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Personal Narrative: Celeste Sawyer

Celeste Sawyer is a single mother of five children living in Florida. Her driver’s license was suspended, because she accumulated $584 of traffic ticket debt. She said that this all started from two seatbelt violation tickets. She wasn’t able to pay off her tickets before she had accumulated that much debt because she was already struggling financially, living in transitional housing, and trying to provide food and childcare for her five children. She was juggling all of those responsibilities while only earning $10 an hour and while recovering from being in a domestic violence situation.

She attended court dates for her tickets and requested a payment plan, because she couldn’t imagine paying the entire amount she owed at once. Even still, the payment schedule that the court granted her was not manageable on her budget. She borrowed money from people and also went to court to get her payments extended. The court never offered her the opportunity to perform community service as a way of satisfying her court debt. There was also a time when she missed a court date, because she couldn’t afford to pay the money that was due that day so a warrant was issued for her arrest.

After finding out that her license was suspended the first time, Celeste didn’t have a choice but to continue to drive because she had no other way of getting to work. Taking a bus was not a viable option, because it wouldn’t transport her or her kids to where they needed to go within a reasonable time frame. If she did take the bus, she would’ve had to leave the night before for her 7 AM shift and transfer twice to get to work on time, whereas driving would only take her 15 minutes on the highway. To most people, the decision to keep driving illegally is almost a no-brainer; she was not happy or proud to break the law and said that she was in constant fear when she had to risk driving. She had already been arrested multiple times during traffic stops, but she had to keep driving. Simple errands like driving to the grocery store are a fearful experience for her. There’s no other way to feed her family but to drive unlicensed, because there are no grocery delivery services that take food stamps. This is just one example of how not having a valid license complicated her life. If she had the money to pay her original tickets, she would have, especially if it would have meant avoiding her current circumstances. As of July 2019, Celeste owed about $4,393.50.

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