Norristown, Pennsylvania is a town of 35,000 along the Schuylkill River about 8 miles outside of Philadelphia. In 2015, Norristown was named one of the 100 most dangerous cities in the United States. The crime rate was higher than 93 percent of Pennsylvania cities and towns.
The town's reputation is still notorious. At the end of 2022, Norristown police held a public meeting to address continued increases in aggravated assault, arson, auto theft, burglary, murder, rape, and robbery.
Growing up in a town just outside Philly, I used to know everyone on my street and play outside until the lights came on.
My family lived in Norristown since we arrived from Poland. We don't live in Norristown anymore.
Something happened—jobs started drying up and crime started rising, even violent crime.
My parents moved us out when things kept getting worse.
I used to walk down Powell Street to the library once a week and get lost in the stacks of books.
Sometimes I'd pull my wagon behind me to fill it up with new literary finds.
After homeless people started stabbing each other there, my mom didn't want me going anymore.
My Catholic school had closed down a few years before, and we transferred to another Catholic school a few miles away where it was safer. We had a great community where kids walked to school and families knew each other.
That one's closed now, too. And our high school.
Worked at Corropolese Bakery in high school, and after high school I went to Temple in North Philly.
And then I really found out what crime was like.
But I didn't understand yet why no one did anything about it.
It was like leaders just left all these places to die.
My dad worked at the State Hospital, at a mental health facility, and so had my Nana. I was always proud they helped people who had psychiatric issues.
Then one day he told us the hospital was getting defunded.
I asked what would happen to all the patients.
He said, "They're graduating them."
We used to play little league at Ackey's Field, right across from the hospital.
They'd had issues with escapees before, but with this, they didn't want us being around in case former patients lingered around.
And they did.
Ended up being able to join the military. Was fortunate enough to see the world. Got to visit my family's homeland of Poland. Lived in China, even.
But I never forgot what happened to the town where I grew up.
They took it away.
Now that I have a family of my own and 2 little boys, the concepts of community, tradition, and faith are so much more real.
And there are still good places for us to go.
But that doesn't mean what happened to my town didn't happen.
And they all got away with it.
I've never taken my boys to the street where I grew up.
So if you ever wanted to know: that's where I'm coming from.