Moms, in jail for minor offenses, bailed out for Mother's Day

- This Mother's Day, some local women are getting the gift of a lifetime: Their freedom. A Bay Area advocacy group raised bail money for moms with low-level offenses as part of a national movement called "Bail Out Day."

The Bay Area Dream Defenders said they worked with local attorneys and bail bondsmen to find women who, in most circumstances, wouldn't be sitting in jail waiting months for a trial -- if they weren't low-income citizens.

Tanisha Bynum couldn't hold back her tears of joy at Chief's Creole Café in St. Petersburg on Thursday, where four women celebrated being bailed out of the Pinellas County Jail thanks to donations. 

"It kind of feels surreal at this moment, because yesterday I was sitting in this little cell, on this metal bunk with this thin mat, like 'Man, I need a miracle,'" she recalled.

Bynum is a mother to four children, ranging in ages from 2 to 8 years old. She was put in jail for a traffic citation and then sat behind bars for three weeks.

"I was actually going to the beach. I got into a car wreck. I had a previous traffic ticket, which I did fail to appear in court because I don't live in Florida anymore. I live in Alabama," she explained.

That failed appearance meant a warrant was put out for her arrest and her bail was set high -- at $10,000.
With no money to pay it, she had no way to get out.

"When people of color who are disproportionately affected by poverty get roped into the system, it's hard for them to get out because the money bail system continues to kind of trap them in," explained Dream Defenders director Chardonney Singleton.

The Tampa Bay Area Dream Defenders came to the aid of Bynum and three other women, raising $25,000 to pay their bail money in full. They say mothers with minor offenses are better served at home, teaching their children not to make the same mistakes, rather than sitting in a jail cell.

"[The] school-to-prison pipeline is real. If you don't have a mom in your household to protect you, to make sure you're coming home to do your homework every day, it creates a whole set of dangers and opportunities for folks to take advantage and wrap their children up in the system," Singleton explained.

And the support for these women won't stop after their bail out.

"We are still working with them, as far as trying to get them into different programs to get them to turn around, however, we can be of assistance," Singleton said.

But first, their focus is on letting women like Bynum enjoy their first weekend of freedom with the people who love them the most -- their children.

"Uh, I miss them! And I still have to get to Alabama to [see] them!" Bynum said with excitement.

Organizers with Dream Defenders say they're not done yet. They are still raising money and plan to come back to the Pinellas County Jail on Friday and bail more mothers out of jail. 

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