In the United States, people are said to be "innocent until proven guilty" in the criminal justice system, but the issue of cash bail — the money needed to release someone from jail after an arrest — flips that tenet on its head. In reality, it's more like "guilty until proven innocent".
Singer/songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Joe Troop — perhaps best known for leading the band Che Apalache — addressed the issue in his recently released song 'The Rise of Dreama Caldwell'. It follows the story of North Carolina activist Dreama Caldwell and harkens back to the protest songs of yore.
Now, Troop has released a powerful new video for the song. Watch below.
Caldwell used to run a daycare, before she was arrested for another person's error. She learned the problems surrounding cash bail firsthand when the magistrate set hers at $40,000 — an action that set off a series of repercussions and prompted Caldwell to fight for systemic change.
A large part of the problem involves matters around equity. Simply put, people who don't have money are punished accordingly. "I keep talking about the criminalization of poverty", Caldwell told Holler. "Just because you’re charged with a crime doesn’t mean you’re going to be convicted of said crime. People have to have an opportunity to be innocent until proven guilty. Instead, they're staying in jail for years for simply not being able to afford a bail".
The visual begins with the real-life Dreama Caldwell being taken to see the magistrate, but once she learns about the harsh bail sentence, an actress begins portraying the remainder of her experience. Matthew Durning and Dilsey Davis co-directed the video, while Sylvester Allen, Jr. from Graham, North Carolina, penned the screenplay.
"I really applaud the decision of the directors to use an actress because it was all so emotional", Caldwell said. "There were parts of the music video that, even though I’ve told my story, I hadn't verbalized. It was emotional but it was also freeing".
Troop met Caldwell through 'Pickin' for Progress', a series of videos he created to highlight important progressive voices in North Carolina. "We became friends and have chosen to work together to help change North Carolina, using the inherent symbolism of our friendship to promote unity", said Troop.
Troop hopes the video calls attention not just to the issue of cash bail reform, but Caldwell's decision to run for office in North Carolina's Alamance County. "Dreama is in a volatile position", Troop said. "The best thing for her now is more visibility, and we hope to garner that with this epic recording and video. I am so proud of this song, I can barely believe it"!
As for Caldwell, she hopes the video humanizes an issue that can feel more statistical than anything else. "There’s a person on the other side going through it, and it’s just not one moment", she said. "There’s a lifetime of things that follow behind once you enter into the criminal justice system".
'The Rise of Dreama Caldwell' appears on Troop's new solo album Borrowed Time, out now via Free Dirt Records.