Bodies matter, even in Alabama

I came across yet another story in the popular media about horrendous decision-making in Alabama: http://www.nytimes.com/2015/10/20/us/for-offenders-who-cant-pay-its-a-pint-of-blood-or-jail-time.html?emc=edit_th_20151020&nl=todaysheadlines&nlid=44005038&_r=0

A judge in Marion, Alabama, one of the areas I traveled to with David Jay to document the lives of breast cancer survivors lacking access to health insurance and oftentimes knowledge about their disease, is accused of exploiting the poor who enter his courtroom. Of which there are plenty. Marion is home to some of the poorest in the state, many of them African Americans.

As I read this story about people without the means to pay fines being told to donate blood and then bring a form back to the judge proving they’d donated for a credit towards their payment, I thought about the kinds of historical atrocities we discuss in a course I teach called Writing and Medicine. Among them is the Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment, which happened between the 30s and 70s (yes, it continued into the 70s) right down the road from Birmingham. Even though penicillin was being used to treat Syphilis by the late 30s, poor African American men were unknowingly refused treatment just to see what would happen to a body left to suffer from the disease. The results were horrific–excruciating pain, infertility, blindness.

While donating blood is certainly a good thing to do, there’s something wrong with making someone with limited means submit to a physical procedure to pay off a debt. Granted, giving blood isn’t as life changing as donating a kidney. Still, offering poor people who are already intimidated by the justice system the “option” of using their bodies as replacement commodities is wrong.

Come on, Alabama.

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