Release Fee (song dedicated to Elin M.)

Tuesday at LaGrange Municipal Court, not only were Latino immigrants charged $260 more for driving without a license as compared to an American driver with a suspended license, but poor Elin was possibly sent to jail just for being poor.

You see, Elin had no money with him at court but rather than allow him to pay his $1,037 fine on probation, the judge sent poor Elin to jail.  Elin’s release from jail depends upon a third party paying what is called a “release fee” (in this instance $200). 

I once helped another unlicenseable immigrant driver get out of jail under similar circumstances.  This second gentleman had spent 5 1/2 months in the jail when we were able to get the jail to convince the municipal court judge to release the man to probation without the release fee.  After 5 1/2 months in jail, this earlier immigrant had already lost his job and had cost the city far more than his initial release fee or his total fine.  I was saddened to find out that, upon his release, this man would still have to pay the full amount of his monetary fine!  There was no consideration given for the months of his life spent behind bars for being poor and unlicenseable.

Here are some questions to ponder:

  • Is a release fee  legal?  Is it moral?  Is it ethical?  Is it Christlike?
  • How much will Elin’s incarceration for solely driving unlicenseable cost taxpayers?
  • What is the purpose of probation if not to enable the poor to pay their fines and be diverted from our overcrowded jails?
  • Why aren’t the poor allowed to pay the full amount of their fine on probation when probation?
  • What is the difference between a release fee and the old debtors’ prison system which were abolished in the 19th Century?

So, Elin, below is a re-write of a 60s classic song “Release Me”:


“Release Fee”

Please release me, let me go,
You don’t love me anymore.
To build your home was not a sin.
Release me and let me live again.

I have no money that is clear.
Just poor and livin’ in fear.
$200 I don’t hold.
Release fees, your honor, let me go.

Please release me can’t you see
Release fees rob my dignity
Why do you want to cause me pain?
Release me and let me live again
(let me go, let me live)

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