by Matt Clarke
When she received a 12-year prison sentence for selling $31 worth of marijuana to a police informant in December 2009 and January 2010, first-time felony offender Patricia Spottedcrow, then-25, thought she wouldn’t see her four young children until they were teenagers. Then her story was featured in a Tulsa World article on women in Oklahoma’s prison system. Oklahoma incarcerates a larger percentage of its women than any other state.
In response to the 2011 newspaper article, supporters pushed for a reconsideration of Spottedcrow’s harsh sentence. Later that year, a different judge reviewed her sentence and reduced it to eight years with four suspended. She was paroled in November 2012.
Due to the Tulsa World coverage, her case generated national attention and sparked interest in reforming marijuana laws. That spark ignited a movement that continues to this day and has had many successes.
Spottedcrow’s release meant she was reunited with her children, then ages 11, six, five and three. But once home, her path was not an easy one. The felony conviction prevented her from working as a nursing home aide – her previous vocation – and most landlords refused to rent to her. Shelters turned her away, having no accommodations for large families, and employers refused to consider hiring her, citing her criminal record. Adding insult to injury, she still owed $2,470 in fines and had no way to pay them.
Spottedcrow lived hand-to-mouth, mostly in motels. Things looked up when she married in 2014. She had two additional children, but her husband died in 2018 and she returned to a marginal existence. The Kingfisher County Court Clerk’s Office sent her over a dozen notices saying she had to pay her fines. Each notice included a $10 additional fee, and another $80 was added when she failed to make a payment within 10 days. Her balance had ballooned to $3,569.76 by September 2019, when she was arrested for not paying the debt.
Suddenly, Spottedcrow was back in jail with little hope of raising even the $1,139.90 needed for her release.
“At the end of the day, there are Oklahoma kids who are without their mother,” said Nichole McAfee, advocacy director for the state ACLU chapter. “Today, folks are profiting off of the marijuana industry, and she is still suffering from that little $31 sale almost a decade ago. [She] is serving even more of an already unjust sentence, and we’re only setting her up to have to pay more fines and fees for a longer time. It’s really disappointing and sad for the state of Oklahoma.”
But the media had not forgotten Spottedcrow as the poster child for marijuana law reforms. Television station KFOR’s morning news anchor, Ali Meyer, gave a detailed report on the entire history of her case, noting that cannabis had become a booming industry in the state since Oklahoma legalized medical marijuana in 2018, leaving the decision on who qualified for legal pot in the hands of doctors.
On the afternoon of September 10, 2019, Meyer posted the number to the Kingfisher County Court Clerk’s Office, and noted that anyone who wanted to could make a payment on Spottedcrow’s behalf. By the next day, seven donors had paid not only the $1,139.90 required for her release from jail but the entire $3,569.76 that she owed in fines and costs.
“I had no idea how I was going to pay this off,” Spottedcrow told KFOR upon her release. “I knew I was going to be sitting here for a while.”
She was undoubtedly correct, but for the generosity of her supporters. Certainly the county had shown no sign of being generous, forgiving or understanding, and was prepared to keep her in jail indefinitely for, essentially, the crime of being poor.
Sources: tulsaworld.com, washingtonpost.com, kfor.com, nydailynews.com, aclu.org
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