For the past 8 days our social bio team, made up of Fernando J. Perez, Jean Melesaine, Quynh-Mai Nguyen, and Daniel Zapien, had been stationed in St. Louis to meet and document stories of the people who teamed up with Arch City Defenders to file and WIN historic lawsuits in St. Louis to end debtors prison. In the municipality of Jennings, for example, the city had to pay 4.7 million dollars to 2,000 residents that had filed a classic action suit with the help of Arch City Defenders. This was a continuing issue that had not seen light until the protests in Ferguson brought national attention.
Debtors prison, used across the country, profit off the practice of wrongfully incarcerating communities of color and often times keeping them in debt for years through fines and fees.
Below are profiles of people who'd experience modern day debtors prison that stemmed from a traffic ticket or misdemeanor, but who also are the ones leading the fight against ending debtors prison. Photographs by Jean Melesaine.
It took Samantha, a lead plaintiff in Jennings suit, 14 years to pay off fines from a misdemeanor, even though she had spent 67 days in jail.
For a traffic ticket at the age of 17, Keilee has been in jail 30-45 times and served more than 200 days in 7 different municipality jails.
“The judge was more concerned with the calculator to total the fines than he was the person in front of him,” says Qiana from Pine Lawn.
Meredith from Florissant survived constant police harassment, once given 11 tickets all in 1 stop. "You either do the time or pay the fine."
Jerry has family that was part of the suit. He echoed what many people told us, they fighting injustice in St. Louis for their kids futures.