BARRY COUNTY, Mich.— Tara Mathis admits she couldn’t pay her child support, but a recent meeting with a judge didn’t end the way she thought it would.
But while Mathis, 26, was supposed to be transferred to jail, courthouse staff mistakenly left her in a holding cell overnight.
“I thought I was going to lose my mind," she said. "There was just white walls, and it was cold and quiet. You didn't know what was going on."
Mathis was in court for a 2 p.m. hearing on Wednesday because she did not pay the full amount for her child support. She was told she had to pay $248 or spend 24 days in jail.
When she told them she couldn’t pay, she went to a court holding cell, but instead of getting transferred to jail, she waited in the holding cell for nearly six hours when deputies forget she was there.
There’s a good chance that could have become an overnight stay, but her mom’s intuition stepped in. It wasn’t until her mother reported her missing that deputies realized the mix-up.
Mathis said she lost track of time sitting in a court holding cell, handcuffed with no shoes on. No windows, no clock, and so cold that she says she had to jump around to stay warm.
Fresh marks show Mathis’ attempts at wiggling out of the handcuffs.
“I had to go to the bathroom so bad. The only thing I could think to do was wiggle my hand out of the handcuff the best I could and when I did it bruised it here and here,” she said as she showed black and blue marks on her hands.
Memories of her panic are vivid.
“I was shivering. My feet were like ice. I just tried to move around to keep warm the best I could."
Mathis told FOX 17 she's a business student at Kellogg Community College and a mother of four children.
She was quick to admit that she’s not perfect. “I was in court because I am behind on child support. I haven't been able to find a job so I haven't been able to make regular payments."
Mathis has receipts that show she pays when she can. However, the judge didn't tolerate missed payments and ruled Wednesday that Mathis pay what she owes or spend 24 days behind bars.
“They put me in the holding cell. I sat there and waited and waited,” she said.
She was in a court holding cell well past the end of the business day. The sheriff’s department says they found her close to 8:20 P.M.
“I figured they forgot about me. I tried banging on the door, and yelling for somebody,” she said.
Hours later, her mom hadn't heard from her and called police.
“Her car was in the courthouse parking lot unlocked and no Tara to be found," said Kathie Dunn, Tara’s mother. "The only thing I could think of is she is laying somewhere dead or someone’s kidnapped her or whatever."
Stuck behind bars, Tara knew something was wrong.
“At least in the jail there's noise around to keep you occupied in there. I thought I was going to lose my mind in there,” she said.
After several hours, she finally heard a noise.
“All of a sudden I heard a knock on the door. It was two county cops and two city cops asking who I was, and I told them and they got me out. They took off my handcuffs, let me put my shoes on."
Tara was still booked in the county jail per the judge’s order and had to pay $32 for release. The Barry County Sheriff's Department says there was a lack of communication between deputies at shift change, so at the end of the day everyone locked up and went home.
“I understand mistakes are made but it seems like something has to be in play to check those cells before anybody can leave that way this doesn't happen again,” said Mathis.
Tara says she hopes no one loses their job over the mix-up but would like to hear an apology. Sheriff's department officials say they're still investigating the incident.