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Debtor’s Prison Is Back

Posted on by Townsend Myers

We Americans tend to judge other cultures by how they treat their less fortunate. Do the powerful take advantage of the vulnerable?  But when our gaze turns to our own country, are we really that much better? I believe we are — but we must remain vigilant. And a disturbing new trend in America brings to mind the dark times of a Charles Dickens novel.

Consider the saga of Lisa Lindsay, a breast cancer survivor, who ended up in jail for failure to pay a $280 medical bill that she was told she didn’t owe. Read the story here. Essentially, Lisa Lindsay was sent to debtor’s prison. And other Americans could easily find themselves in this frightening situation if we don’t rise against it.

The modern incarnation of debtor’s prison is this: it’s not the debt that lands you in jail…  it’s the unpaid cost of the creditor’s lawsuits that land you there. For Lisa Lindsay, collection fees  brought about her ‘contempt of court’ charges for non-payment.

This is allowable in a third of U.S. states – including Louisiana – and is tied directly to the financial institutions that are directly responsible for our current economic situation.

One of the most unique, humane and successful aspects of our American culture is our belief in redemption. Once upon a time, we didn’t view financial mistakes as a life sentence. We allowed people to repay what they could. They would then take a penalty – usually a hit to their credit rating – and then we, knowing it was best for the whole, allowed them to rejoin the game.

Unfortunately, before their irresponsible business practices brought about economic collapse, the aforementioned financial giants partnered with Congress to create legislation severely limiting a citizen’s ability to find debt relief. They made sure you couldn’t find relief for your mistakes then took billions of our money in bailout funds when they made their mistakes.

Do you see the irony here?



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