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Birmingham Group Works to Free Women From Jail; Reunite Families for Mother’s Day

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From left: Rosa Williams, Cara McClure and Gwen Woods, members of Faith and Action, a social justice nonprofit, are bailing Black mothers out of jail just in time for Mother's Day. (Alaina Bookman, AL.COM)

By Alaina Bookman | abookman@al.com

This is another installment in Birmingham Times/AL.com/CBS42 joint series “Beyond the Violence: what can be done to address Birmingham’s rising homicide rate.” Sign up for the newsletter here.

Many parents charged with crimes sit behind bars for months, even years, losing time with family.

Many have not yet been convicted of a crime and are awaiting trial from jail simply because they cannot afford bail. Cara McClure, founder and executive director of Faith and Works, a social justice nonprofit, will begin another round of bailouts Thursday to reunite incarcerated Black women with their families, just in time for Mother’s Day.

“A lot of times they sit in jail, languish in jails only to be found not guilty because that’s how the system is set up. It’s set up to keep us there, to have control over Black bodies. If you are rich, and you go to jail for the same reason, you get to go home and take care of your affairs. But if you’re poor, the system is set up to punish poor Black people,” McClure said.

“Money should not be a determining factor in freedom. We’re bailing these women out, Black mamas, to bring awareness to the harms of cash bail and pretrial detention.”

About two-thirds of people in jail in the United States – an estimated 500,000 people, according to The Marshall Project – are incarcerated because they can’t afford bail or a bond. The median bail amount for felonies is about $10,000.

According to a 2024 Prison Policy Initiative report, 190,600 women are incarcerated in the United States and 80 percent of women in jails are mothers, and most of them are primary caretakers of their children.

Faith and Works did its first round of bail outs in 2017 after seeing the work done by the National Bail Out for Black mothers.

“I remember it was so special. We found multiple women that day in the system. And we just bailed them out,” McClure said.

In its first two years, Faith and Works raised over $1 million for community bail funds.

Since its inception, Faith and Works has evolved. Using the National Bail Out toolkit, they found better ways to support mothers once they are out of jail by providing resources and support services such as money for groceries, bills, rent and transportation.

“When a woman, a Black mother, just sits there caged because she’s poor, they lose their car, their benefits, their homes and a lot of times they lose their children,” McClure said.

Volunteers go through the Jefferson County inmate portal searching for red flags: an unusually high bail, no bail listed at all or women who have been in custody for a long time. Once they identify a mother, volunteers set up an interview to identify a woman’s needs after jail, as well as addiction or support services she might need.

“What we’re trying to hear is what are some of their needs. We’re not there to just talk about their crime. We’re there to find out who’s taking care of their children. Do they need clothes? Do they need transportation, groceries,” McClure said.

After ensuring that she wants to be bailed out, volunteers reach out to the woman’s family members.

The nonprofit is taking donations to bail out Black women and reunite them with their families for Mother’s Day. So far, Faith and Works has raised $147,000.

McClure said Faith and Works has already identified two women for the bail out.

The Mothers

In 2021, Yolanda, a mother who spent six months in jail before being bailed out by Faith and Works, was found not guilty of a domestic violence charge. Now, Yolanda has her own apartment in Decatur, close to her oldest son and grandson. AL.com is not using her full name because her court file is not public and because she was found not guilty.

Upon bailing Yolanda out of jail, Faith and Works got Yolanda a bed at the Lovelady Center, where she also enrolled in a rehabilitation program.

“I got closer to God and built up my faith. Even in that time, Faith and Works, Cara was still contacting me. I completed the program there and everything has just been going well. I got the help I needed. They saved my life,” Yolanda said.

“They kept in contact with me and kept up with my progress, and my court dates. Eventually, all my charges was dropped and I was found not guilty. And still to this day, I still keep in contact with everybody. What they did for me was just really awesome.”

Yolanda is just one of many mothers who have had to sit in jail simply because they could not afford bail.

In 2022, JaCari Letchaw, a single mother of five children, was arrested for a nonviolent offense. Her bail was set at $60,000, more than what Letchaw would make in a year.

Letchaw spent two weeks at the Jefferson County Jail. She lost her job and was facing eviction.

“There had been an evicti on notice for six days. So we were able to find out who we needed to talk to and help her save her home,” McClure said.

Had Faith and Works not bailed her out, Letchaw likely would still be awaiting trial from jail, two years after being arrested.

“She could have lost everything, including her kids,” Rosa Williams, a Faith and Works volunteer, said.

“Our system says that we are innocent until proven guilty. However, that’s not what they’re practicing. Courts are backed up for years. You’re taking someone’s life from them just to go to trial and say, ‘now you’re not guilty,’ but they’ve lost everything. Their kids, their jobs, their reputations. Why should you have to sit in a cage if you’re innocent until proven guilty?”

McClure and Faith and Works volunteers reunited Letchaw with her children. The word “mommy” echoed off the walls of the room as Letchaw was reunited with her children as they hugged and cried.

“I look at some of the women and I’m thinking, how many kids do you have, who got your children, is anybody there for your kids. You’re losing your home, everything, while you’re sitting in jail because you don’t have the money to get out. And the bonds are set so high,” Gwen Woods, a Faith and Works volunteer, said. “It needs to be changed. It needs to stop. I think it’s sad, it’s really awful.”

Around Thanksgiving 2023, Faith and Works bailed out a mother with five children. While the mom was in jail, her oldest daughter, who was in high school, had to quit her job to take care of her siblings. And their grandmother worked to support the family.

Faith and Works gave the grandmother $1,000 in cash to pay for groceries and bills.

“This really touches my heart because I know people that have been incarcerated and had to sit. None of the family members had any money. Nobody could get them out. So now we got to figure out who can take the children. The home is gone. No furniture, nothing. There’s a lot of work to be done. And I’m glad to be a part of it,” Woods said.