Compassion for moms who make mistakes

Richmond, Calif. — I see people in county jail held there on suspicion of committing serious crimes, the kind of crimes like you imagine. Others are accused of much smaller offenses, like loitering, theft or drug possession.

A common thing I see: a parent in jail after a fight at home, which supposedly became violent. In some cases, the fight really did become violent. Yet sometimes it did not, but the police thought it did, wanted to make sure everyone was safe, judged that there was probable cause, and made arrests. Unless a parent can afford to pay bail — money as security for their temporary release — the mom or dad stays in custody.

Today, in preparation for Mother’s Day, is National Mama’s Bail Out Day, where organizations throughout the country have raised money to help post bail for many African America mothers in custody to see their kids. Amazing.

Inmates in county jail who have the option to post bail are those who are still going through the court process: they haven’t been convicted or acquitted of the criminal charges. Often, they have indeed done the crime. Also often, they have done a much lesser version of the crime. And every now and then, the accusations were wrong and they did not commit any crime.

One easy, common attitude is this: if you broke the law, a basic part of your punishment is that you don’t get to enjoy things that the rest of us enjoy, like holidays with your family. I admit that a piece of me sometimes feels that way too. The problem is that this punishes the children who did nothing wrong. Usually, those kids just want their moms back.

One thing I keep seeing with children who live in environments where family members spend time in jail: as the kids get older, they get into trouble, go to jail and eventually go to prison. These kids grew up in environments seeing a lot of violence or drugs and rarely saw people taking sympathy on, for example, their mothers.

Perhaps a kid today will see people have compassion for his mom, and that itself might change the entire direction he takes in life.