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Teen tells W.Va. lawmakers about living in poverty

Register-Herald photo by Pam Pritt Westside High School Senior Jason Allen speaks to the Joint Committee on Children and Families Wednesday about his experience with poverty and family members’ drug addiction.
Register-Herald photo by Pam Pritt
Westside High School Senior Jason Allen speaks to the Joint Committee on Children and Families Wednesday about his experience with poverty and family members’ drug addiction.

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Westside High School’s Jason Allen is breaking a cycle that he knows can be devastating — and deadly.

Allen, the child of an addict, has lived with the scourge of drug addiction ever since he can remember, but instead of falling into the same pattern as his parents, he determined early on that he wouldn’t fall prey to drugs.

He spoke to the Joint Committee on Children and Families Wednesday, part of a panel of West Virginians who understand poverty and its consequences because they’ve lived it.

When Allen was 7, his father overdosed, but by then his maternal grandfather had custody.

“For years, my mother was in and out of my life at her convenience,” he said. And although his grandfather did everything he could to help his daughter overcome addiction, including mortgaging his home, the drugs had already taken over. “Addiction had a stronger hold on her than her need to be with us,” he said.

After his grandfather died, he lived in a mobile home with his mother, her boyfriend and the boyfriend’s family. Allen said he had no personal space, slept on the living room floor and kept his clothes and shoes in a locked duffel bag so they wouldn’t be stolen and sold for drugs.

Finally, he was moved into foster care while he was in high school, he said, thanks to some community members who cared enough about him to see that he stayed in Wyoming County.

Now a senior, Allen will graduate next year, and already has 30 college credits. He hopes to have an associate’s degree by the time he accepts his diploma.

He’s kept a 4.0 average for both high school and college classes. Allen said his ultimate goal is to attend law school.

“I want to be successful. I want to break the cycle,” Allen said. “My past will not dictate my future.

“I know what poverty looks like.”

Poverty is becoming increasingly prevalent in Wyoming County, he said, also acknowledging that the welfare system has been abused.

For Allen, there’s nowhere for him and his community to go but up.

“When you hit rock bottom, it’s time to do something,” he said.

Here’s what he did…

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