Homeless mom sentenced to 5 years in prison for “stealing” son’s education

A mother has been arrested and sentenced to jail time for sending her five year old son to a school district where she had no permanent residence.

I can barely believe I’m having to type this sentence again. In a post just last year, I wrote about a woman in Ohio who was convicted of lying about where she lived in order to get her daughters into a better school district and was sentenced to 10 days in county jail, three years of probation, community service, and payment of up to $30,000 in back tuition she could be required to pay the school. At the time, I (morbidly) joked that I’m surprised they didn’t hit her with life in prison and tattoo “Thug Life” on her upper stomach.

Now, a year later, the same twisted logic and interpersonal and systemic racism has landed another mother in jail for the simple “crime” of wanting her child to access public education.

Tanya McDowell was living as a homeless woman when she was arrested for sending her five year old son to a school district where she- surprise- didn’t have a permanent residence. Ms. McDowell has said that she only wanted a better education for her child. Despite a change.org petition that has generated over 15, 600 signatures asking for the charges to be dropped against her, she was just sentenced to 5 years in prison after pleading guilty in the case.

As I’ve mentioned previously, this story really hits home for me because my OWN mother did this for me, driving 30 minutes each way to school and back during a tough time of transition for my family. But because my mother is white, and we weren’t homeless, or some other inexplicable reason, she didn’t have to go to jail for her crime of fiercely loving her only child.

It’s hard to believe that our tax money is being spent prosecuting the most vulnerable and impoverished members of society for daring to dream a little bit bigger for members of the next generation- if we could even call sending your child to public school “daring to dream big”. This case is just another example of the ways in which motherhood can often be celebrated in theory but villified in practice in our society, especially when that motherhood doesn’t look rich or white.

Brooklyn, NY

Lori Adelman is Executive Director of Partnerships at Feministing, where she enjoys creating and curating content on gender, race, class, technology, and the media. Lori is also an advocacy and communications professional specializing in sexual and reproductive rights and health, and currently works in the Global Division of Planned Parenthood Federation of America. A graduate of Harvard University, she lives in Brooklyn.

Lori Adelman is an Executive Director of Feministing in charge of Partnerships.

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