Tanya McDowell is a homeless Connecticut mother who was charged with felony larceny last year after she lied about her address to make her six-year-old son eligible to attend school in a better district. McDowell pled guilty to the accusation and was sentenced to twelve years in prison this week. While the sentence also takes four charges of drug possession and sale into account, the sentence also requires that McDowell pay a $6,200 fine for stealing what the state has calculated was $15,000 in educational services.

McDowell’s case attracted the support of education and civil rights advocates who argued that because she was living in a van and occasionally sleeping at a shelter in Norwalk, where she enrolled her child, she should not have been required to send him to school in the city of her last permanent address, which is located in Bridgeport. Instead of using that old Bridgeport address, McDowell used that of a babysitter who lived in Norwalk to send her son to kindergarten.

Does this twelve year sentence make any sense? It’s a shame that McDowell got caught up in drugs, whether she was selling them or using them, and it’s clear that she was doing everything she could to make a life for her child — she’s no Nino Brown. But that part of the sentence at least makes sense. What’s disgraceful is the idea that a parent who lacks a permanent address can be separated from her child for using the address of a friend to “steal” a free education for him.

Read more here.

What do you think of this case?

  • OSHH

    I think it’s a travesty

  • edub

    How much did she actually get for stealing son’s education–minus the drug charges?

  • DollB

    Obviously, we have major issues with our judicial system.. Are you serious?!

  • Ronni

    This is ridiculous! 12 years for that? There are rapists that don’t even get that much time.

  • TheBestAnonEver, Part 2

    12 years?!?!

    Are DAs elected in CT? Instead of spending time fighting over who someone else wants to screw these are issues we should be up in arms about.

  • kissa

    What makes no sense is that they are saying her son should have attended school in Bridgeport not Norwalk.. I’m a Connecticut resident and Norwalk is at least 20 to 30 mins apart depending on what part of town your heading.. Although homeless she lived in a van/homeless shelter in Norwalk and her previous address was in Bridgeport…Tell me why/how would it be smart for someone homeless(has no money) to trek back and forth such a distance to bring her child to school?..She had a right to enrol her child at a Norwalk school due to the fact she was homeless and in Norwalk…What if she used the shelters address instead would that have changed things? All in all the case of her stealing education should have been thrown out and the sentence is rather ridiculous..Child molesters get lighter sentences..smh

  • CurlySue

    This title is quite misleading. She also had 4 charges of drug possession and sale against her. That alone could nab you 12 years.

  • kissa

    Best Anon, you are right this is definitely an issue we need to tackle..This isn’t the first nor the last we have heard of this and something must be done about it..Education is no longer a privilege it is a right..In my book every child has a right to the best education no matter their zip code..Unfortunately Norwalk is an affluent town that does not cater too well to people of different ethnicities..They have the highest rate of housing discrimination for lower income individuals that are from different ethnicities here in Connecticut..I believe the harsh sentence is a message to those looking to do what this lady did..

  • Shirl

    Did she think of her child before she started selling drugs? I used to live in an area that was riddled with drugs and crime. I know how drugs can tear down a good neighborhood. I grew up in and loved my old neighborhood and it just about killed me to have to move. I tried neighborhood watches, calling the police and even trying to talk to the individuals that were dealing the drugs to no avail. I finally gave up and moved when one of the dirt bags threatened to hurt me and my children. I have no pity for this woman. The one who is suffering is her son. I feel sorry for that baby. This article’s headline is extremely misleading.

  • http://www.BlasianBytch.com N’jaila Rhee

    Let’s put this in perspective, I know a man who KILLED a woman and got out of prison in 13 years. MURDER.

    This homeless woman put her child in school and is getting 12 years. What a horrible thing to make her son who she obviously cared for grow up without a mother because of a old address.

  • mamareese

    See this mess wouldn’t happen is they gave everyone the same chance at a good education. We got killers and rapist in the streets but this is what they do with our tax dollars. Send a sister to jail becasue she wanted better for her kids. Lord help us.

  • KT

    I wonder what would happen if black folks became radical extremists??? By all indications we would have every right to be.

  • redwineforlunch

    I understand why she was given jail time for her drug involvement but the education thing? C,mon…All she was trying to do was provide her child with an education (sucks that she got caught up with the drugs)… but 12 years? rapists can get away with doing less than a year of jail time in some cases…

    and i personally know quite a few people in Chicago who lie about their address so they can send their kids to a good school in another area. It’s nothing new. If the states had equitable funding for education so that ALL children were able to receive a good education, people wouldn’t feel like they had to make decisions that these…

  • Isis


  • Mimi

    And murderers too!

  • cola

    the drug charges is probably what bumped it up to 12 years (mind you, if it was 12 years for weed, that’s stupid, but we don’t know what drugs she was holding). The school district is more of a finable charge… unless America really is and has proven to be that unjust.

  • apple

    cause she black , if becky had lied about jimmy ability to go to a good school, they prob would have fined and let her go or even FOUND A WAY to let him stay, especially if it was a black school he was trying not to go to..

    we lied about my address to get me to a good school, and so did my cousin, my best friend and various other students in the school

  • wuluwulu

    Where is the ACLU on this one? This is cruel and unusual punishment. The sentence does not fit the crime.

  • Fox

    So where is her son supposed to go?

  • kissa

    My thoughts exactly when I commented above..

  • kissa

    You cannot criticize this woman for her actions..I nor you can know what its like to have a six year old child, no job and homeless while living in a van..When a person is in survival mode their only goal is just that to survive..You cannot compare your life to hers, when the shoe is on the other foot..

  • tyey

    They are separating a mother from her son because she tried to get a better education for him, and call that justice?

    And also, I don’t understand if she was tried for drugs charges why didn’t her sentencing include the idea of community service or rehab? is she considered a dangerous criminal, if so why?
    i have yet to hear of the many white people abusing and selling drugs left and right getting such harsh sentences.

    i truly feel black intellectuals need to cease opportunities like this to address what is going on in this country head on, or else the situation might deteriorate to a open season warfare by the government at large against people of color.

  • haffie

    Its always in America that you go to prison for lying about your adress so that your children can go to a better school. That’s why I love France, when I will have kids they won’t have to worrry about a good education.Selling drugs is wrong but 12 years c’mon even rapist, pedophiles and criminals dont get all that. Then she gets fine. No one should have to worry about giving their children an education but in America beingblack iin most cases = poor=no money= leaving in bad hoods=not being able to have great schools for ur kids. I am pissed.

    Vive la France, we have problems but at least we blacks get an education.

  • Tonton Michel

    Unfair, unjust, and down right cold blooded. Who is winning by putting this woman in jail for 12 years? Is the world safe now?

  • Mina

    Wow, Oscar Grant, an unarmed Black man what shot in the back as he laid on the ground faced down. His murderer (BART police) is released in ONE YEAR. A Black mother “steals” better opportunities for her son and she is sentenced 12 years? AWFUL.
    Maybe if you funded schools in low-income, predominantly people of color neighborhoods, maybe she wouldn’t have to “steal” RESOURCES for her son.

  • Georgia

    The drug charges aside, I don’t understand how she could be charged with stealing anything–breaking a rule, perhaps, but stealing? She and her son are presumably American citizens, and public school is both free (federally funded) and education federally compulsory for children of a particular age (varies state to state). Districts may set up rules and parameters for who goes where, but how could her action be deemed illegal?

  • complexity

    ridiculous. even with drug charges, which is another can of worms of its own, just ridiculous. so, trying to provide a quality education for your child is stealing? and she has to pay back money for the free education? and she’s homeless on top of that. where is the compassion? where is the sense of outrage that she had to do all of this to get her son into a good school? that there are limited options for poor kids of color?

    this is a overt effort to keep a black person “in their place.” to make sure that they know where they belong-a school that does not have the advantages of schools that those more privileged (typically white and rich) have access too. separate schools just like before Brown v. Board. same story, different excuse. modern day jim crow in education.

  • edub

    When is a black woman ever responsible for her actions?

    So, after a bit of research,

    McDowell also quietly pleaded guilty to three counts of selling drugs to an undercover police officer. (This was JUST in Norwalk) THEN:

    McDowell also pleaded guilty earlier this month in Bridgeport to two counts of sale of narcotics to undercover police officers.
    In mid-June, she was arrested for selling drugs to Norwalk undercover officers on five occasions in Norwalk and Bridgeport.
    When she was picked up on the drug charges, police found her in front of Brookside School holding 30 small bags of marijuana and 23 small bags of crack cocaine, prosecutor Tiffany Lockshier said during her sentencing hearing.

    So..Girl, Bye.

  • Leelee

    And she should go to prison for that. She’s accountable for her actions and she’s obviously going to pay for it. The point, which you didn’t mention, was about the penalties in relation to her “stealing” her son’s education…from a public school.

  • edub

    I think you should direct that to the author of this article. The responsibility of accurate reporting lies initially with the author of the piece.

    Anyway, from what I read, she actually gets a reduced sentence (from 15 years to 5 years) after pleading guilty to the education larceny. So, contrary to the sensationalism of this article, pleading guilty to stealing her son’s education benefits her.

    The tone of this article reminds me of that article written about the black woman who smuggled cocaine into Thailand. Despite her having drugs in her dreadlocks, the author of that article focused on how uncomfortable patting down black women’s hair made her.

  • sli

    “When is a black woman ever responsible for her actions?”


  • David Stevens

    Blacks in America are getting a taste of what it was like living in South Africa.

  • Mocha

    Now THIS right here..is messed up! Ray Charles can see this is wrong. Sentence her for the drug stuff, yes, but for school stuff…I think that’s over the top.

  • Zoe

    The first thing that needs to be done is we need to send out a call for an attorney who will ask for reconsideration on the basis of “incompetent representation.” Or we need to find an attorney who will file a civil suit against the public defenders office (because I am sure that this was not a paid attorney) and the State for a violation of her 8th amendment protection against “cruel and unusual punishment” (if Black women are still protected by the Constitution.) And then as a people period, but specifically AFrican American people,Latino,and working class poor people (who are most often subject to this disparate sentencing), need to collectively lobby and organize resistance around the unfair criminal justice and judicial processes because MOST, not many or few, but MOST who cannot afford to pay the high cost of legal representation are “herded” EVERY DAY! into taking plea bargains. And this is done at the insistence and through the collaboration of systems-policing,courts, prosecutors, and public defenders offices, who do not want to incur the costs, spend the time or energy in adequately investigating, preparing, and representing clients-and ultimately going against their own in a trial. Therefore, prosecutors trump charges to be used as leverage to bargain down in order to literally COERCE people to plead guilty to cases and more importantly charges that some are not even guilty of and could never be proven beyond a reasonable doubt in a jury trial. They argue fervently, “you should take the plea because IF you go to trial and get found guilty you will get far more time.” And when the person who is supposed to represent you says that, how can you trust that you can win, especially if you don’t know. So those who cannot afford adequate and competent representation don’t stand a chance. There is no way that any jury of HER PEERS would have convicted her of an offense that carries that time. I have become saddened that I did not choose law school, but I am willing to jump in this fight with the help of an attorney who places ethics and cause above money…If anybody knows anyone, send this article to them. Let’s find her an attorney who really cares and demand that this case be reevaluated…otherwise she becomes another Troy Davis (and all other the other unnamed victims of unjust criminal justice systems) that WE forget about in time.

  • Leonard Adame

    Many people use fake addresses to switch school districts. Happena all over. This woman’s sentence is overkill. It’s also racist! Like the many black men who were convicted of rape and murder and whose convictions were overturned because DNA tests found that they didn’t commit the crime, this woman is being subjected to nearly criminal prosecution. How many white people have switched addresses? Should they be in jail. As for the drug situation, well, she’s poor, segragated by having to live in a ghetto/or in her car, and has no chance at helping her child go to a better school without outside help. So where is that help? What is gained by sending her to prison? How is her sentence fair and/or just? Looking only at the drug business is only half the story.

  • foggie133


    as i have told my friends about this article, i cant speak on anything pertaining to the drug issue because im sure i didnt know all the fact. and if your facts are correct, with the drug issue alone… she had it coming.

    the problem that i have is that there is a punishment at all for the school issue. as i told someone else. i went to catholic school all my life then to Howard University, and it cost $15000 dollars for a 4 years in a catholic high school. what PUBLIC SCHOOL KINDERGARTEN does it cost that much for? public school education is supposed to be free for all. any jail time and “repayment” for that is disgusting. now if she sent him to a public school that was in a worst district and lied about her address, would there be an issue?

  • Donald K Sumner

    Excessive, unfair, unjust. If the trial is about the education issue, it should have JUST BEEN THAT. The drugs and other stuff should have been a separate trial.

  • http://nesheaholic.com LaNeshe

    I grew up in Bridgeport, Connecticut, and the real crime is the condition of their schools. This makes my heart break.

  • Ashley

    They’re throwing the book at her for selling narcotics, not stealing education. Just so everyone is clear, public education is NOT free. The education is paid for by the residents tax dollars. Areas that pay higher taxes have better school systems. This woman does NOT work which means she does NOT contribute to the towns education system. And on top of that, shes a drug dealer. Why do some people think they are so entitled to everything without contributing anything? Why do Black areas like Bridgeport have such lousy school systems???—Because parents like her do NOT work and they do NOT pay taxes so their children can receive a better education.

  • Ashley

    How do you figure that public education is “free” lol. That’s exactly what’s wrong with Black people and why the majority of the schools in Black areas a pathetic. They don’t have supplies, good teachers, or roofs that don’t leak because the people of the community don’t pay for it!

  • Mr East

    The lion’s share of her jail time was in regards to the drugs charges she was found guilty of. The judge was lenient with the larceny charge given the circumstances and he could of imposed up to a 20 year sentence for that charge alone.

  • lng

    People like ashley make me sick. This was not about how the mother sold drugs. This was about the child. Every child in america deserves an education they do not choose their parents this woman was homeless so basically homeless children do not deserve any education because their parents poor decisions…. way to go ash…. way to go.

  • lng

    Also just so were clear there’s a reason HISTORICALLY Why black schools are poorer. Not because blacks don’t want to pay its because they don’t have the resources, with racisist employers lesser pay and a cycle of them going to worse schools such as… its harder for parents to make enough maybe a handfull of parents went to community college and even less further education then that over all a few parents who have money can’t foot the bill. This woman was homeless she could be living anywhere and its sad to hear people saypublic schools aren’t free… well hardly anything is free even our freedom isn’t free. And to insinuate homeless non working people don’t deserve to send their kids to school is gross and disgusting…. again… bravo

  • larena

    I know someone like that & always wanted to report her cuase she is using her mothr adress & live in a different town which I don’t understand because she is doing it as well to collect state asistance. Now tell me if this is wronge she’s a grown ass women wit $$$$$

  • So fed up

    I don’t feel she stole anything. She is a black woman that is her crime.

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