A year ago, Shondra Vernon got one of the best Mother’s Day gifts ever.
She was bailed out of the Fulton County Jail after spending the night locked up on several charges, including making terroristic threats.
Now, Vernon wants to give the same gift of freedom and second chances to other black mothers and caregivers.
Since her release, Vernon, the Grant Park mother of two, has volunteered with the Atlanta chapter of Southerners on New Ground (SONG), a regional nonprofit that works on social justice and LGBTQ issues. For the past three years, the Atlanta SONG chapter has participated in the Black Mama’s Bail Out, an initiative that raises money to help secure the release of mothers and caregivers from jails.
It’s part of a national collective of organizations working on ending cash bail.
“It was an invigorating feeling I had when I was actually bailed out,” said Vernon, an events planner. “There was relief and happiness to see my kids.”
Last year, 10 people were released through the work of Atlanta SONG just in time for Mother’s Day.
This year, organizations hope to exceed that number. Bailouts are occurring in Fulton and Clayton counties. That may expand.
“We hope to raise awareness around the crisis of money bail and pretrial detention and get folks involved in our work to abolish bail and mass incarceration,” said Tonee Young, a member of the SONG communications work group.
Atlanta’s bailouts, which are in their third year, are happening through Friday.
So far, Atlanta SONG has raised more than $21,000.
The issues of criminal justice, mass incarceration and bail reform are being addressed by state and local governments and civil and social justice groups around the nation.
Studies show African Americans bear the brunt of it all. The American Civil Liberties Union said lower-income people and people of color are disproportionately affected by the cash bail system that leads to mass incarceration.
According to a 2017 report by the Color of Change and the ACLU, 70% of people in local jails have not been found guilty of a crime.
If they can’t pay, they are often kept in jail for days, weeks or months.
Vernon said she was trying to get her youngest child from her paternal grandmother when things turned south. Police were called. She was arrested and jailed.
Her bail was $3,500. Vernon had $300 stashed away.
Her mother had the money and was at the jail to try to get her daughter out when she ran into someone from SONG. They asked how much Vernon’s bail was and gave her mother the full amount.
Vernon’s charges were later suspended, court records show, and Vernon said she had to take anger management classes.
The bailout initiative will culminate Sunday with what is billed as a homecoming celebration from 1 to 4 p.m. on Mother’s Day in Howell Park, 938 Ralph David Abernathy Blvd. SW in Atlanta.
There, the mothers and caregivers and their families will be treated to food and entertainment.
The mothers and caregivers are identified through court watch programs and through recommendations from attorneys and social workers.
“We don’t look at the offense,” Young said.
To qualify, the person must be a mother or caregiver, which would include the transgender and queer communities. “You may not have ever physically given birth, but you take care of someone,” Young said. “Of course, before we bail out someone, we want to make sure this is something they want and that their families want. That varies for every family.”
The organization has raised money through online donations at bit.ly/freeblackmamas-19; holding events at local businesses and participating in Give Out Day, a national day of giving for the LGBTQ community.
SONG is a member of the National Bail Out Collective.
There are no plans to hold a similar event for black men for Father’s Day.
There have been similar efforts at helping people get a second chance.
New Birth’s “Bail Out” program, which also helps with job readiness, targeted DeKalb, Fulton, Gwinnett and Rockdale counties.
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