Vows to take bail bond reform movement across America
By Chinta Strausberg
Passionate about his mission to “free the captives,” Reverend Jesse Jackson, Sr. Tuesday bailed out three Cook County Jail detainees, including a pregnant woman arrested four years ago for stealing a $14 bottle of gin.
Joining Jackson at his annual Christmas visit to the jail were his son, Jonathan Jackson, Rabbi Sam Gordon, Representative Danny K. Davis (D-7th), mayoral candidate Dr. Willie Wilson, Reverend James Meeks, Reverend Marshall Hatch, mayoral candidates Dorothy Brown and LaShawn Ford, and many others, including County officials.
The three “captives” as Jackson refers to the former detainees were Steven Rymos, 50, in jail for the past 53 days charged with drug possession, whose bond was $500, and he needed $50 to walk; Khadija Campbell, 39, who violated her probation, was charged with stealing a $14 bottle of gin. Her bond was $10,000. Campbell needed $1,000 to walk. She was due in court December 26. She is the mother of a 21-year-old daughter who attends DePaul University, three boys, 15, 9, and 9-months.
“I will not be back in jail. I will not put myself in a position or be around anybody to cause me to get into any altercation where I would end up back there…jail is hell…no place nobody wants to be,” she said.
Wesley Sykes, 54, in custody for 507 days charged with forgery and a reduced $15,000 bond, was the third detainee freed. He needed $1,500 to walk, with the condition of electric monitoring.
Jackson, who recited his signature “I Am Somebody” pledge, asked the detainees not to return and reminded them of who they are and from whence they came. Jackson also brought along artist Maurice Mahon who sang a medley of songs with the choir. They had church inside the jail.
“We are going to be doing this all over America,” said Jackson.
Jackson escorted Rymos and Campbell out of the jail compound, but Sykes was taken home by Cook County sheriffs, wearing an ankle bracelet.
The process for getting the detainees released is complicated. According to Cara Smith, Chief Policy Officer for the Cook County Sheriff’s Office, there was a combination of bonds involved for the trio.
“We identified a population of low level offenders with bonds they could not post. We worked with the state’s attorney office and got those individuals to court Friday. Rev. Jackson posted bond for three individuals who could not post even the reduced bond,” explained Smith.
The issue of bailing out inmates has been a hot topic and according to Rep. Davis it is now a national movement “for the idea that there is no research for any figures to be in jail for misdemeanors, small crimes, non-violent crimes simply because they don’t have the money.” He said, “Chicago is leading the way” to bail bond reform.
Davis said on behalf of Dr. Wilson, he introduced the Bail Fairness Act of 2018 (H.R. 4833) “that would require all over the country,” a procedure to reduce the bonds of non-violent, low-level detainees.
Last year Wilson was successful in getting the Illinois General Assembly to pass a similar first-time, non-violent, low-level offender bail reform bill that was signed into law by Governor Bruce Rauner.
Jackson has been reaching out to ministers across the nation, asking them to do the same thing. He is also working with Brown and the State’s Attorney’s office to identify these detainees so they can be set free rather than languish in jail because they can’t afford the bail bonds.
After the program, Rymos said, “I feel blessed. This was a surprise to me. I never knew this was coming.” Sykes too was elated at being released. “This has really been a blessing. I’ve been here 17-months. My bond was $30,000 originally but we reduced it to $15,000.” He needed $1500 to walk. “This is a good Christmas,” said the father of three.
Campbell was also overwhelmed, saying she didn’t know about her soon-to-be freedom until she was placed on the stage Tuesday morning. “It’s definitely a Merry Christmas,” said the mother of four children.
In jail for a week, Campbell was arrested four-years ago for stealing a bottle of gin. She violated her parole and spent 28-days in jail. “I am not coming back to this place because jail is hell,” she said.
“All they give you to eat are four slices of bread and some peanut butter and jelly and an apple and one hot meal a day. Even though I am pregnant, I thought they’d give us something special. This is breakfast and lunch,” she said while riding with Jackson who took her to her South Side home.
When asked what she wanted to eat now Campbell said, “Some fried chicken and some rib tips.”
Campbell, who said she is a certified nursing assistant, wants to go back to school to become a registered nurse. She finished the 10th grade and got her GED. Campbell repeatedly thanked Jackson for getting her released from jail.
Before Jackson took Campbell home, he took her to the Rainbow PUSH Coalition headquarters where she was given a coat for herself and coats for her children.