T.J. Shelton has been a hard-working citizen his entire life, but he had to stop working when he became blind. Born in Atlanta in 1935, he joined the Air Force at age 17, where he learned how to break down and reassemble a rifle. He became a crack shot, earning his first stripe on the target range and was put in charge of ammunition. He served in Korea with the 94th motor squadron for three years. When he returned to the States, T.J. held different jobs at the same time, at General Motors and as a busboy at a hotel. His strong work ethic gained him a promotion to engineer. He moved on to the Imperial Hotel and then to the Atlanta airport, where he worked as a radar technician. He came to Athens in the 1970s, where he met and married a teacher. He lives in her parents’ home still today. He wishes he could raise chickens, but a local anti-livestock ordinance prohibits citizens from raising their own food. “Things have changed around here,” he says. “I’ve got land for a chicken and the dogs in the neighborhood cause more problems than chickens.” In the late nineties, T.J. worked at Sears and developed glaucoma. He tried to get corrective eye surgery for his condition, but was instead blinded by the surgeon’s poorly calibrated laser. Unable to work, T.J. refuses all government assistance except his Army disability, saying, “I ain’t worried about not being able to see. God has blessed me. You gotta be strong. You gotta do what you gotta do.”

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"Moving in and out of jobs that demand much and pay little, many people tread just above the poverty line, dangerously close to the edge of destitution. "

- The Working Poor: Invisible in America, by David Shipler

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