Guilty of Being Poor

The jailers of the 19th century — even in the pre-Civil War South — largely abandoned the practice of imprisoning people for falling into debt as counterproductive and ultimately barbaric. In the 1970s and ’80s, the U.S. Supreme Court affirmed that incarcerating people who can’t pay fines because of poverty violates the U.S. Constitution.

Apparently, though, some states and county jails never got the memo. Welcome to the debtors’ prisons of the 21st century.

“Edwina Nowlin, a poor Michigan resident, was ordered to reimburse a juvenile detention center $104 a month for holding her 16-year-old son,” the New York Times wrote in an editorial.

“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.”

The details of Nowlin’s case are even more alarming than the Times editorial suggests. Not only was Nowlin under orders to pay a fine stemming from someone else’s actions, but she had been laid off from work and lost her home at the time she was ordered to “reimburse” the county for her son’s detention.

Despite her inability to pay, she was held in contempt of court and ordered to serve a 30-day sentence. On March 6, three days after she was incarcerated, she was released for one day to work. She also picked up her paycheck, in the amount of $178.53. This, she thought, could be used to pay the $104, and she would be released from jail.

But when she got back to the jail, the sheriff told her to sign her check over to the county — to pay $120 for her own room and board, and $22 for a drug test and booking fee.

Even more absurd, Nowlin requested but was denied a court-appointed lawyer. So because she was too poor to afford a lawyer and denied her constitutional right to have the court provide one for her, she couldn’t fight the contempt charge that stemmed from her poverty. And her contempt conviction only added to her poverty, as the fines and fees she was obligated to pay now multiplied.

“Like many people in these desperate economic times, Ms. Nowlin was laid off from work, lost her home and is destitute,” said Michael Steinberg, legal director of the Michigan ACLU. “Jailing her because of her poverty is not only unconstitutional, it’s unconscionable and a shameful waste of resources. It is not a crime to be poor in this country, and the government must stop resurrecting debtor’s prisons from the dustbin of history.”

Michigan isn’t the only place where you can be imprisoned for the crime of involuntary poverty. The same Catch-22 ensnares poor defendants daily in courtrooms across the country.

In 2006, the Southern Center for Human Rights (SCHR) filed a suit on behalf of Ora Lee Hurley, who couldn’t get out of prison until she had enough money to pay a $705 fine. But she couldn’t pay the fine because she had to pay the Georgia Department of Corrections $600 a month for room and board, and spend $76 a month on public transportation, laundry and food.

She was released five days a week to work at the K&K Soul Food restaurant, where she earned $6.50 an hour, which netted her about $700 a month after taxes. Hurley was trapped in prison for eight months beyond her initial 120-day sentence until the Southern Center intervened. Over the course of her incarceration, she earned about $7,000, but she never had enough at one time to pay off her $705 fine.

“This is a situation where if this woman was able to write a check for the amount of the fine, she would be out of there,” Sarah Geraghty, a SCHR lawyer, told the Atlanta Journal Constitution while Hurley was still imprisoned. “And because she can’t, she’s still in custody. It’s as simple as that.”

Georgia also lets for-profit probation companies prey on people too poor to pay their traffic violations and court fees. According to a 2008 SCHR report entitled “Profiting from the poor”:

In courts around Georgia, people who are charged with misdemeanors and cannot pay their fines that day in court are placed on probation under the supervision of private, for-profit companies until they pay off their fines. On probation, they must pay these companies substantial monthly “supervision fees” that may double or triple the amount that a person of means would pay for the same offense.

For example, a person of means may pay $200 for a traffic ticket on the day of court and be done with it, while a person too poor to pay that day is placed on probation and ends up paying $500 or more for the same offense.

The privatization of misdemeanor probation has placed unprecedented law enforcement authority in the hands of for-profit companies that act essentially as collection agencies. These companies, focused on profit rather than public safety or rehabilitation, are not designed to supervise people or connect them to services and jobs. Rather, they charge exorbitant monthly fees and use the threat of imprisonment and a variety of bullying tactics to squeeze money out of the men and women under their supervision.

For too many poor people convicted of misdemeanors, our state is not living up to the constitutional promise of equal justice under law.

In Gulfport, Miss., the municipal court started a “fine collection task force” to crack down on people who owed fees for misdemeanors. According to the SCHR Web site:

The task force trolled through predominantly African American neighborhoods, rounding up people who had outstanding court fines. After arresting and jailing them, the City of Gulfport processed these people through a court proceeding at which no defense attorney was present or even offered.

Many people were jailed for months after hearings lasting just seconds. While the city collected money, it also packed the jail with hundreds of people who couldn’t pay, including people who were sick, physically disabled and/or limited by mental disabilities.

The disregard of the justice system for the rights of poor people to equal protection and due process is cause for outrage. But it shouldn’t come as a surprise in an era when the government spends billions bailing out banks while letting foreclosures and unemployment ruin the lives of working people.

We need to build a movement, like the working-class struggles of the 1930s, that can demand an end to the inhuman practice of incarcerating people for no other crime than finding themselves at the bottom of the social ladder.

Eric Ruder writes for Socialist Worker where this article first appeared. Thanks to Alan Maass. Read other articles by Eric, or visit Eric's website.

70 comments on this article so far ...

Comments RSS feed

  1. UNF said on April 23rd, 2009 at 4:41pm #

    This collaborator’s apologetic article, feeble on detail and devoid of argument, adopts the language of and thus propagates many fond myths of the vicious capitalist state.

    an example

    Ruder claims there’s a “Justice System” in the U.S.??
    Ha ha, that will indeed be a surprising newsflash for those on the receiving end of the medieval tyranny meted out.

    In his flaccid closing prescription, this house-broken Stalinist pines for another rerun of his idol’s heyday, as he accepts the very premise he ostensibly set out to condemn … that poverty is a crime, for which there should be no incarceration but presumably some alternative punishment which he neglects to specify.

    Perhaps a fine, Eric? Or maybe a misericordia donation to the SWParty Poorbox?

    What is ‘dissident’ about this damnable trash?

  2. Jeff said on April 23rd, 2009 at 5:15pm #

    Misery loves company. Corporate that is. Banks that is.

    I truly have the faith that all those elite hate we lower pee-ons as we can still laugh and smile. How dare we as they control every facet of out paltry lives. How dare we have joy and glee when we should be crying for mercy under their whips and connected to thier chains we produce.

    Look to whom controls the monetary system, every monetary system in every sovereign nation.

    When you can see through the dark glass clearly, you will see the misery.

    That misery must be humanely eliminated.

  3. john andrews said on April 23rd, 2009 at 11:14pm #

    Great piece, Eric.


    I’ll tell you what’s dissident about this piece. It’s factual information that’s unavailable in the mainstream and delivered in a non-hysterical manner – which is infinitely more powerful and effective than wild-eyed ranting and playground name-calling.

  4. RSBL said on April 24th, 2009 at 4:51am #

    How about the juvenile “just-us” system, where they rape and pillage the fathers with little or no concern that they are now struggling while the mother is given a free pass to have a ball and castrate the father further by denying visitation through holding the child hostage for money. And the mother is rolling in the dough, all in the guise of “the best interest of the child” even though the court states that they veiw the child as a dollar sign. Revolution?…..anyone? Cant fix it…replace it with prejudice!

  5. Shane said on April 24th, 2009 at 5:28am #

    There’s one way to put an end to state sponsored terrorism on the citizens of this nation. Get your guns, get your friends and neighbors and do something about it. We’ve had just about enough of this sh*t, from illegal tax enforcement of illegal federal income taxes to brutality by the “authorities” to corrupt government agencies and lawmakers. This Fing over of the American people is about to come to an end, and soon!

  6. Bob said on April 24th, 2009 at 6:19am #

    The article is powerful and disturbing. For profit antisocial organizations are becoming increasingly abundant across the ‘western’ world. The problem is transnational…from photo radar companies to private prisons to for profit probation groups. These groups are certainly a boon to local and regional government, but are extremely antisocial at their core. Why would right thinking voters allow this kind of abuse? The way in which democracy is practiced in the western world discourages meaningful participation by ‘ordinary’ folks and relegates ‘participation’ by voters to a crowded backdrop to a TV soundbite. But people get what they deserve – while citizens have found themselves too busy comsuming to get involved in their own government, people with suspect motivations have managed to displace what little good government existed. I certainly agree that folks ought to get upset about things such as ‘debtors’ prisons, but I feel that we have only just begun our journey into darkness and that it will be sometime before rationality and balance is reintroduced into society. Batten down the hatches.

  7. Vadim Rapp said on April 24th, 2009 at 6:26am #

    Good article. It should be noted though that the claim to organize a movement in the last paragraph contradicts the observation in the before-the-last one. This phenomenon is not isolated atrocity that could be corrected; it’s logical and inevitable manifestation of the fascist state that has practically already developed in the US, and which by definition is the merge of the government with the corporate; other manifestations being phony war on terror, phony bailout of the banks, phony security hysteria, and so on. This is also why we see no practical changes with the coming of Obama. The president is only “a messenger” of the current objective historical movement in the country, and this movement is towards the fascism.

    To fight the fascism, much, much more radical measures are required. Quite likely, those on par with with was required to eliminate it in the last century.

  8. Debt feudalism said on April 24th, 2009 at 7:12am #

    Mass homelessness via outsourcing and subsequent debt?
    FEMA camps to the rescue.

  9. Tom Ness said on April 24th, 2009 at 7:29am #

    The crime these people are being punished for is not poverty per se, but for being cows who are not giving off enough milk. When you see human beings the way the ruling class sees us, and understand the mechanics of the debt-based money system (see Chris Martenson’s Crash Course online, or view the film The Money Masters) the fact that we are only livestock to them becomes clear. People who don’t earn and spend enough money are like cows that have dried up. Worse, people who voluntarily opt for a low income/spending lifestyle are like cows who have jumped the fence. Therefore, it should come as no surprise that the ruling class comes up with ways to stick a broomstick up the ass of anyone not doing their part to keep up the velocity of money. The government does its part because it gets a cut (taxes) every time money changes hands. So getting rid of debtor-prison type laws is nibbling at the margins. As Michael C. Ruppert says,

    “Until you change the way money works, you change nothing.”

  10. Angus MacPherson said on April 24th, 2009 at 7:29am #

    When you turn “Justice” into an excuse to make money. I.E. the plethora of corporate owned prisons around the US just aching to be filled up….then prolonging incarceration and having barbaric laws …that’s just par for the course. Not long ago the same corporations that build these prisons lobbied the Govt. for Stricter laws so they could make more money and fill up their prisons. I kid you not.

    Putting a dollar sign on anything degrades it. When people and products are not a matter of pride, of craftsmanship and honest effort and are merely faceless numbers on a balance sheet…things go wrong. People get killed. Revolutions start. When you allow a police force to have dominance over the people they are supposed to “Serve and Protect” ..every single society on earth starts to degrade and turn into an Orwellian nightmare. Period. Police need to be reminded of their place as does the Government of the U.S., who mistakingly believe they own and control the people of the U.S. when, in fact, it is the other way around, only you would not know that by modern public education or Mainstream TV.

  11. Jeremiah Johnson said on April 24th, 2009 at 8:17am # A 16-minute film describing societies today. You want to know why society is the structured the way it is in this technological 21st century? Have a look.

  12. Tommie Miller said on April 24th, 2009 at 8:40am #

    Some people, heck, many of us – like myself – are too comfortable to actually get up and do something meaningful as we are set in our ways and don’t want to upset our own apple cart.
    However, if events continue in the direction they are going, more and more of us are going to be financially usurped and possibly imprisoned.
    So something must be done. Anyone have any ideas of something that can be done in a peaceful manner? such as, well, as a starter thought – not an action mind you – what if we were to start filling out false income tax returns and sending them in. false name false address false ss numbers… something to throw bearings into the machinery – think tank stuff. Think
    any ideas?
    I’ll check back later.

  13. ShadesOfKnight said on April 24th, 2009 at 8:41am #

    Oh please. Like this is new.

    Contrary to the author’s initial paragraph, debtors prisons have in one form or another been around since the days of DeMedici.

    Like Torture, being imprisoned for being too poor is not only common, but the natural way of things in any capitalist state.

    The myth of capitalism is that if you work hard enough anyone and everyone can be rich. This is provably not true, as if everyone were rich, who would empty the trash or clean the toilets?

    The fact is, capitalism comes with built-in prisons for poor people… they may not be police-run, but they are included in any nation that believes in capitalism (also known as neo-feudalism).

    Of course, socialism and communism cannot work because humanity is (as a species) driven by the basic need to have a societal hierarchy… all men are equal, but some men are more equal than others. It’s the law of the jungle, given clothing.

  14. Kim Petersen said on April 24th, 2009 at 9:23am #

    Important piece Eric.

  15. RSBL said on April 24th, 2009 at 9:23am #

    Everyone also seems to forget, this is NOT a democracy, it is supposed to be a constitutional republic, this is so that the tyranny of the many cannot consume the few. I believe it was Ben Franklin?…..Democracy is two wolves and sheep…voting on what to have for dinner.

  16. Deadbeat said on April 24th, 2009 at 1:04pm #

    RSBL writes …
    How about the juvenile “just-us” system, where they rape and pillage the fathers with little or no concern that they are now struggling

    As I was reading this piece I was thinking the same thing. How are fathers coping in this recession as they lose their jobs and have to deal with court ordered payments that judges will not reduce due to their economic distress. This is problem that I am sure is going on under the radar.

    Men are being particularly hit hard by this recession as business seek to reduce cost. Since women are paid less than men, “equal pay” in coming due to the loss of jobs for men. If you are a man-of-color the unemployment rate is seeing heights of 50% — clearly higher than the rate of unemployment for women.

    Clearly most of us are in the same boat and what is needed is solidarity built around a comprehensive plan to alter the system so that it can work for people rather than the just for the elites.

  17. Al said on April 24th, 2009 at 1:15pm #

    This is what you get when run a for profit incarceration system.

    The war in Iraq is what you get when you run a for profit “defence” system.

    Economic meltdown is what you get when you put zionists in control of your banking system.

    America, it’s time to recgonize your two greatest ememies:

    Zionists & Wall Street!

  18. OGuillory said on April 24th, 2009 at 2:02pm #

    Welcome to the world of For-Profit-Law Enforcement……if you think this is going to get any better as these goverment whores go bankrupt,…think again…..

    A few examples:

    My neice in St. Louis gets a parking ticket because according to the citation “her car was parked outside the allowable lines of the space, and the meter was even with the front door of the car”. My brother writes a letter requesting a hearing, in whichhe has 30 days to appeal. After ten days he gets a letter stating that the fine has moved from $25.00 to $50.00 because the ticket wasn’t paid within ten days?

    My son gets a ticket on Valentines Day and is issued a citation with no court date, but is told he will get a “courtesy notice” of the court date. My son calls three times to inquire about the date but is told “we are two months behind on courtesy notices, but for five dollars he can pay over the phone”. When he tries to pay over the phone he is told that the ticket is not in the system, and that the policeman has up to a year to file the ticket. On the 20th day past the ticket he again tries to pay, but it’s still not in the system. My son never receives a court notice or receives any information on his court date, but receives another notice that his fine has gone up by another $300.00……get this, because he missed his court date!… a simple speeding ticket is now going to cost him (us) almost $800.00 ( Al Capone would be proud)

    I myself, having been raised in a family of corrupt police have first hand knowledge of these types of scams and it is getting worse. On my birthday I go out and have 4 beers, mixed between 3 cups of coffee over a four hour period. I leave the establishment and head up the road, stopping at a gas station to use the restroom. As I pull on the lot there are four California State Troopers standing around in their little coffee clutch and they notice my Texas plates…..five minutes later they have pulled me over, claimed I was swerving and bang!….a DUI…. far, $250 for bond, $500 to get my car back, $1500 for a lawyer, $600 for the “I’m a bad person class”…..and that is before the fucking fines and other bullshit I have to deal with….

    So…as the leeches need more cash, there will be more “criminals’ and our indentured servitude will increase by leaps and bounds…welcome to America…..I on the other hand, when my case is resolved, will be moving to Ecuador. If I’m going to have to live in a corrupt society, I’d rather be in one that tells you strait up…..we’re corrupt and this is what it will cost you…..

    Love what America was supposed to be….screw these fascists..



  19. Judge John said on April 25th, 2009 at 2:15am #

    What is the problem here? The woman needed toearn money to pay the fine but could not find a job to do so. By putting her in the poor house she does not have to pay rent and can do work for the prison system such as sowing mail bags to earn the money to pay the fine. It is a win-win situation for her and for the people.

    The ordeal would hopefully also encourage her and others to bring up their children correctly, to be good little robot slaves and stay out of trouble!

  20. Daskinnybear said on April 25th, 2009 at 2:22am #

    this story is nothing new my friend and i have been sending little tidbits\3cvn like this back and forth for months now. i believe i read about this sometime in early march and it was a bit old then. here let me see if i can find it in my message archive, well it must be on the other pc but i read it around the beginning to mid march. this site is slow but it is a great article and a eye opener. here is a couple more sites that you all may enjoy if you want to read about how things really are some say they are conspiracy nuts but are they? dont forget to read George Orwells 1984 and then look around you =)

  21. Peter said on April 25th, 2009 at 2:39am #

    This is the first time I read about someone has to pay for board and food when imprisoned as though you chose to check in .

    How rediculous this whole thing is LOL

    Beyond words the kind of laws you have .

  22. Dave said on April 25th, 2009 at 3:16am #

    USA is now a BANANA REPUBLIC and a nation that tortures people.

  23. wife of a lefty said on April 25th, 2009 at 4:10am #

    The rich companies of the world used a poor mouth excuse for trying to go bankrupt and the government gives them billions of dollars in what is being called “bail outs”. Money that you, me, our children and grand children will have to pay back for decades, while all these CEO’s live HIGH ON THE HOG. Why is all their debts forgiven and the pee-ons are left to suffer the errors of the big corporations? Send theirs asses to jail!!!
    The poor who cannot afford to buy groceries, go to the doctors, buy life saving medications, afford medical insurance will go to jail. The world has become crazy.

  24. banderman said on April 25th, 2009 at 4:19am #

    Not that I condone the practice, but if debtors prisons are allegedly unconstitutional, why are non-custodial parents (read MEN) thrown in prison when they are doing their best, yet cannot pay court ordered child support payments? Women they don’t pay are given a free pass in this gender biased and female-centric madhouse we call America, yet men are treated like criminals? I guess gender equality really is a sham and the system is not expected to provide men equal protection under the law. Whether you agree with me or not is a moot point, this is the reality of it.

  25. Philip Lundquist said on April 25th, 2009 at 6:51am #

    The First poster here (“UNF”) is an idiot with no practical experience being on the receiving end of Government – and specifically, justice system – abuses, and should refrain from posting further comments until he has had some sense slapped into him. Forget the Stalinist & other mocking refereneces…..I have watched bankruptcy magistrates dismiss $250,000 credit card debts in moments (in one case, the well-dressed young couple admonished him to be quick about it, as they had a plane to catch going to Europe) while poor people in orange jumpsuits & chains sat and wept in court, having been arrested and jailed for missing a $30 or $40 monthly installment on a fine for a misdemeanor offence. In these cases, I am referring to the Las Vegas area in the USA.

  26. R Jones said on April 25th, 2009 at 7:05am #

    Tyreny and despotism, has shown it ugly head again, whats needed in America again is lynch mobs to clean up the police and judicial system, a tea party, what we realy have here is Admirilty law, not real law. These Malum in se violatons under the color of state law are bogus to say the least and purely parasitic in nature. The fact that this thing will go wide spread and I’m sure as the states will and are going broke these activitys will grow, and theres very little that any one will be able to slow it down. The A.C.L.U. only focus on case by case bases, As America nears total economic collapes and the police are intergrating nation wide with the Army and Federal agentcys and police also intergrate abuse will fallow, Look at U.S. torture and abuse of alledged terrorist. If they will do it to them they will and have done it here, look at tazer tourture and deaths police beatings of people and false charging. the courts are utterly and compleatly corrupt, The two judges who convicted for profit juvaniles, to the tune of millions, those judges were arrested and are in jail. Im sure these judges are profiting from the private probation companys. A fact 5% of all fines collected go to the judges retierment fund. thats a blatent conflict of intrest, and a travesty of and an injustice. only whey that any of this will be cured I’m sorry to say is an armed rovolt by the people of this country. America better wake up soon, because they are going to disarm America, if they do, may your chains rest lightly on you hands and feet, and the lashes on your back be your testament as you beg for bread and shelter from your new masters The Federalized Police State, As for me give me liberty or give me death, amen

  27. Nancy Yates said on April 25th, 2009 at 8:29am #

    Indeed, the United Snakes is a corporate-economic tyranny. I would guess that at least 60 to 70 percent fear the government and as many as 80 percent would not dream of failing to pay the “IRS” (a private corporation). The US, again, is and has been a tyranny for decades. Not only that, it is one of the most racist countries in the world. It imports non-white slaves (undocumented Mexican workers) for corporate exploitation and offers them instant citizenship if only they sign their lives over to the United Snakes’ military. Let’s be honest: AmeriKKKa’s a h*llhole.

  28. Rico said on April 25th, 2009 at 8:33am #

    Gotta agree with RJones totally!! And wile you are at it consider the larceny taking place in the big pharma with over drugging the public, especially the old. And now they want to criminalize personal gardens in the name of ‘food safety’ . Keep you poor on drugs and take away your own personal garden or throw you in jail. What happened to this country. How do we 300 million people let a small group of assholes destroy America?

  29. Dirk Diggler said on April 25th, 2009 at 9:02am #

    Oh the poor criminals!

  30. Dirk Diggler said on April 25th, 2009 at 9:04am #

    The moral of the story here is stay in school, get off welfare, and stop leaching off society. Most poor peopl are poor for a reason, they are either stupid, on drugs, or lazy.

  31. cat callahan said on April 25th, 2009 at 10:12am #

    Poor people are dumb,lazy,and uneducated? Get your head out of your a__ __!!! Look at all the unemployed college graduates! Look at all the people who lived frugally but are taxed to death or become ill! My husband has Parkinsons and once ran a successful business and taught at a university!(Dumb? Since when?) Don’t condemn unless you know the whole story!

  32. HP Lovecraft said on April 25th, 2009 at 10:56am #

    When shopping strangers in food stores ask me, “what do we do about the thievery causing the ever-rising cost of living,” I advise “nothing is going to change for the better until someone picks up the gun.” The old addage, “Change comes from the barrel of a gun” is correct and made so only by the evil greed of capitalism.

    It is also possible that the rotten system is doing this to force a Revolution so that they will have an excuse to rush in with the military and institute the totalitarian state they so badly desire. Advice? Keep the guns loaded and the powder dry, because the first thing a totalitarian fascist shit-load does is kill off many in the quest to be taken seriously, thus to “return fire” is advised.

  33. AnneM said on April 25th, 2009 at 10:58am #

    Well, don’t raise a juvenile delinquent, watch how you park, don’t get speeding tickets, don’t rack up credit-card debt that you can’t repay (it’s “theft” or “stealing”). Maybe some of these “poor” people should stop spending money on smokes and liquor. Debtors’ prisons are a good incentive for you to pay your debts, just like high credit-card interest is intended to be. Think this story is bad? Try Dubai. If you get laid off from your job, your employer notifies your bank (even if you’re a foreigner) and if you have debts you must immediately repay them, all your bank cards and credit cards are cut off or monitored until you have first paid what you owe, and you do not leave the country; if you don’t pay, you go to prison. They seem to value personal responsibility.

  34. HP Lovecraft said on April 25th, 2009 at 11:11am #

    TO: Dave @ 3:16 a.m.

    We are victims of the “kind of laws” we have, due to the “kind of politicians” we have, due, in turn, to the “kind of voters” — stupid conservative b@$turds, we have.

  35. J. Croft said on April 25th, 2009 at 11:59am #

    The reason this and all the other atrocities continue is that Americans will not do what is necessary to clean their governments out.

    Their governments. Our governments. Unfortunately the criminals have had a lock on the halls of power for 100 plus years-I dare say back to the coup of 1787 that brought in the Constitution under deception and staged economic and political catastrophe.

    So they’re entrenched at the federal and state governments-they’re more vulnerable locally in smaller cities and towns and Americans need to start building a true opposition party anyway, or at least a united front of opposition parties.

    Learn from the mistakes what regular readers of the Village Voice would call the “right wing” patriot movement-they fought each other, they passed the buck onto others, they went in with all the naivete and they lose.

    You cannot build a opposition fighting each other and you can’t build an opposition making suicidal charges at the enemy’s strong points, you have to strike where they’re weak: local government.

    I would do this while we still have some form of representative government in this country, before some kind of incident is staged and we’re under straight martial law.

    Start here:

  36. R Jones said on April 25th, 2009 at 12:30pm #

    Tent citys a poping up all over the country and a lot of people there used to be profesionals who hit the bricks, my busness failed becuse of yhe sysyematic rip offs by oil company raping the public and my trade O/O of a truck, destroyed mt livly hood and caused me to defere maitance to keep it going until it blew up, I sold it a scrap value, a once buitiful rig and trailer, it was the Rolls-Royce of trucks as the economy fell apart (by design) and rates fell to below cost of operation. It wiped me out My wife of 17 years was forced to return to her country with my American born duaghter, my wife cannot apply again for 10 years, reason minor visa violation. that was 3 years ago. I’v been supporting them with grossly devalued U.S. dollers. until lately, still most things cost 2to 3 times more in Europe then here, needless to say they are suffering. My lease (O/O leased to a company) was terminated 4 times over the past 3 years from the time I discovered the economy was going to collapse
    I warned them, of whats comming, in return they called me a conspiricy nut, and laughed at me(common for idiots to do) now they laid off half their office staff and are on the brink of going out of biz. currently Im working for an O/O whos leased to the same company, hes going out of biz because of 4 rate cuts in the last couple of months, and the United States tryed to bring in Mexican Trucks. As I wright this I may be out of work by monday, no unemployment benifits because I was self employed. what a joke. so much for being an entrepreneur. we are in a very controled collapes, just look on the web of formaly succesful people who fell on hard times not only killed them selves but their familys too, cowards, I would rather live with my family intact under a bridge or in a tent in the mountains, living off the land, then to resort to such a thing. Kidds in Comifornia are being taken by C.P.S. and spirted away to be put up for adoption or worse foster care, because the parents lost their jobs and homes. With out being able to afford legal consul to replevin or emancipate their children. the mental anguish and desperately they must suffer, is without words the pain. I know I can’t see my family because of economcs for three years now I am an internet husband and father. (the internet will be brought down by congress) And a caveat for those who are haughty and mock others condition, you may or shall suffer the same, because we are only at the earlyest stages of economic collapes so no one is safe from what’s comming, no one. Be sure Goverment will disavowal the lowly citizen,. And nevermind soup lines it will be more like Warsaw Ghettos.

  37. R Jones said on April 25th, 2009 at 12:31pm #

    sorry for the grammer and spelling

  38. shocked and awed said on April 25th, 2009 at 1:53pm #

    To Anne M. What a lovely warm hearted woman you are. I bet you have a bunch of recipies where the poor and useless are the main ingredient. MMMMM yummy. Why don’t you share ’em with the rest of us?

  39. HR said on April 25th, 2009 at 1:54pm #

    Lotsa propaganda and misinformation on ALL sides. Think very, very carefully before you believe anything. Then, look around you analyze some more.

  40. joed said on April 25th, 2009 at 4:07pm #

    yeah, well, this could all be lies and propaganda or true and propaganda but what difference does it make because it may as well be true. critical thought and skepticism are essential but loss of compassion, empathy and concern far outweighs the loss of critical thought. amerika is now(today) a third world country and debtors prison is real and gonna’ get a lot more popular. so, why don’t you folks get out to the streets of your cities and shut the place down. do something other than whine and cry in this FREE SPEACH ZONE aka DissidentVoice.
    her child her home her job her pay check her freedom all taken away by you and your govt. nice going amerika!

  41. Wm. David Jones-Cook said on April 25th, 2009 at 4:15pm #

    To HP Lovecraft, on April 25th, 2009 at 11:11am #

    I will be so bold as to dispute your claim with the following brocard of law
    Dura lex, sed lex
    “The law [is] harsh, but [it is] the law”. It follows from the principle of the rule of law that even draconian laws must be followed and enforced; if one disagrees with the result, one must seek to change the law.

    Due to the fact that the majority act out in ignorance I see like likelihood of a unified force ever presenting itself to bring about the changes in law, and the colour of law, necessary to a just society
    Ignorantia legis non excusat
    “Ignorance of the law is no excuse.” Not knowing that one’s actions are forbidden by the law is not a defense.

    This brocard encompasses the concept that ignorance is no excuse for not knowing the laws which one is under.

    Law has within it remedy and recourse,

    The fact of the matter remains constant: Our victimhood is of our own making when we are ignorant of our part in law. Law does what members of the Bar will do. As identified by the article law has been and will remain monetised, meaning law, in all its disguises, has become business.

    I will venture to say that in access of 95% of any give country’s population are in ignorance of not only law, but all other civil matters as well

  42. PeterBP said on April 25th, 2009 at 5:00pm #

    joed: “critical thought and skepticism are essential but loss of compassion, empathy and concern far outweighs the loss of critical thought.”

    No. Both are essential, but at different levels. Empathy is required for harmonious human-to-human existence. Critical thought is essential to living in larger groups and structures such as society as a whole.

    Of course, both are lacking in many people today. That’s why we are in this mess to begin with!

  43. HR said on April 25th, 2009 at 5:23pm #

    So, joed, what’s the deal? All of a sudden, increasing numbers of people in the working class who thought they were “middle class” are hurting, so it’s time to start caring? Where was all the empathy, compassion, and caring over the last 30 years? The working class with jobs bad-mouthed the homeless the whole time … as they voted for monsters like Reagan and his successors, regressive incumbents in “congress”, “conservative bidness people” at the local level, and started up 401 (k)s ( a concept designed to let businesses off the hook for pensions). And, they will again, if things happen to improve, just as surely as some of them, called first time home buyers — with government assistance — are happily moving into houses, made vacant by foreclosure. Give me critical thinking over emotion any damned day.

    In the U.S. “caring” means holding a bake sale to “help out” with medical expenses, accompanied by discussions of the evils of “socialized” medicine, or donating a little canned food to a homeless shelter, accompanied by discussions of the “deplorable welfare state”.

  44. seeya said on April 25th, 2009 at 5:34pm #

    Yep this is just the beginning…it will only get worse for middle and lower income folks…that is why I am getting out of this country…

  45. Patrick Sullivan said on April 25th, 2009 at 7:34pm #

    The founder of the Goodyear tire company earned several excursions into jail for being a debtor in arrears.

    He was even arrested once while overseas on a business trip on the charge of owing money to someone in America.

    Large numbers of fathers in this land are sitting in local jails for inability to pay child support.

    What is curious about all of this is that the founding fathers enacted and made into the law and contained within the 5th amendment to the Bill of Rights, the solution to all of this maltreatment of people. The 5th amendment to the constitution requires that a Grand Jury first make the determination on whether or not someone can be arrested, for any reason, and taken off of the street.

    The 5th amendment was also the law when Mr. Goodyear was taken off the street and imprisoned for debt in the 19th century, and apparently the protections provided by the 5th amendment were not well known to the ordinary people then, as these facts of law remains largely unknown to the ordinary people even to this day.

    Basically, the only party that can create the basis to make a lawful arrest of anyone is a Grand jury. Debt is a civil matter and the bench warrant is a tool of fraud used to bypass the legal procedure necessary to take someone off of the street and lock him or her up.

    With the enactment of the 5th amendment in 1791, the only party that is legally entitled to allow a person to be arrested and taken into custody is a Grand jury. A bench warrant is bogus and has been bogus since the day that the Bill of Rights was inserted into the constitution and made the law of the land.

    It is likely that the significance of the Grand jury process has been kept a secret from the mass of the population for several important reasons. First, it makes it harder for our robber class to easily kidnap, rob, and then hold us for ransom; called ‘Bail.’

    Second, the Grand jury is a good tool to bring our corporate highwaymen and highwaywomen into the courtroom to explain their ‘wilding ways.’ So they don’t like to talk about this process very much.

    Many Police have been led to believe that they have the power to arrest someone on some charge and take them away. The Grand jury is the party that is designed to be the party that makes the decision on whether or not a person can be legally arrested.

    Without a Grand jury first making a charge, there is no lawful basis to make an arrest. Of course if someone is shooting in front of an officer, and is a obvious and imminent hazard, then the ‘common sense rule’ prevails.

    At the root of the problem is that we need to take away the power of the purse from our corporate robber class, and reinstall some semblance of normality into the government system.

    Our holy corporate robber class knows that sooner or later you all are going to figure this out. Well, think about all of these nuclear weapons laying around just waiting for an accident or mistake and “Boom.’ That is what they have been thinking of using on us if we get to far out of hand.

    Our holy corporate robber class has not been planning on going quietly.

    Once understood, the 5th amendment to the constitution and the Grand jury process, it is quite possible that the majority of people now imprisoned will need to be released due to the fact that they have had their right to receive ‘Due process of law’ violated and making their continued incarceration, a criminal act against them, and a basic violation of the law.

    The Robber class enjoys large amounts of slave labor from those incarcerated and do not want to lose their free labor source. They may need to seek a just standing within the human community, because, their prison camps are going away.

    As a last thought about the 5th amendment to the constitution; it is possibly the most significant piece of legislation to have ever been enacted into law. It provides the single most basic protection against abuse from those government employees who are taking a paycheck from the people.

    For those in government who seek to avoid the Grand jury process it is understood that: ‘those who are not inclined to obey the law, cannot be called upon to enforce the law.’

    This is clearly the law. The Grand jury process is not merely a suggestion; it is the law and has been the law since 1791.

    As a second last thought; some of you may have noticed how the democratically elected governor of the state of Illinois was ‘scammed’ out of office by the usual suspects (The holy corporate royal class) and it was done by violating the law.

    The front man for the mob (the Grand inquisitor seeking heretics and witches to burn) Fitzgerald, did not first present his allegations to a Grand jury and instead used a “Lettre de Cachet” (a secret writing) and couple of gunmen to assault the governor under cover of darkness and take him away.

    So this is probably one of the more significant events of how the 5th amendment can protect not only those who are poor, but those who are in government positions from being overthrown by the Holy corporate royal robber class. The use of a “Lettre de Cachet, (secret writing,) is banned by the 5th amendment to the constitution.

    You may be thinking to yourself, “well the mob and the government: It’s the same thing.”

    While not disputing that, it seems that we need to separate those 2 entities and give to the mob what is the mob’s and give to government what is the government’s, and give to the people what is the people’s; and that is the Grand jury process and the guarantee to provide procedural ‘Due process of law;’ for the people.

    Learn about the 5th amendment to the constitution and spread the word around. This one protective law can clear the air for all of us and set us upon a path of lawful regular government.

    There is protection in procedure, for all parties concerned. Both for the person accused, and for the officers who are called upon to act. If there is no legitimate paperwork (an arrest warrant based upon a Grand jury indictment) that would authorize an arrest, then no arrest can lawfully be made and the officers involved are protected themselves.

    At the root of the whole problem is our financial elite who have taken away from the government and claimed for them selves the power to issue money, which is reserved to the people. They have used this ‘power of the purse’ to injure and destroy us.

    “Displace the economic power.” That is at the top of the list of things to do. Then use the money power to take away the nuclear weapons (that they have long planned to use on us) and the road looks clear ahead.

  46. mise said on April 25th, 2009 at 10:19pm #

    Land of the fee
    Home of the slave

  47. Daskinnybear said on April 25th, 2009 at 10:27pm #

    from our friend dirk diggler.
    “The moral of the story here is stay in school, get off welfare, and stop leaching off society. Most poor peopl are poor for a reason, they are either stupid, on drugs, or lazy.”
    well dirk i know people who have master degree’s that can barley find work at mcdonalds and have been forced to go on welfare. what do you say to that? are they lazy? are they stupid? i think not. people like you are the problem its easy to say such things when you born witha silver spoon in your mouth persay. it is obvious you are of the lower to mid elite aka “rich” class. in fact what are you even doing here on this site with us “stupid poor lazy drug addicted people”? id like to see you or any of these corparate or political types live off from less then say 15k a year id bet they/you would starve to death or freeze in the winter time =P
    as a side note if we send all these people here on “work visa’s”should be sent home. that would open up around a million+ jobs for real americans. why do they get our jobs its not like they are needed with id say 50 million unemployed people in this country!(those unemployment rates are totally not accurate and only count so much of the pop for so long) that and the ilegal immigrants that are bringing things like pig flu over the border in the middle of the night. its not that americans wont do these jobs we just wont do them for the wages they do them for or in the unsafe conditions they work in. as of now i know probally at least 50 people that would go do those jobs at that pay lvl and in those conditions, just so they could at least feed thier families but this is another argument alltogether and totaley off topic

  48. bozh said on April 26th, 2009 at 7:08am #

    patric s
    in short, inherit one’s inheritance. For four centuries, and for millennia world-wide, amers have been deprived of basic human rights.

    the only right that is touted is the right of free speech. And why? Because the rulling class almost completely controls disinfo and miseducation.

    if a socialist land provides free education, healthcare, greater equality, etc., the ruling class in US and elsewhere forever harp on the ‘violation’ of free speech by socialist lands. tnx

  49. BradFinATL said on April 26th, 2009 at 7:58am #

    This article is dead on. I, myself, have also been one who was incarcerated in Georgia jails, and placed on probation. The probationers are private for profit companies, without concern for daily life of those they supervise. They care not if you are hungry, or have bills. In their mind you pay probation and fines first, or you can rot in jail.

  50. Al said on April 26th, 2009 at 9:30pm #

    Joe Bageant’s opinion of the American “justice” system. A must read:

  51. quakergirl said on April 27th, 2009 at 8:08am #

    The comment from Jeff sounds like he has nothing to do but hate the poor. Ignore him. You had a great article. Even the Germans arent that bad about collecting money. They ll take 5 dollars a month for a debt.

  52. Jerry said on April 27th, 2009 at 8:24am #

    HP Lovecraft is the only one who has it right. This country sucks and all you asshole dogooders need a good foot put up your ass.

  53. Roberta B. Rodgers said on April 27th, 2009 at 9:06am #

    This is also happening in Florida. My ex son in law owes child support. I know that he needs to pay it but to threaten him with five years in PRISON if he fails to make another payment is not constitutional.

  54. EthanAllen said on April 27th, 2009 at 9:58am #

    This a major reason people left europe for the US wilderness. Seems like legal slavery to me. I would leave these States and embrace Liberty.

  55. Harry Canary said on April 27th, 2009 at 1:10pm #

    Hey Annie M.,
    “Are there no prisons? Are there no workhouses?”
    Your Uncle Ebenezer would be soooo proud of you.

  56. bryan brady said on April 27th, 2009 at 1:32pm #

    I wonder where the next wilderness will be that we can escape the wrath of an unconstitutional United States. I guess we will have to flee south. Maybe an illegal alien would like to trade places? I doubt it. Soon this country will be bunch of lawyers and judges with no one to do their work for them and theyt will have to really work. I think that they will soon be feeling the Wrath of God when there’s no Commons to defend them.

  57. Dee said on April 27th, 2009 at 1:42pm #

    One of the biggest myths in America is that we are are first world country. A LIE. We are a THIRD WORLD COUNTRY in many MANY ways. We are now, and we always have been.

  58. Jeff said on April 27th, 2009 at 2:11pm #

    Actually quakergirl, I am poor. Do I hate being poor, damn right I do. Am I trying to be proactive, damn right I am. I will become prosperous while trying my best to be “moral”. What is that “moral” virtue consist of you ask?! Doing my best not to leave others behind should they also have a desire to no longer be poor. Is this attainable? Absolutely not in this day and age of greed and apathy for the human condition. Go ahead quakergirl, please ignore me. I then will have to make the choice of to ignoring you. Peace!

  59. Dave in Mack Town said on April 27th, 2009 at 4:50pm #

    I’ve worked with homeless veterans for years. We started having “Stand Downs” up here (in Humboldt County) to help them deal with things ranging from PTSD to debts.
    Many are what you would call poor, but only in material things. When you get to know people who don’t have money and are swimming upstream in a system, you find out that they are just like you when it comes to the bottom line.
    This society judges the poor harshly. More judges need to walk in a poor persons shoes to really understand the challenges that are out there. Make no mistake…it’s a hard world when you don’t have money.
    Good article. I’ve provided an introduction and link to it on my web site

  60. Kim said on April 28th, 2009 at 7:24am #

    Just a little bit more to go and then you’ve achieved your third world status !

  61. CrashCodes said on April 28th, 2009 at 9:32am #

    Amen O’Guillory.

    I got a traffic ticket. I lost the ticket somehow. I called the local courthouse. They told me I was right to call them, and I did the right thing. They asked me when I got the ticket, my dl number, etc. They said they didn’t have any record of my citation. They said I’d have to go to the downtown courthouse within 24hrs to get the information I’d need to enter a plea, find my court date, or pay the fine. I take a half day vacation to drive downtown, pay for parking, and wait in line. The clerk there tells me that they don’t have any record of my citation either! I did everything I was asked to do regarding this. I’m thinking hey, the officer never turned it in. I’m off the hook.

    A year or two later I get a notice that there is a warrant for my arrest! So, I have to go back to the downtown courthouse and pay some fine to clear the warrant in addition to the fine. I get no option for drivers ed or differed adjudication. F’d Up.

  62. Daskinnybear said on April 28th, 2009 at 11:14am #

    another case of guilty of being poor, even though thse peole have brought it upon themselves they are still being prosacuted for basically not paying a bill.

  63. CivilServant said on April 28th, 2009 at 11:21am #

    This is great! ALL people should pay for their prison time and system processing fees. ALL. Parents shoudl pay for their minor children as well. My only hope is this movement spreads like wildfire, hopefully along with some common sense. Tax payers should not pay the burden for this nation’s self-enforced poor (which 80+% of the ‘poor’ are…).

    Now, if we could just come to our senses and enact the death penalty a LOT more and more often (granted, along side some system reforms as well as better and more accessible crime lab technology to ensure a minimum of mistakes).

  64. lichen said on April 28th, 2009 at 7:28pm #

    There is no valid justification for inequality, for some people to live well while others are prosecuted because the artificial, anti-life system has made them poor.

  65. E-Liz said on April 29th, 2009 at 4:40am #

    Or Could it be that people are poor because they sit on their asses while waiting for a handout instead of working to better themselves ?

  66. bozhidar or bozh said on April 29th, 2009 at 6:02am #

    you cld be wrong! What you have said, had been said by just about every feudal lord, priest, ‘educator’, politician.
    Their plaint had been s’mthing like this: If only they wld stop complaining and worked harder, they wldn’d be so poor. They are lazy, uneducated, etc.

    however, sciense had not yet discovered the disease called “laziness”.
    the ruling classes have invented the disease and now propagated by its chosen ‘educators’.
    Why are so many amers not educated? Because it takes lotsof money to obtain higher education!
    I conclude, amers are OK. They are what nature made them. It did its best for them and other oppressed people.
    But plutos had to destroy what nature gave us by teaching many youngsters false knowledge so that they can lord it over us! tnx

  67. Don Hawkins said on April 29th, 2009 at 6:05am #

    Or Could it be that some sit on there ass and push the easy button and when that easy button doesn’t work like it should wait for a hand out a very large hand out. Oh and pushing that easy button keeps people people who have two jobs to just keep up in slavery.

  68. Don Hawkins said on April 29th, 2009 at 6:28am #

    oppressed people in many way’s I am glad you put it that way Bozh food for thought.

  69. Loren said on May 2nd, 2009 at 1:50am #

    maybe if she had been a responsible person and saved away money for just such an occasion this would not have happened.

    instead, her negligence led to this situation. the state has a right to not burden taxpayers with the costs associated with criminals. criminals should be forced to work to earn their keep while in prison.

  70. Debtors’ prisons are making a comeback… « Check Your Premises said on June 27th, 2009 at 5:02pm #

    […] you thought the Victorian Era was in the past, an old Victorian standby comes back to haunt us: debtors’ prisons. “Edwina Nowlin, a poor Michigan resident, was ordered to reimburse a juvenile detention center […]