Written by Nayazha Coleman

If you were to close your eyes and think about a “prisoner,” who do you see? What image does the word “criminal” bring to the forefront of your mind? In more cases than people are willing to admit, the image you see is of a black man, different haircut, varying heights and melanin intensity, but a black man nonetheless.  

This topic was broached in the poignant documentary “13th” directed by Ava Duvernay which shed light on the history and impact of mass incarceration on communities of color. One of my critiques of the film were that women of color, specifically black women, were excluded from the conversation. Much of the work surrounding mass incarceration and police brutality center men, particularly black men, as the sole victims of these manifestations of White Supremacy. Often times when the harsh, physical realities of systemic oppression are “tackled,” although on the forefront, the women are forgotten as though femininity shields them from the impacts of said oppression. Duvernay touched on Black Lives Matter towards the end of the documentary but in my opinion, didn’t quite represent the magnitude to which this nation’s booming incarceration system impacts women, both the incarcerated and the free.

According to Washington DC-based nonprofit, the Sentencing Project, there’s been an overwhelming increase in the number of women in state and federal prisons since the 1980s. In 1980, there were roughly 13,206 women in state and federal prison. In 2015, the most recent year that data is available, there were over 111,000, which is nearly 8 times higher than in the 80s, and if we include local jail populations in those numbers, there are currently more than 200,000 women behind bars. This rise in women’s governmental bondage is directly due to more expansive law enforcement efforts, harsher drug enforcement policies, and post conviction barriers to reentry that impact women uniquely. Women in state prisons are more likely than men to be incarcerated for a property or drug offense, and a recent study found that Black women make up 44% of the women in jail, with Latino women compromising 36%.

This Mother’s Day, May 14th, over 16 cities and an abundance of community organizations, including Black Lives Matter Atlanta and Southerners On New Ground (SONG) will come together to celebrate successfully raising money to free as many black mama’s from their local jail populations as possible, who have not been convicted of crimes and are only in jail cells because they cannot afford cash bail, in time to celebrate with their families. They’re calling it “National Black Mama’s Bail Out Day,” and it is a part of the expanding movement to end the criminalization of black bodies and modern day bondage in the United States. Imagine sitting in a jail cell, away from your children, friends and family, on Mother’s Day all because you cannot afford a bail fee. The bailouts happened on Thursday and Friday in anticipation of the Mother’s Day event which include music, food, and gifts for the mothers. There have been house party fundraisers, volunteers reaching out to organizations, businesses, and the spiritual community seeking support for this worthy cause, and it has been a tremendous community effort to witness.

SONG, a regional LGBTQ nonprofit that works on social justice and economic issues, proclaims that the Black Mama’s Bail Out movement, “is rooted in the history of Black liberation, inspired by the enslaved Africans and Black people who used their collective resources to purchase each other's freedom.” They state that through this action, “they will support birth mothers, trans mothers, and other women who mother and are entangled in the criminal legal system.”

In a recent interview with the AJC, Mary Hooks, co-director of SONG, said she wanted to do something about the growing population of black women stuck in a holding cell away from their families because of inhumane and exploitative bail system. Solely sitting in a cell for a non-violent offense because they don’t possess the financial means to bail themselves out is a symptom of white supremacy and capitalism entangling for evil. Hooks believes “It’s time for us to divest from police, jails and courts and invest in our communities.”

Our communities need us. It is through black love and community organizing we were able to see these mothers freed, and it will be through more black love and community organizing we will free ourselves. 

Get involved with the National Black Mama’s Bailout Action and SONG at

For more information about the stats check out The Sentencing Project