Years after an Oklahoma mom was released from prison after being handed a 12-year sentence for making $30 in weed sales, she landed in jail again for not paying court costs related to the case.
Luckily for Patricia Spottedcrow, strangers learning of her plight chipped in to pay the $1,139.90 in court costs she still owed in the 2010 matter, and she was released after being incarcerated for two days, the Tulsa World reports.
“I had no idea how [I] was going to pay this off,” Spottedcrow told KFOR News 4. “I knew I was going to be sitting here for a while.”
“It feels wonderful,” she continued with regard to the generous assistance she received. “I don’t even know what to say. It feels like I hit the lotto.”
Spottedcrow’s case highlights the continued inequities of the nation’s criminal justice system when it comes to race, poverty and mass incarceration.
While $1,139.90 may seem like a modest sum to many, Spottedcrow, a widowed mom of six, according to KFOR, has found it difficult finding stable employment or housing since her release from prison on the marijuana offense.
The disparities also appear stark given the nonviolent nature of her original offense and the increased decriminalization of marijuana nationwide. As Tulsa World reporter Samantha Vicent noted in a tweet:
Spottedcrow’s plight first came to the media’s attention back in 2011 when she was facing a 12-year stretch in Oklahoma state prison for selling a total of $30 worth of weed to a police informant on two occasions in 2009 and 2010.
As the first-time offender explained to the Tulsa World at the time, she decided to plead guilty without the benefit of a plea deal from prosecutors because she thought she’d get leniency given her otherwise unblemished record.
But she ended up getting hit with 12 years.
After media coverage and public outcry, another judge reviewed and lessened her sentence, and she was released from prison in November 2012—but with court fees still hanging over her head, the Tulsa World reports.
In the years since, despite signing an agreement to pay $50 a month toward the fees, Spottedcrow struggled to make payments, with late fees increasing the amount owed, as the Tulsa World explains:
[County official Lindsey] Weaver said her department levies a $10 charge on defendants each time a late payment notice is mailed, which occurs 10 days after the payment due date. If a payment is not received within 10 days after the notice is sent, a bench warrant can be issued, costing defendants an additional $80.
Spottedcrow had signed an agreement in 2013 to pay $50 per month on a total balance of $3,921.97. In May 2018, a week after a two-day jail stint following a missed court date, Spottedcrow wrote a letter to [the judge] asking for more time to “get my affairs in order” ahead of a hearing on revocation of her suspended sentence. She hinted at financial troubles due to caring for her small children.