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PART 3: The Trifecta of Social Failure: A dark and lonely place

PART 3: The Trifecta of Social Failure: A dark and lonely place/Eric Mock (WGXA)

NOTE: This is a three-part series by WGXA's Eric Mock. Read and watch Part 1 here and Part 2 here.

MACON, Ga. -- Twenty-two-year-old Kasey Hilton of east Macon describes her life as a series of unfortunate events.

Near the end of her high school career, tragedy struck.

“My father passed right as I was finishing high school,” Hilton said.

Hilton said losing her dad led to a misunderstanding when she had some of her father’s belongings with her at school. One of those items included a knife.

Overnight, she said she got kicked out of school and put in jail with a felony charge.

“So that was like I won’t be able to vote, I’m going to do hard time -- felony charges," Hilton said. "I don’t have felony lawyer money. I didn’t have bail money -- I had to stay in jail because my mom didn’t have a job. It felt more than hopeless. It felt like ‘Oh my gosh, this is going to be my life.’"

Veronica Womack, a professor at Georgia College and State University, said when your family doesn’t have income to spare, it's not easy navigating the criminal justice system.

“Most of them are already caught up in this cycle of generational persistent poverty," she said. "Because then if you have very little discretionary income, where does that money come from? For bail? That means that’s coming from the necessities of life."

Hilton eventually dug herself out of what could’ve been the Trifecta of Social Failure.

Thanks to an understanding judge, she got the felony erased from her record. And with recommendations from her teachers, she was admitted back into high school and graduated -- but she didn’t stop there.

Hilton attended an in-state university a couple hours away. But while she was there, she noticed other students had things in high school she could’ve only dreamed of.

“Where kids had psychology classes in high school and new books -- and like great teachers -- they had things that I couldn’t have imagined having in high school," Hilton said. "We thought that was the quickest you could get it was in college, but people had it their whole educational careers."

She also noticed how many of her fellow students had money to spare.

“[My roommate] had like a grocery allowance where they sent her like $200 to $300 worth of groceries." Hilton said. "I was budgeting like $25 of money I had saved from work and my auntie would occasionally send me $25 like every couple of months -- and that was my grocery money that I made last. And that didn’t include any other expenses like if I got hurt or had to go to the student health center."

Then, the costs of college -- especially textbooks -- started to pile up. And her part-time job on the weekends in Macon couldn't keep up with the expenses.

“I had to spend $500 on a CD, didn’t have the money and failed that class," Hilton said. "I don’t have grandma money, I don’t have mom money, my father passed, I didn’t have dad money. It was like if I don’t have it, it’s not there."

Womack said that for those growing up in generational persistent poverty, their family doesn't have the resources to help when you can't afford college-level expenses.

“You have no transference of wealth from one generation to the next," she said. "So those children born into persistent poverty have to start from scratch every generation. And there’s no one to cosign -- there’s no one to sign that car in your name or give you your down payment for your home."

Then, tragedy struck Hilton's family again.

“I got to college and my mom got diagnosed with cancer,” she said.

With her mom’s diagnosis and because she wasn’t able to afford college, Hilton dropped out and moved back home to Macon. But she’s not giving up.

“I don’t want to be another example of something that went wrong in my neighborhood," she says. "We’re always talking about something that somebody did that was bad. Well, I want to be one of the cases where people say, ‘Well look at Kasey. Kasey’s from east Macon and she can do that and she didn’t have to do that.'"

Hilton's now taking career pathway classes at the Family Investment Center in Macon.

Womack said hope is what keeps people like Hilton going -- and it’s also what so many people caught in the Trifecta of Social Failure are missing.

“There’s extreme hopelessness," Womack says. "Figuring out how we can have folks who’ve still made mistakes but still give them hope. Hope is a very important piece of human existence. And when you don’t have that, you may not make the most rational decisions. But they may be the best decisions that you can make."

Hilton said she wishes someone would have been there along the way giving her that hope.

“A lot of times, if people had talked to me when I was in my times of trials and tribulations, and had encouraged me and said ‘Well I don’t understand where you’re coming from, but you seem strong, you seem like you can get through it, or we can talk this out,’" Hilton said, "I feel like that would’ve made the world of difference. Because not only is it a tough and dark place, it’s a lonely place. You feel alone."

According to the Bibb County Board of Education, last year, 23 percent of high school students in Bibb County didn’t graduate. But that has actually improved from 29 percent of students not graduating in 2016.

Russ Williams, the director for budget planning and administration at Georgia College and State University, said about 75 percent of state inmates are high school dropouts.

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