Bailing Mamas Out!

Words by Atani Akokonan


It is no secret — women, particularly those from minority communities, face disproportionate challenges. Data reveals a stark reality: Women in state prisons are more likely than men to have been incarcerated for non-violent offenses, such as drug or property crimes. Over half (58%) of all women in U.S. prisons are mothers, as are 80% of women in jails, including many who are incarcerated awaiting trial simply because they can’t afford bail. The people suffering behind bars cannot advocate for themselves — we know, as voting Floridians, we have to make a change on their behalf.


Consider these statistics: while 25% of women in prison have been convicted of a drug offense, only 12% of men share a similar fate. Likewise, 19% of incarcerated women have been convicted of property crimes, compared to 13% of men. These numbers underscore the urgent need to address the root causes of race-based and gender-based discrepancies in our justice system. Injustice anywhere should act as a threat to justice for us all. 


Racial disparities compound the challenges faced by women behind bars. Black and Native American girls are disproportionately represented in the juvenile justice system compared to their Asian, Latinx and white counterparts. Black girls are more than three times as likely as white girls to be incarcerated with Native American girls facing an even higher likelihood.


The impactful response to these challenges came from organizations like Dignity Power and Fed Fam 4 Life. They have emerged with a mission to empower and advocate for incarcerated, formerly incarcerated, and impacted women and girls nationwide. Led by individuals Tray Johns and April Nubian Roberts, who have experienced the injustices of the criminal justice system firsthand, these organizations strive to effect meaningful change within our community.


Roberts draws from her journey through the criminal justice system to advocate for those who may not have had the same opportunities. Inspired by a transformative experience in Miami with fellow organizers, Roberts has dedicated her life to supporting women caught in the cycle of incarceration.


Similarly, Johns, founder of Fed Fam 4 Life (FF4L), leverages her legal knowledge and lived experiences to champion the release of women and girls from the grips of the prison industrial complex. Johns’ commitment to empowering individuals extends beyond advocacy to tangible support for those navigating the complexities of the legal system. She takes pride in being well known in the prisons and jail community for standing up to fight for her fellow citizens.


Central to the mission of Dignity Power and its partners is the recognition that incarceration affects not just individuals but entire families. With over half of women in U.S. prisons being mothers, the ripple effects of incarceration extend far beyond prison walls. From the trauma of separation to the exacerbation of mental health issues, the toll of incarceration on women and their families is profound and enduring.


Moreover, systemic inequities perpetuate the cycle of incarceration, disproportionately impacting Black women despite their status as one of the most educated and politically active demographics in the nation. Although there is no conclusive evidence of what works to eliminate racial disparities, appropriate responses most likely require a multifaceted approach. By addressing both external institutional barriers and internal conflicts such as “double consciousness,” organizations like Dignity Power seek to dismantle the systemic barriers that hinder progress.


One initiative spearheaded locally by Dignity Power and its partners is the Black Mama’s Bail Out, founded in 2018 and dedicated to paying cash bail to liberate women (and their children) who are unable to afford bail — before Mother’s Day weekend. As many protests over our lifetimes shed light on the mistreatment faced by incarcerated individuals, particularly Black women, initiatives like the Black Mama’s Bail Out offer a beacon of hope for this heavily affected group for Mother’s Day. (If you would like to sponsor a person, contact us at [email protected] and [email protected].)


Dignity Power is looking for more women to bail out! If you have the name of a mother who could benefit from this, please reach out to the event organizers. Johns remarked that the organization would like to help moms with larger bonds/ longer time incarcerated this year. Volunteers are also needed for advocacy opportunities like #mysisterskeeper: FF4L’s advocacy approach for legal cases. They convene a braintrust of volunteer students, lawyers and paralegals as each case requires. 


On top of these life-changing events, Dignity Power and other organizations lobby our legislators for real change. Currently, they are working on The Tammy Jackson Act. The bill amends 944.241 F.S., renaming the Act the “Tammy Jackson Healthy Pregnancies for Incarcerated Women Act.” The pro-life bill prescribes procedures for when a pregnant prisoner is placed in restrictive housing and requires detention facilities to adopt written policies about using restraints and body cavity searches on pregnant prisoners.


Ava’s Law is legislation sitting in the Florida Senate — passed the House, waiting to allow the Department of Health to help new mothers. This pro-life bill helps to eliminate the costs for things we know affect the baby through the mother in the most critical time of life while collecting data on this vulnerable community. Regular access to maternal health care is important for healthy pregnancies and healthy infants — and historically, minority women have less access to regular prenatal care, according to the March of Dimes.


Dignity Power meets on a conference line every Wednesday at 8 pm EST for all women, protecting incarcerated and impacted women in Florida jails. The next event is the Melanin Mamas March on April 14th at 11:30 am on Norwood Avenue, in conjunction with Black Maternal Week. Dignity Power seeks to uphold the principles of dignity and justice for all. By building a more equitable and compassionate society, where every woman and girl has a justice sisterhood: a voice when they have none.


Don’t even go there. 

Helping keep black girls out of the prison system 


The statistics paint a stark picture: Black women and girls suffer from the prison industrial complex. In the pursuit of justice and equality, it’s imperative to recognize and address the disparities faced by Black and indigenous American girls within the juvenile justice system. Data reveals the troubling reality that these girls are significantly more likely to be incarcerated compared to their Asian, Latinx and white counterparts. 


Furthermore, despite comprising just 15% of youth incarcerated on any given day, girls are disproportionately detained for minor offenses. Once caught in this cycle, the systemic challenges commence. This disparity is especially evident in the status of offenses, where one-third of incarcerated girls are held for non-criminal behaviors or probation violations. 


Additionally, since 1988, the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention has mandated states address racial and ethnic disparities in juvenile justice. While progress has been made, there is still much work to be done to ensure equitable treatment for all youth, regardless of race or ethnicity.


In response to these challenges, organizations like Jewels of the Future Inc. are making a tangible difference in the lives of at-risk girls in 32209 and surrounding areas. Diamond B. Wallace was inspired to do this work by her grandmother and with the help of her family started Jewels of the Future. Through mentorship programs focusing on entrepreneurship, community service and education, this organization empowers girls to envision and pursue a future filled with promise and opportunity.


Studies show a community must make sure the children feel supported to reverse these statistics. An environment that instills in their children the belief that they can achieve anything they set their minds to will succeed. When people meet, it should serve as a safe space for the kids to express themselves freely, knowing that they are supported and valued, regardless of their backgrounds or circumstances. 


Kids know that they only get love during “back-to-school” and the “holiday season.” We, as a community, must commit more time to our youth if we want to reverse these trends. And it is going to take more people and organizations to tackle this important issue. Jewels of the Future Inc. ensures that its meetings broaden their kids’ minds with activism and other events like Earth Day Cleanups and Mental Health Picnics. They also partner with other organizations like Dignity Power for the Melanin Mamas March this Black Maternal Health Week on April 14 at 11:30 a.m. on Norwood Avenue. 


A community can foster a supportive environment aimed at breaking the cycle of incarceration and empowering girls to build brighter futures for themselves and, in turn, their communities. It is essential to provide vital support and mentorship to girls in a community and empower girls to realize their full potential and pursue their dreams to disrupt the prison pipeline. 


Now more than ever, the world is starting to come to grips with a future where every girl has the opportunity to thrive and succeed, regardless of the challenges she may face. Political parties are realizing the power of the female vote and each year women shatter more and more glass ceilings. Organizations like Jewels of the Future and women like Wallace make a difference in creating a more just and equitable society for all.