Even though debtors prisons have been outlawed in the United States since 1833, the practice has made a resurgence in recent years. Sometimes these arrests are driven by unscrupulous collection agencies who hold private debts, while in other cases they are pushed by cash-strapped municipalities. Either way, you would think that this is a clear violation of the law that cannot be ignored, but about a third of US states are still getting away with it today. It may be hard for some folks to believe, but in many parts of America, it’s basically illegal to be poor.
Aside from how incredibly awful it is to do this to people, it also apparently leads to some rather strange and creepy situations for America’s poorest citizens. For example, a judge in Alabama has been criticized recently for quite literally trying to draw blood from a stone. On September 17th, Judge Marvin Wiggins was faced with dozens of defendants who owed money for court fees and fines. So, he gave them an ultimatum.
“For your consideration, there’s a blood drive outside,” The Times quoted him as saying. “If you don’t have any money, go out there and give blood and bring in a receipt indicating you gave blood.”
For those who had no money or did not want to give blood, the judge concluded: “The sheriff has enough handcuffs.”
In an audio recording obtained by the Southern Poverty Law Center, a worker at the blood drive tells one defendant he is doing the right thing by giving by blood.
“Well, and I normally do,” he replies. “But, I don’t like being told I have to or I’m going to jail.”
“I thought everybody was joking when he said that,” the woman working the drive then said.
In another recording, a blood donation ends with the donor telling a staffer: “Don’t thank me, thank the judge.”
The Times reported Wiggins declined to comment. The SPLC filed an ethics complaint against Wiggins for an alleged “violation of bodily integrity,” the report states.
Under normal circumstances this wouldn’t be unethical, just creepy. However, these aren’t normal circumstances. This is a state where you can be thrown in jail if you’re too poor to pay your debts. So the judge used his state’s laws as leverage, to coerce destitute people into giving up their blood. How incredibly f***ed up is that?
It gets even worse when you consider what this behavior could lead to. Throwing people in jail for their inability to pay a fine, already pushes them into a cycle of poverty. In many cases, the courts can increase the fine when the defendants don’t pay on time. Obviously, if they couldn’t pay before, they’ll never be able to pay under those conditions, which means that they’ll wind up in jail. Then they can expect to lose whatever job they may have had, or their car or their place of residence.
Then when they’re released, they have nothing to their name but a criminal record that might prevent them from getting another job. Perhaps they’ll be homeless for a while, which in some jurisdictions, means that they’ll probably be fined again for some minor offense. And on and on it goes.
Now, add coerced blood donations to the mix, and you have a system that is literally vampiric. The cycle of poverty suddenly turns into routine bloodlettings to preserve your freedom. Maybe in the future the pharmaceutical industry will get in on the action, and they can force debtors to undergo medical experiments. Or, hell, maybe we can copy the Chinese government and just start harvesting organs from these “criminals.” There will be no way to escape that one. When the cops pull you over, they see your driver’s license. They know if you’re an organ donor.
Hopefully this judge won’t get away with this. As you can see, it would set a horrifying precedent.
Joshua Krause is a reporter, writer and researcher at The Daily Sheeple. He was born and raised in the Bay Area and is a freelance writer and author. You can follow Joshua’s reports at Facebook or on his personal Twitter. Joshua’s website is Strange Danger.