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I looked down at my visual voicemail and had to re-read the message several times.
It said:

“Hey baby, it’s your mom.  I’m in jail and need your help.”

My heart dropped.  This wasn’t the call I had been dreading ever since my parent became an addict, but it was still hard to hear.

I phoned the number back, and a jailer answered.  He was annoyed that I asked to put my mom on the line and informed me hastily that they do not do favors for in-MATES (emphasis) and that I will just have to be able to answer the next time she called.

So I waited.

Eventually the phone rang again, and the automated voice informed me that I had a collect call from an inmate at the county jail and asked if I wanted to accept the charges.  I did, and we talked.  She informed me about what had happened but wasn’t sure about the next steps.  Apparently in jail they don’t tell you much information.

I went online, searching for as much information as possible about a trial date.  I learned how to add money to her phone account and also had the option of commissary for some snacks.  I called the sheriff’s office, the car impoundment place, the local bail bondsman.

All the while, my sister went into an emergency labor and we had to drive 4 hours in the opposite direction to be there when the baby was born.  I was torn, but knew I couldn’t help my Mom at the moment, so I just kept making phone calls.

She eventually got out a few days later with our help.  But the entire process was unnecessarily expensive and allusive, which does not help the people in jail rehabilitate back into society.  Or it puts all of the burden on the family without offering any clear direction or help.

For example, her car was impounded with her purse inside (i.e. driver’s license).  Each extra day in the lot is $125, and they eventually sell it off.  We asked if we could go and get the car on Day 1 but were informed that without her showing up with her driver’s license in hand, the car would not be released.  We explained she is in jail with no known release date.  They said even if we could get her out on bail, she would not be able to go retrieve her purse from the car to show them her driver’s license.  Nor would she be able to retrieve her insurance from the glove-compartment.  The entire thing felt like a scam.

The bail-bondsmen all gave different prices and refused to drop her off anywhere in town after picking her up.  So my best friend had to leave work and drive her to a place of shelter.

When someone is chronically poor and is battling addictions or illness, the system should not be against them.  If they are paying their penance through time and/or fees, there should be ways to help them get back home to a working job and a safe home.  If not for the person accused of the crime, at least for the family members who worry.

At minimum wage, a >$500 car bill, court fees, fine fees, and ~$400 bail bondsman fees, not to mention possibly losing one’s job upon getting out a few days later – minor crimes are costing people their livelihoods and pushing them back into the same cycles that got them in jail in the first place.  The system is against truly helping people help themselves, and everyone is looking to make a buck off of someone else’s mistake or misfortune.  And it ends up hurting the loved ones so much more than anyone realizes.

I hope to never have to hear this type of call again, but if it happens, I will be better-prepared to fight for basic human rights on behalf of my mother.  Here’s to hope for the future of public jailing systems!  I am actually really glad the new Netflix show Orange is the New Black came out, because I hear that changes are happening for long-term inmates in metropolitan areas.  It is hopefully only a matter of time before these changes trickle into rural America as well.  Cheers!