Monday, March 30, 2009

When the poor are punished for being poor

One of the things that has always really disturbed me is the myth, "justice is blind." The idea is that all people are equal under the law, and have the same opportunity to launch a defense when charged or held accountable for a crime (e.g., found guilty). Long ago, I realized that wasn't true, when a friend of my sister's was facing two years in jail for a dime bag of pot (size of a thumbnail), while another guy I knew more or less walked on a coke charge. The essential difference between the two guys? Money and the ability to hire a really good attorney. And, we've seen it happen over and over again.

Today, I was doing my usual loafing about the internet, and came across the story of a woman who was jailed because she was too poor to pay for her son's incarceration fees. Imagine that. She's unemployed, homeless, and put in jail because she can't pay her kind's fees. Last time I checked this was illegal, but then again, I could be wrong.

I think the thing that infuriated me about this is the fact that this nation has a long history of punishing people for being poor. It's an interesting paradox given the fact that there are social service programs that are designed to help them. And then I think about the school serving to poorest children, and the fact that those same children are further punished because they were born poor. This is not to say that there isn't an amazing resilience, loving relationship between family members. I think we are seeing that with the families we are reading about in class.