Thanks to crowdfunding websites like Kickstarter and GoFundMe, actor Zach Braff got 46,520 fans to give him more than $3 million to make a Hollywood film. And a guy from Ohio, named Zack Danger Brown, jokingly asked for $60 to make potato salad and ended up raising more than $55,000 from strangers.
So I guess it shouldn’t be too surprising that a lot of people are using GoFundMe to raise bail money for their loved ones. Scrolling through the website, you’ll see women who want help getting their kids’ father out of jail. There’s a couple from California who are facing major charges related to medical marijuana growing. They all need financial assistance.
For Julie Ritt, from Bolingbrook, Illinois, GoFundMe might have saved her mother’s life. Back in August, Julie’s 54-year-old mother, Renee, was arrested for burglarizing their neighbor’s home. Julie says she was with her mother at the time and there’s no way she could have done it.
“She’s had cancer three times. Uterine cancer, colon cancer and one was brain cancer. She also has lymphedema, meaning that her legs swell and have open sores on them, it’s an oozing mess. She has lung disease and pulmonary fibrosis, meaning she requires oxygen 24 hours a day. She’s got congestive heart failure. She’s also bipolar, meaning she’s on a variety of psychiatric meds. She walks with a walker and she carries her oxygen,” says Julie. “So I’m sure you can see a woman like this walking up a flight of stairs and stealing a television, which is what they accused her of doing.”
Julie says the cops tricked her mother into confessing to the crime and in late September she was arrested and taken to jail.
“They made her bail $150,000, originally, meaning that we would have had to come up with $15,000. My mother and I are both on disability. The idea of having $15,000 to get her out was absolutely ludicrous.”
In the meantime, her mom was suffering.
“I got a phone call the next night and she is just crying hysterically. First off, she was allergic to the wool blanket that they gave them. So they took her blanket away and didn’t give her another one. Took away the one mattress she had and never gave her another one. So she was sleeping on a concrete bed for almost two weeks. Not only did they not give her any of her pain medication, they didn’t give her any of her psych meds either.”
Julie says Renee became very sick. But she was able to get her mom’s bail lowered, and a friend suggested she use GoFundMe to raise the $2,000 they needed.
“I put it on various civil rights groups, pages about police abuse. I bet I posted that thing to a 100 different pages on Facebook,” says Julie. “I got my first donation, I think, in less than 15 minutes.”
She received several small donations and one for $1,500 from a compassionate Facebook friend Julie barely knows.
“I just cried when she did that. When we got her out, and she had been in there for like 10 days, she had dropped 25 pounds, she had a double ear infection, sinus infection, pneumonia and her legs were horribly infected from the lymphedema,” says Julie.
But she was out of jail, and it was thanks to generous, compassionate people from all around the country, some of them strangers.
Julie says the state of Illinois doesn’t have bail bondsman so that wasn’t an option. But we do here in Washington, and I spoke with one, as well as court officials and the King County Prosecuting Attorney’s office and they all said it’s perfectly legal to fund-raise for bail online.
Of course, it might sound awkward to air your legal laundry on the internet, but think of it as a modern day bake sale with a lot more exposure and far fewer brownies.