Reuniting a Mother and Her Son
It's been almost four years since Joyce Davis has seen her sons. As a client of Equal Justice Under Law — a Detroit area mother and grandmother who is living on a fixed income and battling cancer — was not allowed to visit her two sons in prison because of unpaid traffic tickets. She owed $1485 to the state.
Last year, she told her story to The Marshall Project.
After The Marshall Project story was posted, readers immediately started reaching out, asking how they could help, so Equal Justice Under Law organized the fundraising efforts. In less than 24 hours, supporters raised the funds to pay off all of Joyce’s debt, so she can start the process of reapplying for visitation.
Joyce was overjoyed: “I love all of you! I haven’t seen my sons in nearly three years. That’s a blessing from God! Someone’s watching out for me down here and up there.”
After seven long awaited months, Joyce has finally been reunited with her son Antwan.
I just want to say that you and your staff has been a God send,
and me and my son want to thank you from the bottom of my heart. I thank you all for bringing me and my son together, face to face. I look forward to
seeing my other son next, with you and staff help. God Bless!
- Joyce Davis
Learn more about joyce's experience
Joyce’s son, Antwan Ramond Rankin is an inmate at Lakeland Correctional Facility in Coldwater, Michigan. Because Joyce can’t afford to pay her outstanding parking tickets — which combined with penalties and interest amount to nearly $1,500 — she has lost her driver’s license and now has an outstanding bench warrant.
Michigan Department of Corrections won’t allow visitors with warrants into state prison facilities because, they say, it would be too “administratively cumbersome” to figure out why the bench warrant was issued, and violent offenders could cause disruptions. Although safety is no doubt paramount, Joyce and other visitors like her threaten no one.
Because Michigan issues bench warrants against people who are too poor to pay court debt, the inevitable result is that indigent families are driven further apart. The fact that Joyce doesn’t have enough money to pay her parking tickets shouldn’t keep her from seeing her son.
The warden at Lakeland, Bonita Hoffner, could grant Joyce access to her son, but so far, Ms. Hoffner is ignoring Joyce’s appeal.
Equal Justice Under Law has contacted the warden several times, requesting that Ms. Hoffner direct her staff to allow visits from family members who pose no threat to the prison population and who only have outstanding warrants for court fines and fees that they do not have the ability to pay. Lakeland staff already verifies information before denying someone visitation rights; it shouldn’t be too cumbersome to discover if the warrant is only for a parking ticket.
The warden has not responded to our communications.
Earlier this year, we filed a class action lawsuit against Michigan’s Secretary of State for suspending driver’s licenses of people with safe driving records who are too poor to pay the debts they owe to the state for traffic violations or court costs. Such wealth-based schemes not only trap our most vulnerable citizens in a vicious cycle of poverty, but they make no sense. Because of these unfair punishments, people often lose their jobs or have a hard time finding employment, making it even more unlikely that they will be able to pay their debts to the state.
And in this case, this discriminatory policy is keeping one mother from seeing her son. While you’re spending Labor Day with your family, think of Joyce Davis who hasn’t been able to see her son in two years — all because of a parking ticket.