Missouri authors discuss the criminalization of poverty in their new books

Local News

SPRINGFIELD, Mo. — Writers and book lovers were able to attend an evening with authors Tony Messenger and Nancy Allen at the Schweitzer Brentwood Branch Library Tuesday night.

Messenger released his book called Profit Punishment and Allen sat down with Messenger to discuss the theme of this new book.

Profit and Punishment‘s major theme is the criminalization of poverty, and the book looks at debtors’ prisons.

“One of the reasons I’m so excited to be able to do this together with Nancy is because her most recent book with James Patterson talks about the same topic which is the criminalization of poverty,” said Messenger.

Messenger, a former editorial writer for the Springfield News-Leader, is an award-winning columnist for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

“In 2019, I’m a big fan of Tony Messenger, and I was following Tony’s coverage of the debtors’ prisons in Missouri, and I got all fired up about it,” said Allen. “I talked to James Patterson about it and then James got all fired up about it. That was the inspiration of the JailHouse Lawyer.”

Allen says a novel can be entertaining but also informative and says the new book, The JailHouse Lawyer, does both.

Messenger says one of the reasons he is excited to be in Springfield to promote his book is because the main character in his book is from Southwest Missouri.

“Her name was Brooke, and she was arrested for stealing an eight-dollar tube of mascara from a Walmart and ended up doing some jail time and getting a $15,000 bill for that jail time,” said Messenger. “The judge had her come back month after month in an effort to collect that $15,000.”

Messenger says this was an example of how the court sometimes criminalizes poverty and makes it difficult for the poor population to escape the judicial system.

Allen says a fictional book can still explore social issues and says it is important to explore the court system because so many can be unfamiliar with it.

“Both of our books deal with a part of the judicial system that poor people understand well that a lot of other people just don’t see,” said Messenger. “We get a speeding ticket, we write a check, or you have a kid who shoplifts. You get a lawyer, you write a check, and the kid never goes to jail. No consequences. Poor people, they get stuck in jail because they can’t afford cash bail, or they can’t see their public defender because there are not enough of them in the system of Missouri.”

Messenger’s work has been recognized by the Society of Professional Journalists, the American Society of New Editors, and the Scripps Howard Foundation. In 2016 he was awarded the Missouri Honor Medal for Distinguished Service in Journalism by the University of Missouri School of Journalism.

Allen, the author of the Ozarks Mystery Series, practiced law for fifteen years as Assistant Missouri Attorney General and Assistant Prosecutor in her native Ozarks. She is currently co-authoring with James Patterson on a legal thriller to be published in James Patterson`s BookShots series for Hachette/Little Brown.

Both books, Profit and Punishment and The Jailhouse Lawyer are available online or in bookstores.

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