Community feature: Activists, artists join forces to bail out black mothers

Erica Thompson
Amber Falter, Stacey Little and Pat Deering

On Sunday, May 12, restaurants will be booked for brunch, mantles will be lined with greeting cards and vases will be overflowing with flowers. The occasion, of course, is Mother's Day. But some moms will be forced to celebrate behind bars.

“We all have had someone that cared for us and loved us and mothered us in some way,” said Arissa Hall, a director of National Bail Out, a black-led and black-centered collective working to end pretrial detention. “But we recognize that our conversation about the criminal justice system is very masculine, and those that we oftentimes erase and leave behind are our mamas and our caregivers.”

With that in mind, NBO will bail out as many black mothers as it can for its third consecutive Mother's Day this year. The #FreeBlackMamas campaign has extended to Columbus, with activist Stacey Little helping to lead the charge. Participants include organizations like Restoring Our Own Through Transformation (ROOTT) and Women Have Options Ohio, as well as individual volunteers.

“I was adamant about the focus being on black moms simply because we know that black folks are disproportionately incarcerated,” Little said. “We're going to bail out as many moms as we possibly can with the money that we've collected.”

But the efforts of NBO and Little go beyond simply getting women out of jail. Citing the financial and social impact of pretrial detention and bail payment on communities of color, activists are calling for an elimination of those systems.

“Most of the bodies that we have locked up here in Franklin County are pretrial, meaning they have yet to be found guilty or not guilty,” said attorney Tabitha Woodruff, who is participating in the Columbus bail out. “It spends a lot of taxpayer dollars [by] unnecessarily imprisoning people. And the end result often is that they're losing their jobs. They then lose their apartments. They then lose custody of their children even if they are ultimately found not guilty. So it's just an egregious injustice that people seem to have very little awareness about.”

Earlier this year, the Ohio Supreme Court established aTask Force to Examine the Ohio Bail System. And California became the first state to abolish cash bail. However, some are concerned thatnew risk-assessment systems — some based on algorithms — could end up being just as inequitable in determining which defendants should be detained.

“I can see why sometimes you want to hold somebody before their actual trial,” Woodruff said. “But how do we go about doing that? And doing that in a way that's fair and isn't just based on the implicit biases of the judge?”

While it will take the criminal justice system a while to find its footing on the issue, NBO participants provide immediate assistance to the released moms through wraparound services, as well as aFree Black Mamas Fellowship to foster their leadership skills.

But money is always needed, and even people outside of the legal or activist community are doing what they can to raise funds. Quarterly comedy event Stand Up for Choice will be supporting the Mother's Day Bail Out with its forthcoming show at Ace of Cups on Tuesday, April 30.

“It made the most sense for us … to partner with the group that was working on getting mothers out of the system who haven't been convicted of anything,” said co-host Pat Deering, referencing the current political climate, exacerbated by Ohio's recently passed six-week abortion ban. “[Especially] in the face of this push from the Statehouse to criminalize more women trying to take control of their reproductive health.”

The show will feature all comedians of color, including a former attorney, a mother and others tied to the issue in some way. Over the past three years, Stand Up For Choice has become a cathartic space for both performers and audiences.

“There's been some stories that we've heard comedians tell that I don't think they would tell on any other stage,” said co-host Amber Falter. “Before the show, we say, ‘Hey, whatever you've got to say, let it out. This crowd's got you.'”

And hopefully the crowd will be inspired to support the cause after the show.

“This isn't the only bail out that we're going to do,” Little said. “The end goal is to actually start a community bail fund. … We really want to start something that benefits the community as a whole.”

7:30-10 p.m. Tuesday, April 30

2619 N. High St., Old North

To donate, visit

Ace of Cups