Arrested

Let’s get it all out in the open: Anita McLemore has a past. With four felony drug convictions and one misdemeanor, suffice it to say that, at least at some point, she wasn’t the best decision-maker. But let’s not judge because that’s the past and we all have one in some form.

But that past shouldn’t keep her from being able to eat or feed her two children, so she turned to the state to apply for food stamps. Because of her prior convictions, she knew she had to fudge her history to get assistance. That set off a domino effect that led to her being sentenced last week: three years in prison. For lying on her food stamp application.

That’s more time than James Arthur Ray got. You may know him as the self-help guru Oprah once endorsed who inadvertently killed three people at a sweat lodge a few years back. He got two years in prison. For killing three people. Oh, justice system. You never cease to baffle me.

McLemore will also serve more time than some folks involved in a multimillion-dollar mortgage fraud scheme, who also got sentenced to two years in federal prison.

The total amount McLemore used to put food on her table? $4,367. And she paid it all back after she admitted that she lied about not being convicted of a felony and plead guilty to one count of submitting a false claim to the U.S. Department of Agriculture in July.

Federal law bans food stamps for folks who have felony drug convictions so she, and other people like her, are out of luck when it comes to getting the government’s help to buy food for their families. Even though states can opt out of the law, the ones that don’t — including Mississippi, where McLemore lived — put their residents in a bind. So she had to make another decision, and is paying dearly for it.    

Guess we should think about that next time we see hungry folks on the streets or in shelters.

In an effort to wield the mighty sword of justice to make an example out of her, U.S. District Judge Henry Wingate, who presided over her sentencing, declared "the defendant's criminal record is simply abominable. She has been the beneficiary of government generosity in state court" and sent her to jail for more than the suggested sentence of 2-8 months in prison, which would have made her eligible for probation. On top of that, she has to pay another $250 in fines and be on supervised release for three years after she gets out.

McLemore starts serving her bid on January 3, leaving behind the very two teenagers she was trying to care for in the first place when all of this mess began. Unless they’re being taken in by relatives, that’s two more children in the foster care system that need not be there and six years out of their mama’s life that didn’t have to be monopolized by the courts.

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is the difference between how the law works for a low-income single mom and a group of wealthy jetsetters. Taking some groceries to your kids and paying for them and taking somebody’s life and carrying on business as usual are deemed equal in the eyes of the law. She may have been wrong to tell the lie in the first place, but sometimes you have to push ethics to the backburner when desperate times hit. That’s why they’re called desperate times. You can’t feed your kids ethics when there’s no food in the fridge.

Was she right to lie in order to get the food stamps or was she just out of luck?


Image via banspy/Flickr