Moms couldn't pay bond, so churches paid it for them

 
 
Posted5/31/2020 7:00 AM

BELLEVILLE, Ill. -- Marlisia Younger, Sharlena Stocker and Jenniece Horton each were being held in the St. Clair County Jail on separate charges of aggravated battery.

But the United Congregations of the Metro East, with assistance from the National Bail Out Collective and its Free Black Mamas initiative, decided jail was no place for the three East St. Louis women to be on Mother's Day. So it posted bond for each of them, freeing them to celebrate the weekend with their children.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

None of the three have been convicted, but were in jail because they couldn't afford to post the cash bond, said Tiara Moore, a community organizer for the Illinois Network for Pretrial Justice.

'We have an annual campaign to bring awareness to the number of mother's who are sitting in jail cells because they can not afford to post their bail,' said Moore. 'When mothers languish in jail because they don't have money for bail, our families and communities suffer. Women and caregivers often lose their jobs, housing and even children only to be found innocent.'

Moore said St. Clair County Sheriff Rick Watson, Sgt. James Hendricks, and Capt. Shan Collins helped the group identify women who would best benefit from the initiative. The organizations posted a total of $9,400 on Friday to free Younger, Stocker and Horton.

Members of the Cahokia-based United Congregations of the Metro East, greeted the three women outside the jail with cheers and donated flowers, balloons and banners that said 'Happy Mother's Day' and 'Welcome Home.' They also presented each with a gift bag packed with toiletries and other necessities.

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'I feel special. Somebody finally did something for me,' said Younger, who will turn 20 years old next month. '... I am really grateful to the people who posted my bail money. Without them, I would just be sitting there. Now, I am able to go home to my children.'

According to the Prison Policy Initiative, a national non-profit group that studies the effects of incarceration and advocates against 'mass criminalization,' nearly 110,000 women are held in local jails, about 60% of which are still awaiting trial and haven't been convicted. About 80% of them are mothers, the organization says.

Moore, a community organizer for the Illinois Network for Pretrial Justice, said the metro-east churches have joined with the National Bail Out Collective to eliminate cash bail. Reforms passed through the state legislature in 2017 limit bail in Illinois to violent crimes, but advocacy groups like the NBO argue that the definitions of 'violent' remain too broad.

Low-income women accused of a crime often cannot afford bail and are forced to sit in jail for months as they await trial.

'We are working to end cash bail,' Moore said. 'We need to create a better system that doesn't punish you for being poor. A lot of people are held pre-trial because they don't have money.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

'Through the campaign, we try to find housing, legal support, transportation, mental health, substance abuse programs and other resources to support the mothers. We are trying to give a wrap-around services to keep them from going back to jail.'

According to its social media pages, National Bail Out has bailed out more than 300 women in the last two years and the Free Black Mamas campaign has raised more than $1 million.

The three women released through the organizations' efforts each are facing felony battery charges.

Younger has been charged with a count each of aggravated domestic battery and aggravated battery with use of a deadly weapon. Arresting documents were not available, but she said her arrest related to an altercation she had with police.

'I was protecting myself,' she said.

But she says her 21-day stay was a wake-up call.

'I couldn't make it. I regret I ever got in trouble. I have been praying,' she said. 'When you have faith and believe in Him, everything will be all right.'

Stocker and Horton each said they were impaired by drugs or alcohol at the time of their alleged crimes.

Horton, 39, who according to circuit clerk records has a previous felony conviction for violating an order of protection and is serving probation for a 2014 burglary, is now facing two counts of aggravated battery. The most recent charges against her, she says, also relate to a physical altercation with a police officer.

'I don't remember hitting a police officer. That's not me,' she said. 'I was high off of some weed and didn't take my medicine.'

After 64 days in jail, Horton said she's looking forward to a hot bath, some good food and a Mother's Day with her three daughters.

'I really appreciate what they did for me,' she said as she tried unsuccessfully to choke back tears. 'I am too emotional to continue. I am just so thankful.'

Stocker, 24, has a history of traffic and petty offenses that goes back to 2012, plus battery and disorderly conduct convictions in 2015, according to circuit clerk records. She was charged on March 24 with assaulting her sister during an argument.

'I drank too much liquor and me and my sister got into a fight,' Stocker said. 'She punched me in my eye and I hit her with a meat cleaver. I don't even remember. I blacked out.'

The mother of two had been held for 42 days prior to her release Friday. Whatever sparked the altercation is behind the siblings now, Stocker said.

'We're all good,' she said. 'We got it out of the way.'

Apart from her children, Stocker will be reunited at home with three other sisters, six brothers and a mother who's recovering from COVID-19, the respiratory disease caused by the coronavirus.

'She can't work,' she said. 'I am blessed to be out of jail. A lot of people need more people to step up and help them. It would make the word a better place.'

Younger, Horton and Stocker said they are glad to be able to be at home as they await their court proceedings, but want the justice system changed so that other mothers aren't left languishing in jail before they're convicted.

'Seeing the three women's glowing faces' made Moore's day, she said. That's probably because she knows what being separated from four of her five children feels like.

Moore was arrested in 2018 for aggravated battery and couldn't afford the $10,000 bail payment to get out of jail.

'I didn't put my hands on anybody,' she said.

After a week of incarceration, the Free Black Mamas Fellowship posted bond and helped her find housing, employment and additional education.

The charges against her eventually were dropped, but not before she and her children paid a steep price, she said.

'Jail does not stop you from being a parent,' she said. 'My children stayed with my mother. I told her to tell them I was on vacation. I had to parent my children over the phone for the seven days while I was locked up.'

For Moore, the experience set her on a new path and a 'dream job' with the Illinois Network for Pretrial Justice.

'We are working to change these mother's lives and help them to do the things that will keep them out of jail,' she said.

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Source: Belleville News-Democrat, https://bit.ly/3c08hx7

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