Really, HELLO, WORLD! How are you today? I am doing great – at least I like to think so.
I am a CRIMINAL in the state of Florida. Let me tell you how I became a criminal – good old me, a single mother , always volunteering to help others, a certified guardian ad litem volunteering my time to advocate for abused and neglected children….. Yes, it is true. By law, I AM A CRIMINAL, and it is only a matter of time before I get arrested. This is what happened:
June 24, 2009, I was driving too fast on the highway in Martin County, Florida. I was pulled over, and this nasty and cruel (in my opinion….. somebody else would probably say that the lady was just doing her job) female cop gave me a speeding ticket for $278.00. Yes, she was doing her job. The problem is that what is pocket money to somebody, turns a single mother’s life upside down. $278.00 is more than I spend on groceries in a whole month. Yes, it is possible to live on that little. I am the MASTER of stretching pennies : ) We always have what we need. Not often what we want, but always what we need.
Anyhow, this ticket was way more than I could afford at the moment – so, I went to the courthouse of that county and asked for a court hearing – thinking that, with justice for all and the court system being fair and all, they would either give me a payment plan, maybe lower my fine after I tell them how tight money already was in our family, or even let me do community service to pay my debt to the society.
The clerk (important person behind a bullet-proof glass) said they will send me a letter in the mail with the trial date when I need to appear in front of the judge. I went home. I did not receive a letter from Martin County the following week. I called the clerk asking if a court date had been set. She told me I will be notified via USPS as soon as the date is set. Another week went by, and no letter from Martin County Court. I called the clerk again. Poor clerk – having to put up with idiots like me constantly calling and asking stupid questions. I don’t think she even bothered to check in the system if such date had been assigned. She told me to wait for the letter in the mail. So I did.
Certainly, I did receive a letter in the mail – a month later, saying my fine had been upped to $500.00 dollars for a failure to appear in front of the court. Right. Failure to appear to a hearing I knew nothing about. Nobody notified me. So, here I go again – calling the overworked clerk and trying to explain what happened and asking if there would be any chance I could possibly get another hearing date. The clerk sounded really tired. I almost felt bad for her. She said a letter had been mailed to me via USPS, and since THE LETTER was never returned to the Martin County Courthouse, I must have received it. Their system shows it was mailed. Their system says it didn’t get returned back to them. I MUST HAVE RECEIVED THE DAMN LETTER! There is no other explanation. Right.
So, I explain to the clerk what my problem was – that I couldn’t afford to pay the original fine, $278.00, and now my trouble has doubled. My income still hadn’t doubled, and since I couldn’t pay the original fine, I would not have a chance paying $500.00 in 30 days. The clerk said I could write a letter to the magistrate, that they could reconsider the case after receiving my letter and maybe lower the ticket, or even give me another day in the court. YES! There was a chance after all!
I spent my whole afternon writing and re-writing the letter to the magistrate – I needed it to be perfect. I explained what my situation was. I attached proof of my income – which was barely over $20,000 for the previous tax year. I respectfully asked if I could pay my debt to the society by doing community service – I explained that I am a certified guardian ad litem, and more than happy to help any way I can. My hopes were up when I licked the envelope and dropped it in the mail. Surely, the magistrate person would understand and let me pay the fine either little by little, or even let me pay it by working for the good of the society. I felt much better.
Right. I should have understood that the magistrate person would consider me to be a liar. Of course! How else could it be? After all, NOBODY can live on the little money I claimed to earn. Nobody. Besides, the LETTER with the hearing date had been mailed to me. The system says so. The system also says it never was returned to them, so I MUST HAVE RECEIVED IT. So, I was a liar. Big time. And, for that reason, my letter from the magistrate had a word in it that could not be misunderstood. DENIED. My plea for a new hearing date or lower fine had been denied. To make matters worse, all this letter mailing back and forth had caused my ticket to be past due. What does Martin County do with past due unpaid tickets? They sell them to a collection agency. So, by the time I understood that my pleading was DENIED and that there was no other recourse to try to settle the matter, my ticket had been sent to a collection agency, who, in turn, had added their own fees on my ticket. The ticket now, with the collection fees added, is $732.00. This is how the justice system works. They make the rules, we have to do what they tell us. Otherwise they suspend our driver license. It happened to me. My license has now been suspended for over a year. I have tried my best, but, with the economy as it is now, I cannot come up with that kind of money. So, what do I do? I break the law, every time I drive to the supermarket. Or pick up my 5-year old from pre-school. I am a criminal, and I know that next time I get pulled over, the police officer has a duty to arrest me. So, I will go to jail. I really hope it won’t happen when I have my little girl in the car with me – it would be too traumatic for her to see mom in handcuffs. It really would. And where would they put her while I’m in jail? Foster care? Over an unpaid traffic ticket? Please, somebody, anybody, tell me if this all makes sense to you? Don’t they have real criminals to fill their jails with? I don’t hardly even drink – I don’t do drugs, or anything else that would be considered criminal. Never robbed a bank, I swear! Never stole an old lady’s purse! Nothing! And yet I am facing the threat of being arrested every time I am on the road.