The Man Who Never Returned

Old MTA song about a poor fellow (Charlie) who boarded the metro train in Boston with enough money in pocket to pay his fare only to learn that the fare had increased while he was in transit (kinda like the price of gas going up 20% while grocery shopping. Should have bought it before.).  “When he got there the conductor told him, “One more nickel.” Charlie could not get off that train.” The song is also known as “Charlie on the MTA” by Jacqueline Steiner and Bess Lomax Hawes, 1949. The chorus, that is repeated while the story is told, ends with “He may ride forever ‘neath the streets of Boston. He’s the man who never returned.” Analysis finds this to be an unforeseen outcome of pay to ride while on board. Much as pay to stay has unforeseen pitfalls. Jessie Balmert (“ACLU: Don’t charge Ohioans for jail stays” 11-9-15, Gannett) covers a report released by the ACLU on county lock ups charging incarcerated inmates for their stay. Reuters gives a different perspective in “Ohio pay-to-stay prisons saddle poor inmates with debt: ACLU” (11-9-15) by Kim Palmer. Though Balmert’s headline admonition appears to evoke “Spare the rod” sentiments, Palmer’s report has better math. Balmert states “The Licking County jail assesses a $10 initial booking fee and a daily fee of $60, according to the report. The jail where Mahoney stayed in Marion County has one of the highest fees in the state: a $100 booking fee and $50 per day. That amounts to $1,600 for a 30-day sentence.” Even Karl Rove would have to admit that the same stay in the Licking County lock up would cost the inmate another $210. Where’s someone who has committed petty theft for monetary gain supposed to come up with that kind of cash? Unlike Balmert, Palmer actually quotes from the report (maybe even read it): “”Pay-to-stay jail fees are the next generation of unending debts that seek to tether low-income people to the criminal justice system,” the report states. “These fees are insidious: loading formerly incarcerated people with increasing amounts of debt make it nearly impossible for even the most well-meaning person to become a productive member of society.”” According to Palmer, 40 of Ohio’s 75 counties charge for incarceration. If Licking County were in Louisiana, failure to pay the 30 day lock up charge would result in, you guessed it, further incarceration (“Poor old Charlie!”). Some states further incarcerate those failing to pay fees and costs associated with their convictions/incarceration (“Did he ever return?”). In the spirit of “new” journalism, Balmert attempts to present “the other side” with: ““It’s unfortunate that we have people in any economic situation that are committing crimes,” said Robert Cornwell, executive director of the Buckeye State Sheriffs’ Association. “But there is a cost to that.”” China is way ahead of the executive director on that one. With capital punishment cases, the kin of the deceased are presented with the bullet and a bill for the cost of execution. A Kafkaesque speculation would be the eventual fee and charge for the cost of execution levied on the estates and survivors of those subjected to capital punishment here in the U.S. Failure to pay in Louisiana (and elsewhere) would rekindle the cycle all over again. Will the circle be unbroken?


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