How Poverty Is Criminalized In The United States

This week, Maggie sits down with licensed psychotherapist, Lena Derhally, and former public defender, Amanda Mowle about the criminalization of poverty and how it harms communities and our society as a whole.

In this episode, Maggie’s guests break down how poverty and homelessness have been criminalized in the United States. Plus, they recommend systemic changes that need to be made, and how individuals can work to fight this issue in their own communities.

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Lena Derhally is a licensed and Imago certified psychotherapist at the Imago Center in Washington DC, specializing in trauma-informed individual and couples therapy. Prior to that, Lena has worked in hospital settings in oncology and palliative care, and with the homeless and mentally ill. She is a best-selling author, co-hosts a podcast with her colleague Bob Gordon, and is an activist, advocating and raising money for the disenfranchised and survivors of war.

Amanda Mowle is presently a Staff Attorney with the Vermont Office of Child Support. Prior, Amanda worked as a Public Defender in Vermont for 8 years where she represented indigent individuals in varying criminal cases. She obtained her J.D. from Vermont Law School and an LL.M. in Air and Space Law from McGill University.


Maggie Germano 0:07
Thanks for listening to the money circle Podcast. I am your host, Maggie Germano and I’m a financial coach for women. I’m passionate about helping women improve their relationship with money so that they can take better control of their futures. Part of that journey is making personal finance education more accessible and less judgmental, which is why this podcast exists. Each week we’ll discuss a new financial topic to help you explore how you can make a difference in your own financial life or in society as a whole. If you’re interested in diving deeper into issues like income inequality, debt or money, shame, check out my new money circle community. In the safe feminist space women gathered to talk about money without fear of being judged or shamed. We will break down shame and build community and safety for everyone so that you can find the support you need to gain control over your finances. Visit to learn more and to join the community today. I can’t wait to see you there.

Maggie Germano 1:11
Hey there and thanks for listening. I’m your host Maggie Germano, and today I’m talking with licensed psychotherapist Lena der Holly and former public defender Amanda Mao. We are digging into the criminalization of poverty in the United States and how it impacts people experiencing homelessness, poor communities and our American communities at large. If you’ve never even considered the fact that poverty and homelessness are criminalized in the US, this episode is definitely for you. Plus, Lena and Amanda give fantastic recommendations for how you as an individual can start changing this broken system. Enjoy.

Maggie Germano 1:54
Okay, welcome both of you. Thank you so much for being here today.

Lena Derhally 1:58
Thank you for having us.

Amanda Mowle 2:00
Thank you for having us.

Maggie Germano 2:01
So just to get started, why don’t each of you introduce yourselves, tell us who you are and what you do.

Lena Derhally 2:09
I think we’re going to start with me. So I’m Lena Derhally, I’m a licensed psychotherapist. And when I began my work, I really was interested in doing the hard stuff. So I kind of began in pediatric oncology and I was doing sort of end of life care, which then transitioned to adults and sort of the general population. And then I ended up working at Catholic Charities with the homeless and the mentally ill and an outpatient clinic where I would teach them you know, life skills or do therapy groups with them and individual therapy. And to me, that was probably one of the most life changing experiences in terms of the impact it had on me, in terms of what I’m passionate about. In terms of social justice, racial justice, income inequality, the criminalization of homelessness and poverty, which is what we’re here to talk about. So, and now I’m in I work with a nonprofit agency, and and one of the things I’m passionate about is the ability to do pro bono and low fee counseling, which I’ve been able to do a lot more. So that’s the main, you know, stuff that I do. And then on the side, I’m writing, I’m an author. I do some speaking and some things like that.

Maggie Germano 3:35
Great, thank you. Well, thanks for being here.

Amanda Mowle 3:39
And so I’m Amanda Mowle. I’m an attorney who originally started during law school, volunteering and clerking at public defender’s offices throughout. After I graduated then I secured a job as a full time public defender, and work there for eight years handling a various caseload from misdemeanors to felonies like sentence cases, a little bit of everything. From arraignment to trial, I’m currently working at the Office of Child Support as a staff attorney there. So overseeing a region in cases as they start and continue through there. So through my work working with vulnerable populations originally, and even continuing now, and just sort of bringing a lot of the information that I have, from my work and my experiences to how we handle cases now currently, too, so continuing to practice, really interested to do this, because I think this is a great topic.

Maggie Germano 4:35
Thank you. And it sounds like both of you in your work that you do and have done you’ve kind of covered lots of different kind of areas of the individual work that each of you do. So it sounds like you’ve had lots of different experiences.

Lena Derhally 4:52
Definitely, yeah.

Maggie Germano 4:55
So today we’re here to talk about the criminalization of poverty. Which a lot of people might not necessarily be familiar with, they might not know that that’s actually a thing. So Lena, why don’t we start with you? How have you seen that show up in your work, both in the past and the work that you’re doing now?

Lena Derhally 5:18
Well, one of the things you know that I have the intersection of working with the mentally ill, and the homeless, and I think it’s important to say there’s also a criminalization of the mentally ill as well they intersect those things. And from the statistics I’ve seen, I think it’s roughly about one third of people who are homeless have a severe mental illness. So that could be schizophrenia, bipolar, and that was the majority of the work that I did was working with those populations. Now even before pandemic, my offices are in churches where we actually have programs like Miriam’s kitchen, which is in DC, where you know, we feed the homeless, And supply other things to them. And so it’s still part of my universe at least again before the pandemic, I’m still constantly around it. And you know, and what I think people don’t understand that what happens when we’re defining what criminalizing homelessness or poverty is, is that we are law enforcement is either finding people or putting people in prison for things that they have to do to survive. So for a homeless person or a poor person, they could be slapped with a fine for sleeping in public. Where are they going to sleep not every person has access to a shelter. In the case of mental illness, especially when people aren’t, you know, being compliant with their medication, which is when they have this serious mental illness, it’s really hard to be they don’t have the the mental capacity or the resources to even sometimes find that help that they need and I’ve seen some of the most horrible stories of You know, homeless women who in psychotic episodes, hallucinations and delusions have been gang raped in bathrooms by multiple people, they have nowhere to sleep. So there’s a lot of danger around that. So on top of what they already have to go through, is that they are being criminalized for things that they cannot control. Again, where do they go to the bathroom? You know, they don’t always have access to the bathroom. So I think it’s just a real moral issue that we’re dealing with. And it’s a systemic issue. Of course, we will get into that deeper I’m sure as we talk further, but I’ll stop talking for now. And let Amanda go.

Amanda Mowle 7:43
so just to build off what you said, Lena, you’re exactly right. And we were looking at activities that any other individual who is in dealing with being indigent and are homeless, these are life sustaining activities. So you’re eating, sleeping, utilizing bathroom. How do you do those things if you don’t have a home, if you’re sitting outside, you could be loitering. Perhaps, if you’re sleeping outside or in a public park, that may be something that is criminalized if you’re sitting in your vehicle if you happen to have one if you’re cooking outside or eating outside, all of these things and just to build on also what Lena had said, with the prevalence of mental illness, you’re taking a vulnerable population that’s comprised of even more potentially vulnerable subsets. You have survivors of domestic violence, military veterans, uncertain immigration statuses, individuals who have experienced various types of trauma, and then this lack of meaningful services that they can access. And instead of potentially investing in those services, they’re dealing with having to be criminalized or targeted for just doing what they would do on a day to day basis. I mean, a great example is just kind of public perception of what you would call panhead. handling. So we call it panhandling, and you have cities and towns that are trying to enact ordinances to prohibit it. But all in all, really what that person is doing is asking for help. They’re asking for sustenance, or they’re asking for money. I mean, that is essentially a request for help you, an individual may not know what their circumstances are, what services they can or cannot access. And so they’re asking for that help. And then you have certain places that may be trying to prohibit that ask or to criminalize that ask. So it’s, it’s systemic, and I think it’s, it’s perpetuating itself. And ultimately, there’s been a great push in the past years and making things a little bit more public about decriminalizing specific behaviors, decriminalizing marijuana diversion programs for individuals, but if we’re really talking about individuals who are indigent, who lack resources, they may not have access to a lot of these things or the funds to actually reach them, or the stability in their lives to make them to give them the ability to access them. So I’ll stop for a moment. It’s it’s a, it’s a nuanced and very layered topic.

Maggie Germano 10:14
Yeah, absolutely. I mean, and I think just the examples that both of you have already laid out are probably things that a lot of people I’ve never really thought about. I know. I forget when this was but it was probably in the last few years when I noticed that the bars going across like benches, public benches are actually a lot of times they’re to prevent homeless people from sleeping there. And I was just like, that’s like, why would cities need to spend money on that instead of spending money and resources on providing spaces for people to safely sleep and safely live and giving them the services or, you know, taking them to places where they’ll be more safe and can get access to them? Healthcare or whatever it is that they need. And it just seems like that is not generally the focus of a lot of cities, especially with things like criminalizing panhandling and things like that. Like, why is that the focus versus actually giving people the support and the services they need? So that’s been something I’ve noticed, and it’s been very frustrating to me.

Lena Derhally 11:24
And Maggie, you know, we were discussing briefly before we started recording that article from medium that you’re gonna link to in your notes. It’s called Confessions of a former bastard cop. And I don’t know if there’s any way to verify that this person who wrote it is actually a former cop. But the things that he said in his role in criminalizing homelessness. I did want to talk about that because it was very real in terms of things that I’ve witnessed in my work. And if you read the comments of it, there’s a lot of cops now or former cops who said yeah, this is this is true. And one of the examples or the stories he gave of his time as a cop in California, I think probably one of the urban cities. And he said, You know, he was policing in an area poor non white, mostly immigrants, most didn’t speak English. And they enacted this zero tolerance policy for the homeless for collecting cans from recycling bins. And it was because the city had a deal with the waste management company and would get paid by the government for as the amount of recycling that they got. So if these immigrants are the poor, were taking these recycling cans that was giving the city less money so they have this zero tolerance policy for that where they would harass and detain these people for doing that. And in one instance, this particular former cop, said, you know that he detained a 70 year old woman and she didn’t speak English and he he felt awful about it. He felt like a horrible person. He said she was crying in the cop car. And, you know, this was all done for profit. And then he also said that he would arrest the homeless for lesser known crimes that people don’t know about one which is remaining too close to railroad property. Apparently that’s 369 of the California Penal Code. So even for me, as I’m reading this article, I had no idea that there was even a crime for remaining too close to railroad property. And again, this is what they’re focusing on. Is these types of things or ticketing people, for people for broken taillights or unpaid parking tickets, minor drug offenses sitting on a sidewalk. I think Amanda can speak more to the minor drug offenses. I know that was probably a larger part of her work as a defense attorney.

Amanda Mowle 13:45
It’s even before you get to the minor drug offenses. An example that comes to mind for me is just when a homeless person in the area that I practiced in, would go to a business or be around that business. Maybe take something from the business They could be prosecuted for retail theft. Or if they were just there and the private business didn’t want them there, they could seek a no trespass order. So the no trespass order would be served on that individual. And then if they were to violate that, that would then become a crime. That would be a misdemeanor crime for violating a no trespass order, no trespass order stay in place for one or two years. If you have an individual who is trying to mentally catalogue the no trespass orders they may have, you’re gonna be in a fairly difficult situation. And a lot of times, it’s just not practical, that they can actually do that. And then you have someone who’s indigent, who’s homeless, who can’t go to some stores to potentially buy some things that they would need to sustain themselves such as food or they could be prosecuted for a crime. So again, we’re taking individuals that are vulnerable subset of vulnerable population. They’re being prosecuted and as Lena gave the example for things that we would consider minor offenses that you wouldn’t even consider that perhaps any other individual wouldn’t be targeted for committing. They’re not these individuals may not know the laws unless they’re being told by the cop. And that’s ultimately all discretion by those law enforcement officers and what they’re being told to do. They don’t have to charge the person, they can warn the person and say, Hey, this is good, you know, this is in place, I’m going to remove you from this area and don’t come back here. We’re going to be here for the rest of the night. There’s 100 different things I think could really occur. And so it comes down to the discretion of law enforcement. But as Lena said, if you have law enforcement in contracts with private companies or agreements, and then also with politicians, and then also you have a law enforcement officer who may decide to issue a citation may decide to arrest someone, and then that paperwork gets forwarded on to a prosecutor who decides if they ultimately prosecute it. Typically That if we’re in court, they have chosen to do that. So you’re dealing with several layers of this systemic criminalization of behavior and just really not stepping back, in my opinion, to address it. And just an example that I’ll give quickly, was there was an individual when I was a public defender, who was homeless, and we handled his case in my office, he had called law enforcement in the winter in Vermont, at least a couple times asking for help. Could he go to jail where he knew it would be warm, and he would have a bed and food? And they said, No, you can’t go to jail to commit a crime. So he threw a brick or a rock through a window called and said, Please arrest me, because he could then go to jail. And then when you’re, he has said he did this. He did this purposefully. He wants to be in jail because he has the predictability of Having a place that’s warm, having food because there are no surfaces that were available to him or he felt that there were no services, or they weren’t available for him or told to do it or so you’re really you’re looking at this really heartbreaking subset. And that’s that’s one example of just what are we doing? And what can we do to prevent situations like that? Because that should not be how things are handled. And that can’t be an isolated incident in any of our where we all live and how things are handled.

Maggie Germano 17:29
Right. And, I mean, I think that just reminds me of all the conversations that have been happening recently with defunding the police and allocating resources to other areas so that people can actually get the help that they need when they need it. So if this person is literally calling the police and saying, I’m cold, it’s winter, I live in Vermont, and I don’t have anywhere to stay that is safe and warm, and where I can be fed, and they’re just saying sorry. You have to To commit a crime first rather than being able to refer this person to services that are available, or maybe they weren’t available at all, which is a problem, obviously, it just, it reminds me of like how much we’re, it’s it’s evolved to be that we have to rely on police for everything and the police are not actually equipped to be helping in those scenarios.

Lena Derhally 18:24
And I think Amanda, again, could speak more to this than I can, but I do know there’s a vicious cycle and revolving door between homelessness and prison. And so when people are released from prison, they go back and forth between the cycle of homelessness and prison because of the criminalization of poverty because they’re slapped with all these fees, at least from a you know, an article I read, called the poor get prison, the alarming spread of the criminalization of poverty by Karen Dolan. She said the criminalization of the poor is exacerbated by state and local governments and use of for profit probation providers to collect unpaid fines and fees. And that courts fail to afford counsel to people facing jail time for non payment. And so that may even violate their constitutional right. So I do know that there’s a problem between what are we doing and people who are jailed for minor offenses, we are not providing them with the services to transition, or they don’t have any opportunities because they have a record. And so they and then they continue to have to pay these fines and fees from the courts, even the public courts, but again, Amanda can definitely speak more to that than me.

Amanda Mowle 19:37
No, I would agree. I mean, nothing that happens in court is going to be free for any individual who is going through that system. And it can be as basic as if you have a public defender, there may be a fee associated with that. Any anyone else may consider it very nominal for a $50 fee, perhaps for an attorney. But if you have no money and you’re homeless, that $50 fee is huge. If you’re able to have that be zero, there are still required court costs, at least where I would practice for every resolution that ended up in a sentence in a sentence is either a fine sentence to be community service. probation, probation carries fees. So there’s supervision fees that are associated with that. There are any number of other things, if someone has a driving offense driving ticket, they’re going to be court costs, there are going to be civil penalties associated with the Department of Motor Vehicles, as well. And so those are two separate things that are going to compound and if they’re not paid, create potential issues down the road. And again, you’re dealing with a population that does not have a lot of the stability that some of us may have in our lives, such as housing, such as reliable phone, or an address, even to really try and keep track of all of these things and to know that there are different components of them. I’ve seen instances where you have someone who is mentally ill and is charged with a crime. And a prosecutor may want to have them on probation as a way of monitoring them. So you’re placing them in this, they already in this criminal system, their way to stop that is to be on probation and subject themselves to fees, there may be counseling fees as well. And so that just really goes to everything that we’re talking about here. And Leah, just saying it’s compounding. And the money that we’re then looking to try and perhaps recoup from these individuals that we’ve criminalized the behavior, put them in this system, when there certainly could be other resources that we could access. And just quickly, I had looked through the Vera Institute of Justice, and their statistics were from states that reported and and this would be an average a total cost per inmate for a year average $33,274. So it could be anywhere from 14,000 and change in Alabama to 69,000 and change in New York for my state in Vermont, it was 57,000 and change. So a day in Vermont is $157, on average in the US a day is $90. So those are huge numbers, that is not insignificant. And so as taxpayers, perhaps you’re investing that money in, these are the costs that are very transparently, what are being incurred, whereas what it may cost to provide services for an individual provide them with a shelter bed or wraparound services, it wouldn’t be that different. But we’ve really put ourselves in a perpetuated situation here.

Lena Derhally 22:44
And I think it’s important that we touch upon too, that this is also very much a race issue. And I think in light of everything that we’ve all been talking about, you know, post George Floyd murder and all these, everybody talking about racial justice In America, which is great, but we, you know, the vast majority the over representation of the home of the homeless is African American black people, Native Americans and Hispanic or Latinx people. And it’s it’s there’s more white people who are homeless, but when we’re looking at, it’s overly represented by these minority groups and black households are much more likely to experience poverty than whites. I think it’s more than one in five of black people live in poverty, which is 2.5 times the rate of white people. They face this rental housing discrimination that white people do not face. incarceration is six times higher. And as we all know, black people are targeted by the police. They’re way more likely to get slapped with these fines and put in jail and white people for the same offenses. I recently did a podcast of my own, interviewing black women for what their experiences in America and we were talking about the Kalief Browder case, which I’m sure you both are familiar with, where this young guy stole a backpack, and he was sentenced to Rikers Island, which is, you know, known to be a really rough prison, like they put some of the, you know, biggest criminals there. And he was in isolation. They put this young guy, young black guy in isolation for stealing a backpack and his mental health deteriorated to the point when he got out. He, you know, again, his life was pretty much ruined by this sentence, and he ended up committing suicide. I think this is one of the most tragic stories that really illustrates that. This is a really a huge race issue that we need to be talking about.

Maggie Germano 24:43
Yeah, I totally agree. And a couple weeks ago, I had a podcast episode about the cash bail system and how disproportionately that affects people of color and communities of color and how it really causes that harm. And Kalief Browder was one of the stories We talked about where he’s only 15 years old, he’s a minor. And he never even got to have a trial. So he’s in jail for three years without even a trial. And it’s there’s so many people, I think it’s almost half a million people at any given day are in jail purely because they can’t afford the bail to get out. And it’s another one of those industries that is connected very closely to capitalism, where there’s the bail bond industry, and they make a ton of money, having people you know, pay 10% of their bail, and they don’t, the bail bond industry often doesn’t end up having to pay the rest of it. And it just harms communities. it harms families and it affects communities of color, black communities, specifically, worse than anyone else.

Lena Derhally 25:49
Now that really highlights the major, major systemic issues that we need some major major policy changes, we need major changes to address these issues, and That’s why I think Amanda and I speak for both of us. We’re happy that you invited us on Maggie, because I think the first step is people being aware of like that this is all going on and how unfair it is, and that we all have a responsibility.

Maggie Germano 26:17
Right? And it doesn’t actually, like help anybody, like your examples of homeless folks getting arrested for like being too close to a railway and just getting hauled in and charged and being put in the system and having to pay fees afterwards or, you know, being consistently harassed by police. Like that doesn’t actually help anybody, like nobody’s better off in these scenarios, by being part of the criminal justice system. And I think I just can’t imagine how much different things would be if people were getting the services they were getting getting the mental health care they needed and are getting the shelter that They needed or even just clean, safe bathrooms for people that need them, how that would actually improve not just the lives of the folks that really need it, but just everyone else in their communities as well.

Lena Derhally 27:13
Right? And that’s why I always say, well, one, I think everybody should care about people who are less fortunate than they are just not what you should do as a human being. But say that you don’t write for selfish reasons. I implore people if they don’t care about the well being of other people, I implore them for selfish reasons that the well being of everybody is important to all of us. And that societies function better when we everybody is given the equal rights that they deserve, from healthcare to an affordable wage, you know, to anything to housing and with this particular issue we’re talking about, one of the biggest crises is a housing issue. The high cost of housing that keeps getting higher People can’t afford to buy a home or rent a home. And we just don’t have enough of a housing to provide for people who need it. But you know, from all the research I’ve done, that’s one of the major steps we need to take is housing first and foremost and give people a place to live that’s affordable. And again, where are we putting our money? Like we actually do have the resources to allocate to this stuff?

Amanda Mowle 28:29
Right, where we’re placing significant resources in sort of leasing this problem, which, in and of itself is relying on law enforcement for behavior that is most likely decidedly non criminal usually, or one that has evolved to criminalize behavior. So it’s a temporary it’s an ineffective and incredibly problematic reaction to rely on law enforcement to potentially solve this problem. And like Lena said, as a society, whether people may not individually care about others, but to pose in a more selfish way, or example is these people that are being put in jail for these offenses, they’re not going to be in there forever. That is not the design of the system even on its worst day. And so these people are gonna be part of our community part of our society. And wouldn’t we want them to be in the best place they possibly could be or at least assist them in doing that, as opposed to perpetuating and repeatedly taking them of any stability they may have for one bucks.

Maggie Germano 29:36
Right. And I in that episode about cash bail, something we talked about was that there are negative outcomes from people spending time in jail, even if it’s just a few days or a few weeks, whether it’s because they’re not able to support their families while they are in jail or they maybe they do have a job and they lose their job or they do have housing and they lose their housing. There’s these negative outcomes that then influence and impact their families and their communities at large. Not to mention the potential violence and mental health impact that just physically being in jail can have on people. It just it produces worse outcomes.

Amanda Mowle 30:19
I wholeheartedly agree. And also I would just look at, there’s collateral consequences associated anytime someone becomes part of a criminal justice system. And those are going to be twofold they’re going to be for arrests, and then they’re also going to be for convictions. So not only is it just having to be in jail, and whatever you may or may not experience there, whether that manifests into additional instability, like you talked about on your day to day life of maybe not being able to care for your child. So your child gets taken from you because you’re incarcerated. provide for the family that you have there. Just that arrest record can really have a negative collateral consequence furthered by a conviction. So it could be something for some very minor, it could be in a non trust, violation of an order of non trespassing, trespass, conviction, retail theft, things that you might not think about a retailer is not going to want typically someone working for them who’s convicted of a retail theft. So you’re really perpetuating things that that a person who might be in jail, and their way of getting out of jail is to resolve this criminal charge in order to get out. So they’re in a very coercive position or vulnerable position to be coerced. And then they do that not thinking about what the long term consequences are for them. Nor do they maybe have the luxury to even really do that.

Maggie Germano 31:46
Right. So like potentially pleading guilty to something and then having that as a like conviction on their record, moving forward.

Amanda Mowle 31:55
Correct. And so specific convictions can inhibit innovation. employment, I mean, that’s really going to be up to the employer. They can prohibit your access to certain services. So public housing, that can be limited by someone’s criminal history. Also access to benefits. There are certain states that require background checks or drug testing on things. So if there’s a drug offense conviction, and just in general, I mean this really, then we’re taking individuals that we want to be seeking the services that we have these services in place for the vulnerable populations to assist them. Were we as a society are that in criminalizing their behavior? They end up with convictions that prohibit them, or make it certainly more difficult for them to access these services or remove themselves from the cycle. And it sounds cyclical and circular as we talk about it, but it really is.

Maggie Germano 32:52
Yeah, it sounds like it really snowballs, it just gets harder and harder and harder as you get pulled into the system and Then you’re stuck within that system because you maybe are not able to get the housing you need or you’re not able to get a job that can help you support yourself and your family. And you’re just kind of stuck in it. And it can, I’m sure feel like there’s almost no way out. And so it’s really over simplified for other people who are not in this system at all to say, like, Oh, well just, like, just get a job or just access the services that you need or just don’t get in trouble. And it’s just not that simple.

Lena Derhally 33:29
That’s not and that’s, I think, coming from a place of privilege when people say that is that they do not understand maybe what it’s like to be born into circumstances or have a situation like a severe mental illness, or you make a mistake in your life. You know, we all do. And I think we need to be a society where, you know, we want people to succeed, we want to be forgiving, we want people to do their best and the only way to do that, again, is I think to allocate resources in You know, housing, mental health. And all of these things are programs or opportunities, just like the one that I was a part of a Catholic Charities, which was really rewarding. I’m so glad we have programs like that, but we need more.

Maggie Germano 34:17
Yeah, so kind of building on that. Can both of you talk about more of the ways that you would really like to see things change whether it’s within the criminal justice system, whether it’s within services or on it as an individual, what are what are some of the things you would like to see change that would help start changing this?

Lena Derhally 34:41
Okay, I’ll go. So I think one thing we talked about, just from a mental, you know, health perspective is, again, providing resources I think COVID-19 has exposed a lot in terms of the things we’re talking about just that we’re often told. We don’t have money to pay for that. But we had money to give checks. to everybody we have money to put into vaccine research we have we do we can pull that money out when we need it. So I think that it’s pretty much exposed that we have money to take care of our people, whether it’s health care, housing, mental health. And so maybe that I think I’m a big fan of voting at local levels, definitely candidates who are passionate about these issues and equality and income inequality and racial justice and all these things. I think there’s been some exciting races recently that I’ve seen candidates not in my state, because I’m in DC. So I don’t have much representation, but that’s in other states where we’re starting to elect people at the local level, who are very passionate about these issues and have platforms about those issues. And, again, this has been talked about with the talks around defunding the police but training people who are who are not police to be first responders to these things. Types of minor offenses or, you know, domestic violence, and I think la actually just passed. I think they just passed a bill, where they are going to have cops stop responding to those more minor, non violent type of things, which would be great. So we’re starting to maybe see that change, which I’m really hopeful about, you know, just again, government helping people with basic needs more subsidized housing again, how do we, how do we do that? There’s, you know, a lot of organizations out there, you know, donate to or again, like supporting people at the local level. And then just not from my own experience, but just again, the research I did, from a website transforming the sort of talking about some of the things we’ve touched upon earlier band for profit probation, have criminal justice debt, for the courts to establish debt payment. Plans for people prohibit harmful accrual of fees, train police on homelessness. So even if you don’t have people, even if we don’t have it, where we’re having people who aren’t police respond to these incidents at least proper training and prohibit profiling based on housing status. So Amanda touched on this before, people are profiled based on these past if they have a minor conviction that would prevent them from getting housing. So we have to prohibit that. And then I found one interesting thing of enacting something called a homeless Bill of Rights, which would get we don’t have you know, the homeless don’t have rights. Do you think that they do, but they don’t. And so we need a document that establishes that they they have these rights and then that we can hold ourselves to that standard.

Maggie Germano 37:53
Those are really great tips and I mean, I something that I thought of too with like Kind of the predatory fees around the court system, something that I think about a lot is even just traffic violations and how if you can’t pay your speeding ticket or your parking ticket within two weeks, or whatever it might be, it doubles, and then it doubles again. And then it doubles again. And like if you couldn’t afford to pay 40 bucks in two weeks, how are you going to pay $80? How are you going to pay $160? I mean, even my, my husband and I were very privileged, we do make enough money to support ourselves and he was like fighting a ticket and it kept doubling over and over and over again, it was just like, rap paying $240 for a parking ticket, because it was like it was too close to a stop sign or whatever it was. And I just can’t imagine how much that harms low income folks who it was like, you know, I need to have gas to be able to get to work. I need my car to be able to get to work, but if I can’t pay these tickets that keep doubling They’re gonna, you know, suspend my license or not let me reregister my car and those sorts of things. So it’s even just those minor things that a lot of people might not think about that actually makes a world of difference to other people.

Amanda Mowle 39:15
No, you’re exactly right. And just to build on that is the mentality of just trying to put things in perspective and being there but for the grace of God, go I, if I lost my job, I may not have the ability to pay that ticket. And now I’m looking at a snowballed, fine amount and the consequences that could come from that such as I don’t pay it, my license could be suspended. And if I have a job interview, I can’t get to that job interview and and you just don’t know, well, what can we do? I agree with everything that Lena said wholeheartedly, and we also need to look at our local elections. We need to look at them for prosecutors and state legislatures and ask those people on the local level. What are you doing about this? Are you advocating for Stopping criminalizing homelessness, are you refusing to charge for violations that target homeless population? What are you doing? Because that’s another thing that you can follow through with on a local level you can ask those individuals and your prosecutors are elected, your attorney general’s are most likely elected. So those are things that you can ask for accountability on that you can research and get involved. And maybe you’ll find some great answers to your questions. Or maybe you’re going to find something that is not what you’re hoping to find. And then that can inform your voting choices and how you proceed further. But that local level, first and foremost is really going to be where you can see the most change, hopefully, and at least have these discussions with those in your social circles and find out what they know. Talk to people engage with people and really try and get involved to the extent you can and if you don’t have the capacity to do that, then perhaps Donate like to donate to your local ACLU, look to donate to the Southern Poverty, Law Project, any of these resources that are out there that are helping the National Law Center on homelessness and poverty. But I’m hoping that everything that is happening right now, in the nation can be the catalyst for having everyone really sort of step back and assess that how we’re doing things is not working. And we have the statistics for the past 10 years to show us that it isn’t working, and that we’re getting ourselves in a worse and worse situation. And so let’s utilize this time to stop hold people accountable and see what they’re doing to do it, and hopefully follow through on that. Because the money that is being put into these systems can very easily be put elsewhere. And we would hopefully see some much more meaningful change in a positive way, because we’re seeing some change, but it’s just not positive from my perspective.

Maggie Germano 41:57
Right. And I think it from Some of what we’ve been seeing recently with, I know that my county I live in Prince George’s County, Maryland. And they’re considering moving like, I think it’s like $20 million away from police funding, and thinking about focusing it on mental health services and building a mental health facility. And just that probably would not have been part of the conversation if people weren’t pressuring them. And if people weren’t asking these questions, and there weren’t these protests, and people weren’t calling their elected officials. So even though it takes time sometimes, and it’s not overnight, everything’s going to change magically. But things do change. And as individuals, and as taxpayers, we’re the ones funding all these things. And so, even though I think a lot of maybe politicians don’t necessarily think they work for the people, they do, so putting that pressure on and not giving up even It’s going to take a period of time, just the fact that we’ve already started seeing some shifts and changes and even just the different ways certain people are talking about things, I think shows that being really loud, and being really persistent does make a difference.

Lena Derhally 43:19
I agree, and the people have the power. And I think we all need to remember that, like you said, elected officials work for us. And we have we have the power to sway them. And they do respond to public pressure if there’s enough of it.

Amanda Mowle 43:33
Exactly. And if your local elections aren’t happening immediately find out when they are and talk to those that candidate that and find out what they’re doing or not and let them know. Well, I’m following up on this. I want to see what’s happening. And then when you are up for reelection. I’m a more informed voter of what is or isn’t happening in line with my values.

Maggie Germano 43:54
Right and I think now during COVID it’s even easier to Get involved in like your town council or your city council, because a lot of them are being done on zoom. So instead of going in person on a Monday night at eight o’clock or whatever it might be, you can join on zoom and like, actually see what they’re talking about, and potentially, you know, chime in or add pressure and make comments to people. And that’s just something that I feel like hasn’t always felt necessarily as accessible. So if people want to get more active and more informed, even on the local level, it’s a little a little bit easier right now during COVID.

Lena Derhally 44:35
That’s an excellent point.

Maggie Germano 44:38
So is there anything else from either of you that you want people to take away and listeners to know whether it’s related to other ways that poverty is criminalized or other ways that it impacts communities or just other advice you have

Lena Derhally 44:55
I touched on everything I wanted to touch on, but just the reminder that Everything affects everyone. And this affects all of us. And again, I think we all have a responsibility. And we I think it’s our responsibility to take care of other people who need it, especially if we have the privilege to do so. And to make that a priority, again, I just, again, implore people to think about it even again, even if you don’t know what to do, or even if you’re not a person who necessarily cares about what’s happening around you that for selfish reasons. Again, this affects everybody. And I think the end goal should be we should want a society where all people are treated equally and given fair opportunities and all the things we talked about are things we should all actively be doing.

Amanda Mowle 45:51
I wholeheartedly agree, everything that we’ve said here today. I echo and I’m so excited that we had the forum to talk about it because it It’s positive if it’s motivated me just to speak these things and go about them with everyone here. But the other thing too, is really just follow through. And like Lena said it, what might be motivating for me might not be motivating for another person, maybe it is more looking at those numbers of Wow, this is what it costs to put someone in jail. Maybe that is what really helps them manifest what they want to want to do or look for change, and that’s fine. But ultimately, we are all part of the same society in the same community. And we cannot incarcerate people for their whole lives, at least not vast sections of it. And there and all of us are going to be out and about and living together and we want everyone to be best equipped to do that. Why wouldn’t we? Because if we’re not we’re spending a whole lot of money to put them in an even worse situation when they are released from jail. And that’s not good for anyone. It’s not good for them. It’s not good for our society. It just is Isn’t. So if that isn’t motivational or doesn’t strike a chord, then really just break down the numbers. And I think those speak for themselves.

Maggie Germano 47:09
Yeah, I totally agree. And I know that we hear a lot of talk about taxpayer dollars and where that money is going and not wanting to waste it and have it go to places that we don’t agree with. And I think that, that in and of itself, if we just looked at those pure numbers of how much is being spent to arrest folks, or keep people in jail, rather than helping them and kind of keeping them out of the system in a way that will actually help them and help the rest of society. I think that that, like you said, it really does speak for itself with the numbers too.

Lena Derhally 47:46
And it can happen to any of us and I don’t think people really realize that either is that mental illness that can happen to any of us poverty, losing our job, we just don’t know. You know, most of us aren’t billionaires or millionaires, you know, and we’re Sometimes I say we’re one serious illness away from a bankruptcy. And, you know, to imagine what if that was my family member? You know, we would want them to get the best care and that people of those of us who know what it’s like to have a, you know, a seriously mentally ill family member, for example. We know what we want surfaces for them to help them. We don’t want them out on the street or in prison. So just trying to have that empathy. You know that this time again, this could happen to any of us. This could touch all of us and to imagine if that was happening to you, what would what would you want to see?

Maggie Germano 48:34
Yeah, and I think Coronavirus has shown that as well, where there are a lot of people who they’ve always felt very secure in their careers and very secure in their income. And this pandemic has just put everything on its head and people who normally could just you could even say like, oh, I’ll just go wait tables if I lost my job or I could Oh, I could just go do this. And during a pandemic, that’s just not as good Certainly a reality and still not having a healthcare system that supports everyone. It also puts people at risk. And I think you said we’re one medical issue away from bankruptcy. Most bankruptcies are related to medical debt. So yeah, we really all could be impacted. And I think just right now, during this pandemic, that should be even more clear. And so we should be really focusing even more about making everything more fair and more just for everyone.

Lena Derhally 49:30
Yeah, hopefully, we’re learning these lessons from the pandemic and that we will all implement. That’s my hope.

Amanda Mowle 49:36
Mine as well.

Maggie Germano 49:38
Great. So is there anything either of you would like to promote whether it is something of your own that you’re working on or an issue or an organization or a cause that you’re passionate about?

Lena Derhally 49:51
I just think for me, I would just want to promote a recent podcast I did just related to what we talked about my podcast, Sessions with Bob and Lena, it’s mostly focused on mental health. But we just did an episode, where we interviewed two black women, Latasha and Allison, about what their experiences as a black woman in America. And they were raw and unfiltered. And I think the things they were saying are are things that I want people to hear. So that’s that’s what I would want to share with people today.

Amanda Mowle 50:23
And I personally listened to that episode, and I would echo that it is worth listening to, and something that everyone should if they have the time to do because it really is meaningful and build upon our conversations here as well. As far as what people can do to get involved. I’ve said it previously, but again, your local ACLU would be outstanding, your local races for prosecutors, local organizations, whether they’re shelters just find out, get involved to the extent you can. Maybe it’s harder to do those things during a pandemic, but at least obtain the information and come up with a plan of what you’re Looking to do?

Maggie Germano 51:02
Thank you. I appreciate that. And if folks wanted to learn more about you or get in touch, how can they do that?

Lena Derhally 51:11
I’m at the Imago center DC. So just my you can get connected to me through there, the imago Center DC website. And then I have an Instagram that I sometimes post on, which is @therapywithLena.

Amanda Mowle 51:26
For myself, my personal email addresses the [email protected]. And as I am a state employee, I would encourage you to use that if there would be any way to reach out be helpful.

Maggie Germano 51:39
Great. Well, thank you both so much for coming to have this conversation. I this is a topic that I’m sure a lot of people are not necessarily fully aware of. And hopefully all the information you’ve given will really open their eyes and show them just how insidious the criminalization of poverty really is and how it affects everyone. And impacts our society at large as well as understanding what they can do about it. They’re not helpless in that.

Lena Derhally 52:09
Thank you for having us, Maggie, this was really helpful.

Amanda Mowle 52:11
Thank you as well enjoyed it.

Maggie Germano 52:19
Thank you so much for listening to the money circle podcast this week. If you like the conversations we’re having here and you’d like to go even deeper, join the new money circle community. In this safe intersectional feminist space. We will break down money shame and build community and safety for everyone so that you can find the support you need to gain control over your finances. Visit to learn more and to join. If you’d like to get more connected with me subscribe to my weekly newsletter at to learn more about my financial coaching services, my speaking and workshop offerings or just to read my blog visit You can also follow him On Instagram and Twitter @MaggieGermano. I look forward to hearing from you. Bye bye.