didn’t even know you could buy a $25 scratchy.

Maine State Lottery scratch tickets are shown in this 2013 file photo. (Gabor Degre | BDN)

Maine State Lottery scratch tickets are shown in this 2013 file photo. (Gabor Degre | BDN)

In that moment of hopeless despair, I found myself thinking about the very thoughtful three-piece study done by the Maine Center for Public Interest Reporting. It looked at our state-run lottery, the demographics of its most frequent users, and the ethics and profit behind it all. The exclusive analysis showed that “people in Maine’s poorest regions spend as much as 200 times more per person than those in wealthier areas.”

In that moment I totally understood why. The idea that one of those tempting pieces of paper could get me $500 closer to a car was alluring for a split second. Thank goodness for the impulse control that enabled me to process the reality that, most likely, a scratch ticket would only get me $1 to $25 further away from a car.

But finding impulse control and thinking carefully isn’t easy from a place of despair.

It got me thinking that poor Mainers in those regions don’t need state-sponsored exacerbation. They don’t need, I dare say, manipulations of their despair. What poor Mainers do need is for the state to find ways to economically revitalize these communities, and to ensure residents have access to opportunity and don’t go hungry. The state’s role needs to be one of hope, not despair.

And there are signs of hope out there for our state and we, its citizens, to support.

I was deeply moved by the response I received to a post about a school nutrition program that enables entire student bodies to eat breakfast and lunch for free. Not only did I hear about interest in this program spreading, but I heard about the many wonderful things people in districts all over Maine are doing on a grassroots level to address the hunger of their students.

I was thrilled to read about The Good Shepherd Food Bank acquiring a larger warehouse space in Hampden. The new warehouse is the former location of the BDN’s printing operation, and the president of the food bank acknowledged the “leadership of Bangor Daily News and the generosity of the Warren family” as a significant part of the acquisition happening. It’s another wonderful example of people coming together to address dire needs as an investment in community.

As is the news that Our Katahdin is still moving forward with its plan to bring investment capital to the Millinocket region. I’m a big fan of the Our Katahdin platform. It has great potential because it assumes that hope and potential mean nothing in economic revitalization without capital. Talking and generating ideas is great, but capital makes things happen.

Capital and strategies. There’s hope on the strategic front, too. A Harvard report commissioned by the Maine Food Cluster Project is very insightful in that regard. It looks at Maine’s economic history, its assets and its challenges; and it explains the idea of industry clusters and the benefits of cluster-driven economic planning.

“Clusters are regional concentrations of companies, suppliers, specialized services and infrastructure, and related organizations,” and the report refers to the benefits of supporting economic development by supporting these clusters. It specifically targets the food and beverage industry cluster as ripe with potential, but in need of focused strategizing. Anyone interested in economic development in Maine should read the report.

Here’s hoping our legislators and our governor have. They need to find ways to support its recommendations and the efforts of others trying to bring hope to those in despair. State-supported hope and state revenue should come in the form of opportunity, not $25 scratchies.

Patricia Callahan

About Patricia Callahan

Trish is a writer who lives in Augusta. She has worked professionally in education and social services.