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I was on a bike ride with some friends in Austin, Texas a few years back. It was a hot spring night and we were as we always were back then, carefree and lawless. Our steeds were aluminum, but we were outlaws all the same.

We got from a to b in the quickest way we could, although we were in no rush, and weren’t really going anywhere. That night the quickest way was the wrong way down a vacant one way street. We were only going one way after all.

The only car that happened to be needing that right of way that evening happened to be a cop. A Texas cop. So when we saw him we made for the sidewalk and our escape, except this night we wouldn’t all be so lucky. One of the officers met our leader at the curb. It was a blur that ended up with her face on the pavement. She was arrested for resisting arrest. There was no other charge.

It was her first arrest and messed up on its own, but it’s not the point of this tale. I went to the station to wait for my friend’s release after getting her bike back to the house and bidding adieu to the rest of our pack who continued on their evening solemnly. This is how I remember it.

I would wait all night, alternating between sitting in the waiting room and rolling cigarettes on the concrete outside. My concern for my friend was only that she have a friendly face when she was let out. I’ve been the lonely one getting off the bus, the plane, the train, and I imagined getting out of jail was about the same but double. At least.

So I waited, and it’s what I saw while I waited that is the point. The reason it took so long for my friend to get out that night was that it was a busy night at the station. It wasn’t for a staggering amount of robberies, or riots, or even teenage drinkers. It was the night that warrants go out for collections actions. If you owe for a parking ticket, or moving violation or any other civil charge that leaves you owing money to the government, you’re as good as criminal if you don’t have the money to pay for it.

There were dozens of folks being wrangled up just because they ran out of quarters one day and couldn’t afford the fine. These are people who can barely afford their food for the week, and they were being locked up, taken from their work, from their kids for pennies to dollars they hadn’t paid into the city coffers.

It’s illegal in the US, but it happens, and like a lot of things for people with no money, it doesn’t matter if it’s right or not.

Read this story about a woman locked up in Missouri for weeks for failure to pay traffic tickets.

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