There's a woman in jail in Escanaba, Michigan, United States of America.
She's in jail because she's poor -- too poor to pay her creditor.
Who is her creditor?
Her creditor is the court who says that she is liable for $104 for the monthly cost of incarcerating her 16 year-old son who is in a juvenile detention facility.
The woman is Ms. Nowlin. She was laid off from work, lost her home and is destitute. She survives by living with friends (along with her 14 year-old son) and picking up work when she can get it. She is $17,000 in debt and what money she can earn is garnished.
When Ms. Nowlin could not pay the $104 she was sentenced to 30 days in jail. She was denied a court appointed attorney.
She was given a day of work release three days after she was incarcerated so that she could pick up a paycheck for $178.53. She intended to pay the $104 with that paycheck.
However, the jail officials where she was imprisoned forced her to sign the check over to them to to pay for her "room and board."
When the 30 days of her current sentence are up she will be right back where she started -- unable to pay for the next 30 day stay for her son and able to be sentenced again.
This is one sad, sick world we live in.
The only thing that would make this story more Dickensian is if they had jailed her 14 year-old son along with her and if her 16 year-old son had been sent to prison for stealing a loaf of bread.
The one bright spot is that the ACLU is now fighting on her behalf.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan web site.
The brief that they filed on behalf of Ms. Nowlin here (.pdf).
Daily Kos diary on this case here.