Beginner's Heart

Beginner's Heart

the crime of poverty

photo from the SPLC

photo from the SPLC

It shouldn’t still be happening, but it is: modern day debtor’s prisons. At least in Alabama, where writer Jacob Denney’s story for the Southern Poverty Law Center takes place. A young man, first victimised by a shooting, then hit with a slow-down at work, is ultimately sentenced to jail because he can’t pay his traffic tickets and fines.


Say what? You’re going to sentence a man with a newborn daughter to 54 days in jail? (One day in jail per $50/ debt.) Because, basically, he’s unlucky and poor?

I thought this kind of legal punishment of poverty went out with the Puritans, but apparently it remains alive and well. At least in Alabama. And I’m certain there are many people who agree with it. All I can see is a boy whose mother tried to give the judge a note from the young man’s employer, stating that work had been slow, but would pick up, and the prisoner would be able to pay something soon.

poverty hands

Image from


The judge refused to even look at the paper. That’s how little the anti-poor system cares about its victims.

I lived for a month on food stamps, when I was in my early 20s. I had an accident, couldn’t work, and at that age had no savings. My folks helped with my rent, but I had a couple of payments to make, and food was the first thing to go. I understand there being NO MONEY. My mother used to tell me about being so poor she only had two dresses — one to wash, one to wear. Day after day.

We used to say, in America, that being poor was nothing to be ashamed of. And that anyone could rise above rocky circumstances. Unless the law labels them a felon, and puts them in jail. For traffic tickets and fines. So that on every work application thereafter, they  have to check ‘served jail time.’

This can’t be how any faith councils us to treat the poor. Can it? Can it?


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