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by on June 20, 2011

In the past four or five weeks I have read three novels by Dickens: The Pickwick Papers, Little Dorrit, and The Old Curiosity Shop.  It seems that the best authors are often British, and Dickens was one of the best British authors.  His ability to create characters and use symbols to expand upon his characters and novels (fog in Bleak House, prison – representing society – in Little Dorrit) is a testament to literary genius.  Beyond that, Dickens was a commentator on society, and a natural advocate for the poor, hungry, and forgotten. Like many authors before and after him, Dickens wrote about the world he knew, and the world he knew was influenced by his father’s brief stay in prison.  I think it was the debtor’s prison, and Little Dorrit centers around the real British Debtor’s Prison of Marshalsea.

What I’m writing about isn’t well-crafted fiction, or a book review.  It was necessary to expand upon Dickens to recall that there was once the Marshalsea, and advocacy by Dickens and changes in acceptable social proceedings led to the end of the Marshalsea.  His fiction was based upon fact, and his introduction to Little Dorrit shows rejoice in its removal.  However, if we thought it good that debtors had some recourse besides prison, and there have been positive changes in society, we seem to be regressing.

Kelly Wiedemer of Westminster, Col., spent four nights in jail this month because she hasn’t paid fines and restitution she owes from a car accident that happened nearly two years ago….
As the cost of Wiedemer’s penalty increased, her ability to pay it decreased. She says she missed a payment while recovering from an emergency hysterectomy in October 2009. When her unemployment benefits ran out in May 2010, she stopped paying altogether.

She’s unemployed, like many of us. She’s not particularly uneducated; she has a BS and more than ten years experience, and it does her no good. There is no room for making mistakes, much less accidents. There is now a world where those who pursue and education and do not have a job (generally through no fault of their own) are punished for misfortunes of car accidents. This is a world that defies its own laws:

It’s unconstitutional to lock people up for being poor, and most states abolished debtors’ prisons before the Civil War, but many municipalities these days have been jailing people for defaulting on legal financial obligations, or LFOs, in what the American Civil Liberties Union has called “the rise of America’s new debtors’ prisons.”

“Imprisoning those who fail to pay fines and court costs is a relatively recent and growing phenomenon,” says an October report by the ACLU. “States and counties, hard-pressed to find revenue to shore up failing budgets, see a ready source of funds in defendants who can be assessed LFOs that must be repaid on pain of imprisonment, and have grown more aggressive in their collection efforts.”

“This whole unemployment thing –- it destroys people,” [Wiedemer] says.

From → Politics, US Politics

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