Michael Treadwell sat at the back of a courtroom. In a windbreaker and khaki pants, he leaned over his work boots, elbows on his knees. At first, I thought he was chewing gum – a bold choice in a courtroom. When we began to talk, I discovered it wasn’t gum Michael was chewing. It was his own gums. Michael doesn’t have any teeth.
I had been looking for Michael, 53, since I came across his criminal record. I was reporting on the way poor people are jailed for minor crimes because they can’t afford bail. Michael, I discovered, had spent a total of 854 days in jail over the last six years. His charges all come from some combination of being homeless and getting drunk. In those six years, the county had spent over $63,000 locking him up. I wanted to know how a man can spend so much time in jail for such minor offenses.