For the third year in a row, many Black moms awaiting trial in jail will be bailed out in time to spend Mother’s Day with their families thanks to the National Bail Out collective.
The nonprofit’s Black Mamas Bail Out initiative is posting bond for Black mothers in jail in 36 cities across the country from May 6 to 12. Arissa Hall, project director of the National Bail Out collective, helps lead the initiative, working with organizers across the United States.
“We know that all of the people that are being held in pretrial detention, which is about 700,000 people as we speak, haven’t been convicted of a crime and also are there solely because they cannot afford bail,” she told HuffPost. According to the Prison Policy Initiative, nearly 70% of women who are in jail because they can’t afford bail are mothers of children under 16.
The initiative started in January 2017, out of the combined efforts of the coalitions Color of Change and the Movement for Black Lives. They had mobilized organizers across the country who were doing work around the legal system to intervene with mass incarceration, which disproportionately affects Black people.
Hall credits Mary Hooks of the group Southerners on New Ground with the idea. “About 14 organizations that were in that room together, committed to doing that. Then we created the infrastructure, which was an advisory committee to actualize the bailouts,” she said.
The organizers analyzed the challenges in their path and Hall created a template that asked the organizers a set of questions based on how bail operates in their respective states. According to Hall, the Black Mama’s Bail Out was the first mass bailout in recent history. In 2017, she said, they raised $1 million and bailed out 100 Black mothers and caregivers. The initiative has bailed out more than 300 people and paid more than $985,000 in bail since its inception. The group also provides assistance for moms once they get out and offers an eight-week fellowship for “in-person political education/organizing sessions and interactive group webinars.” Those efforts culminate in the annual FreeHer Conference held by the National Council for Incarcerated and Formerly Incarcerated Women and Girls.
Veronica Rex, who was arrested after disarming someone at a bar where she worked, is one of those mothers. She was taken in for questioning and released the same night, saying the police had told her she hadn’t committed a crime after a witness gave their statement. Thirty days later, they issued a warrant for her arrest.
“The way that you’re treated, the way you’re housed, the overpopulation. ... You’re treated as if you’re guilty from the beginning,” Rex told HuffPost. “Which is the opposite of what they tell us. It just took so much from me being a mother. Then when my husband has to deal with [it] around holiday time. So I missed Thanksgiving. I missed Christmas. I missed New Year’s. So my family, of course, I didn’t want my family coming up to see me in jail. I just didn’t feel that was the right thing. I missed seeing grandbaby being born at the time as well due to my incarceration.”
And had her daughter not reached out to the National Bail Out collective, she would have missed burying her son as well. He was killed the day after she was bailed out.
“I hadn’t even had a chance to see him yet,” she told HuffPost. “Because I had got out late, I needed some rest. ... I would not have been here for my son. I don’t know what state I would be in ... my second child to be murdered in the city of Philadelphia.”
Bethany Stewart, a core organizer with the Philadelphia Community Bail Fund, is helping Rex handle her trial.
“I think that the current judicial system that exists around our nation and in Philadelphia completely robs people of their humanity,” Stewart told HuffPost. “There’s no way that Miss Veronica should have to view her son’s body in the morgue and then still have to go to court that day and make a decision. The work that we’re doing as Philadelphia Community Bail Fund is as a community, is really trying to work to bring humanity back to people. Specifically Black women that have been robbed of that humanity. And to also affirm their dignity in the work that we’re doing. Their stories are valid. We believe their stories and we believe in true justice for them.”
Rex herself has been working with the Philadelphia Community Bail Fund to end cash bailouts.
“We know that the mothers are the foundation of the family. Once you begin to take away the foundation, the [family] begins to fall,” Rex said. “This is modern-day slavery because here we are back paying for our freedom. ... If you take a mother to jail, and you separate her from her children, her children are put into the foster care, [Department of Human Services] system. Then those babies are separated from one another.”
Hall said her group will continue these bailouts, but that they are tactical.
“We don’t want to have to keep bailing people out until the end of time,” she said. “We don’t want bails to exist, and we don’t want pretrial detention or jails to exist. We picture ourselves to be abolitionists, so we want a clearing of the prison-industrial complex.”