The crime of being poor in America

So most of us despite Iraq, despite Wall Street greed, despite Washington politicking (and may be because of them) do not get shocked easily.

But I was shocked by the New York Times editorial, “The New Debtor’s Prisons.” It cites cases where poor people in Michigan, Georgia and Mississippi who could not afford to pay meager court ordered fines were imprisoned!

Here’s an excerpt, “Edwina Nowlin, a poor Michigan resident, was ordered to reimburse a juvenile detention center $104 a month for holding her 16-year-old son. When she explained to the court that she could not afford to pay, Ms. Nowlin was sent to prison. The American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan, which helped get her out last week after she spent 28 days behind bars, says it is seeing more people being sent to jail because they cannot make various court-ordered payments. That is both barbaric and unconstitutional.”

If we needed any more proof of the highly toxic affect of American capitalism this has to be it.  Everyone, and I mean everyone, in any position of power is just thinking about money. States and cities have been taught that money is of paramount importance to keep them financially healthy, attract investment and simply to prove that they are run well. The thinking is so warped that a failure of $106/month payment – that too to a juvenile detention center — can be cause for imprisonment. The city doesn’t care that it is unconstitutional, immoral and unethical — poor people cannot be charged for being poor, especially when the state has provided no recourse for them.

Of course a minute of thought will tell even a smart money manager that locking this lady, for example, is only going to cost the state more in terms of prison expenses and keeping that whole apparatus alive. And they could have funded her rehabilitation if only they had not give yet another pork barrel project to a relative or corrupt contractor who in turn would grease their palms.

I am speechless at the heartlessness, and mindlessness, of the American system.


2 Responses

  1. When I was 40, I received a ticket for driving a car with an expired tag. The car wasn’t even mine. I had never had any kind of violation, but I plead guilty, which was probably stupid.

    Anyway, they gave me a fine of $160, which I could pay in two installments. I paid the first installment on the due date and the clerk said that I actually had some extra days that they automatically give to you.

    The next month, the installment was due on a Sunday. I worked on Monday but planned to pay it on Tuesday, my day off.

    At 7:30 that morning the cops were at my door. We had the money but they would not take it. They cuffed me and hauled me off to jail. This was in front of my child and I was paraded by children at the bus stop.

    I waited in a cell for a few hours until they decided to release me. Of course, they had tacked on another $100 that had to be paid in order for me to be released.

    This was seven years ago in Florida. I never had so much as a parking ticket.

    That’s when I started to feel the tide turn against ordinary citizens. I had no rights in that jail. I wasn’t even allowed to call anyone. It’s a good thing my husband was there during the arrest. What if he wasn’t home? No one would have known where I was.

  2. Heidi,

    I am sorry to hear of your ordeal. One thing I can say, and I am sure an overwhelming majority will agree with, is that you surely did not deserve it.

    I hope you had that the right support to help you get over the treatment meted out to you.


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