Erika, a young mother of 2, a server at a local chain restaurant was just getting by. One day, her daughter fell ill and she needed to take time off from work. Unfortunately her boss did not allow her to take the time off and gave her an ultimatum: “you be here by the start of your shift, or don’t come back.” Struggling to get her daughters father to support her, she had to make the very difficult decision to leave her job and take her daughter to the hospital. A week and half passes and Erika is struggling to find a new job. Her landlord gave her break and told her she had an extra week to pay the rent. Unfortunately Erika knew that this would not be enough time to find a job and make the $825 needed to pay the monthly rent. After the third week of trying to avoid her landlord, she found a notice on her door. She had 48 hours to pay or leave. Her ex-boyfriend once told her that if she ever wanted to leave the world of “living paycheck to paycheck” he could help her out. For fear of losing her children if she was ever caught, Erika ended that relationship and never took him up on his offer… until now. She was caught carrying 4 grams of coke and sentenced to 5 years in prison. The father of her children was nowhere to be found, and Erika’s family were unable to take in her kids. Erika’s children were thrown into the foster care system.

As of 2010, 1,021,555 women were under the supervision of the criminal justice system; one million, twenty one thousand, five hundred and fifty five. I think it is important that we actually speak this large number. What is the root of this mass incarceration? RACISM! POVERTY! THE WAR ON DRUGS! DOMESTIC VIOLENCE!

This series will re-tell, re-inform, re-educate and hopefully re-ignite the community to confront, talk about and not ignore our broken criminal justice system. I will share with you the theories about the causes of incarceration, stories from women’s experiences while incarcerated, the treatment, the abuses and the extreme lack of resources for women once they are released and thrown back into the “real world.” But today, I will leave you with the horrifying facts that we will delve into deeper in the coming weeks: (stat credit: The Sentencing Project, Resistance Behind Bars)

  • In the last three decades, the rate of women incarcerated behind bars jumped 800 percent. This is double the increase of male incarceration rates.
  • More than three- quarters of all reported staff sexual misconduct involves women who were victimized by male correctional staff.
  • Women in prison (59%) are more likely than are men (43%) to have chronic and/or communicable medical problems (including HIV, Hepatitis C, and sexually transmitted diseases).
  • 62% of incarcerated women are mothers of young children and 33 women enter the correctional system pregnant every year.

Erika was a first time offender; she was a single black mother living in poverty, now she is a felon and will always be considered a felon.