Feeling anxiety and stress about her monthly visits for post-release supervision, Stormy Poe would remove her treasured rings for safe-keeping — gifts from her deceased grandmother.
The young mother feared an unintentional probation violation, not knowing much about paying fines, fees and court costs. If unexpectedly taken to jail, she didn’t want those heirlooms to potentially be lost in the shuffle.
“I just remember being terrified every time to go in to see my probation officer, because you never know if you have a warrant for some weird thing you didn’t pay,” Poe said.
Hidden or undisclosed court assessments — and some counties levy jail fees — can be an unexpectedly brutal revelation and easy reentry point into incarceration. Justice reformers say some might feel pressured back into crime to pay off debts or simply be picked up on a warrant if they begin missing payments.
In Poe’s case, a disputed amount of jail fees from her Oklahoma County incarceration hang over the 22-year-old’s head as she tries to rebuild her life. The jail currently charges $41.37 a day to inmates.
“I’ve been in nicer hotels that cost less; it’s insane,” Poe said. Her testimony came before the governor’s Criminal Justice Reentry, Supervision, Treatment and Opportunity Reform Task Force — or RESTORE — during a public meeting in October.
She is 2½ years sober thanks to ReMerge, a comprehensive female incarceration diversion program. She works at Center for Employment Opportunities.
Court records show her court debt in Pottawatomie County ($3,100) and Oklahoma County ($1,400) are paid in full, with help from her church. But Poe said the Oklahoma County Sheriff’s Office lost records of four years of payments totaling between $900 and $1,100 of her nearly $2,000 incarceration bill.
When she called to check her balance, she said jail staff responded that they couldn’t find her file. So there was no record of her monthly payments because none is entered into the computer system until the debt is fully paid, she said she was told.
Poe said she doesn’t have documents to prove her story because she only had access to cash for payments and doesn’t have any of the tiny paper receipts she was given each time.
“I was in active addiction,” Poe said. “There’s no way I have any of those (receipts) now.”
The Sheriff’s Office provided her incarceration fee payment chart to the Tulsa World, which shows six handwritten entries totaling $130 between February 2016 and August 2017 on a $1,970.04 bill.
“The file was easily retrieved, and was not ‘lost,’” said Mark Myers, spokesman for the Sheriff’s Office. “Our staff have detailed documentation regarding Ms. Poe’s payments including copies, and receipts of each payment she has made to the Oklahoma County Sheriff’s Office. We are more than happy to review our file with Ms. Poe and address any concerns she might have.”
Having completely paid off her court debt, the disputed jail debt concerns her, the latest obstacle as she seeks a better life for herself and her daughter.
Poe said she doesn’t intend to make another payment until the matter is sorted out.
“I’m at a place in my life where I’m trying to work on my credit; so is (the incarceration fee debt) going to hit my credit?” Poe said. “I’m frustrated and irritated because I’ve been paying like I’m supposed to be doing.”
Poe grew up in a broken home and grappled with drug addiction. Her mother gave her pills for headaches from a young age.
Yearning for affection, she ended up pregnant at age 18 and jailed for her first time when she was nine months along. Six arrests led to a cumulative year in jail, and the state took custody of her daughter.
Through ReMerge’s intensive two-year program, Poe regained custody of her young daughter in June 2018.
She’s active in her church and intends to go to school in January for business management. She lives in transitional housing because that’s all she can afford.
Her dream is to work in jails to help others who are where she used to be.
“The only reason I am where I’m at today in life is because of mentors, because of women from my church, because of women unconditionally loving me,” Poe said.