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Tue Jun 9, 2020, 09:59 AM

"It Changes Who Has the Power": How Bail Funds Across the Country Are Responding to Protests

RahimRahim Buford knows what a night in a cage feels like. He can count about 9,490 of them in his lifetime. The 49-year-old manager of the Nashville Community Bail Fund grew up in a family of 19 children in Nashville. There were times when he didn’t have enough food to eat, and his classmates mocked the clothes he wore to school. His family circumstances drove him to trouble. At 18, he shot a gun at the floor of a store he was robbing, and the bullet ricocheted into an employee, killing them. Buford spent the next 26 years of his life between seven different Tennessee prisons, contemplating how he ended up there.

“I educated myself, I learned about the system, and I realized that the choices that I made were not just because I was a bad person,” Buford told me. “I learned about the history of the country I live in and then it all made sense.”

Buford was paroled in 2015, and now spends his days visiting the very same jails where he spent time during his early adult life, paying bail for people who can’t afford it. As he sees it, his job is to ensure that someone spends as little possible time behind bars pretrial—a goal that has only become more urgent as COVID-19 outbreaks surge through correctional facilities across the country. (Pretrial detention occurs when a person is arrested, cannot pay their set bail, and must remain in jail until their court date.) The work is important to him because he sees a through line from his impoverished upbringing to his time in prison, and wants to halt that cycle where he can.

“We are here to make sure that citizens all across this country are not held in a cage simply because they’re poor,” he said.


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