Free-Range Kids

Mom Hires Craigslist Driver for 9-Year-Old Son, Gets Thrown in Jail


free-range kids

A mom in suburban Atlanta was looking for a way to get her son to Florida to visit his grandma. So she hired a driver she found on Craigslist advertising a rideshare. 

When the driver learned his intended co-pilot was only 9 years old, he called the cops and the mom was arrested. Now she's in jail, unable to care for her son, for the crime of failing to supervise her son closely enough. Seems totally counter-productive, doesn't it?

Until three years ago she could have simply put him on an Amtrak train. Children as young as 8 could ride as unaccompanied minors. But then Amtrak suddenly changed its policy and now kids have to be 13 to ride alone! When asked why it had added a full five years to its minimum traveling age, Amtrak replied that this was not in response to any incident whatsoever, but merely out of "an abundance of caution."

Run whenever you hear that phrase.

That "abundance of caution" means that, across the country, children like this 9-year-old boy in Atlanta are no longer unable to take the train to grandma. Or to visit a divorced mom or dad. Or to get from any point A to point B on our national taxpayer-subsidized train service unless their parents can afford the time and extra money it now takes to travel with them.

So it's not surprising that a mom would turn to Craigslist in desperation. Not all of us have friends with cars who are driving to exactly where we want our kids to go. Trusting a stranger may sound bizarre, but a sub-optimal parenting choice does not make this mom a criminal. It makes her a desperate mom without a lot of options, who made a decision she thought would work for her family. And it looks like it would have—the guy she picked obviously had a strong sense of responsibility toward children—if the driver hadn't turned her in.

On the other hand, the driver himself had cause for worry. Any male driving an unrelated minor across state lines could easily be taken for a predator.

The long and short of it is this: We are not allowed to trust our kids to travel, we are not allowed to trust strangers, and strangers aren't allowed to trust us. The government must always intervene.

This could have been a simple (maybe even fun!) roadtrip. In a less fear-crazed world, that boy could be hanging out with his grandma by now. And his mom wouldn't be hanging out in a jail cell.

For more stories like this one, check out Lenore Skenazy's Free-Range Kids blog.

NEXT: High School Suspended, Expelled Graduating Senior for Harming Gym Teacher's Reputation; Student Now Suing

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  1. The long and short of it is this: We are not allowed to trust our kids to travel, we are not allowed to trust strangers, and strangers aren’t allowed to trust us. The government must always intervene

    This is a feature, not a bug. The more the government has people divided, distrustful of each other and always looking to the government as their only source of help, no longer able to trust anyone, the more power the government has over our lives.

    1. Also, Yep.

    2. ^^


    3. You’ve hit the nail on the head.

  2. Okay old-timer Reasonoids, time to regale the whipper-snappers with tales of our zany exploits as youths in a saner world!

    Personally, I remember being able to ride my bike miles across town, even across major highways as a pre-teen. I just had to remember to call home when I got there.

    My wife used to take the subway to school alone as a pre-teen.

    1. I’m not that old buy I used to fly alone pretty regularly to visit my dad. Mom would check me in and then leave me at the gate. If she did that now she’d be on a watch list and DSS would have to intervene.

      1. I once walked off a plane at age 7 or 8 because the flight was cancelled and beat my grandparents back to their car in a similar arrangement. My granddad was pretty hot at the airline employees he left me with. But yeah, I got flown up and back for about five summers between 6 and 10 or 11.

      2. Flying alone is ok, because then at least a government stooge gets the chance to feel you up.

        1. I used to fly alone as a kid. That was back in the 80s back before everyone was a potential terrorist or child molester. I did cause a bit of a scene one time when I had a model rocket in my carry on. I did get it through though after a long explanation.

    2. I could literally go anywhere I could reach by any means of transportation I could afford as long as I was home by the time the streetlights came on in the summer after age 11. In real life, that meant lots of sketchy bus rides to wander the malls and libraries.

    3. I could ride my bike anywhere I wanted. I could go on a 10 mile excursion if I wanted to; just be home for dinner. Also, bonus story: during the eye of Hurricane Gloria, which went right over our house, I rode my bike down the street jumping over downed, potentially still live, power lines. I just had to have my ass back before the eyewall hit us again.

      1. You just weren’t taking Gloria seriously because it had a female name!

        1. Imagine if it had been named Nicole.

          1. Or Lucy.

            1. DON’T TALK ABOUT LUCY

              1. Sucker.

          2. I dated a Nicole once, she was a fucking violent psychopath that i caught hosing my kid down with icy water in the middle of winter for getting into soap… sounds like a scary enough hurricane name to me

            1. How old a kid, and what did “getting into soap” consist of? Was the icy water punishment, or to rinse off the soap?

        2. Yeah, that’s hurricane culture and it needs to stop.

      2. I don’t think I was ever told I had to be back by dinner. My mom just wouldn’t give me money to buy food and expect I’d show up when I got hungry.

        1. I was never explicitly told to come back either.

          1. I got told “don’t worry about getting killed its easy and fun to make a new one”

    4. I grew up in southeastern PA. I remember the before and after of Pennsylvania’s seat belt laws. I remember riding in cars as a kid without a seat belt without anyone batting an eye. Then I remember getting yelled at for not wearing a seat belt because my parents could be fined for it.

      I remember when PA did not require insurance to register a car, but I was too young to drive at that time.

      I remember not being required to wear a helmet on a bicycle.

      I remember riding in the bed of a pickup truck on secondary roads.

      I live in NH now. I’m still not required to wear a seat belt, but only because I’m an adult. Anyone under 18 must wear a seat belt in NH.

      In NH, anyone under 16 must wear a helmet while on a bicycle.

      In PA, now anyone under 12 must wear a helmet while on a bicycle.

      On the other hand, when I was kid motorcyclists in PA had to wear helmets. Now that’s not true.

      1. Oh yeah, riding in the bed of a pickup!

        I did a road trip to Saskatchewan from BC (and back) in the back of a pickup, where the only safety equipment was a canopy to keep the bugs out.

    5. “Be home by dark” was pretty much the only rule we had. Free-range kids are apparently illegal now.

    6. I used to take the bus alone, the city bus not a school bus, from my moms university campus to kindergarten, and back daily. I was 4 years old.

      As pre-teens we used to saddle up our bikes and ride 20+ km (one way) along the highway to the go-karts.

      My brother and I would get kicked out of the house daily during the summer to go pretty much wherever we wanted, as long as we said where we were going (not that anybody was checking), and when we’d be back. Starting from 10-11 years old. We were trusted to go to the local river or lake for the day and to take care of ourselves.

      Child care when we were in elementary school consisted of a neighbour before school and the retired lady next to the school after school. Both paid. Both entirely unregulated.

      The worst stranger danger I ever faced during those dangerous, hectic times, was being heckled by some university students for skinny dipping (I didn’t want to get my pants wet!) in one of the university fountains on my way back from kindergarten.

  3. My parents used to send me on my very ownsome to stay with my grandmother every summer via Greyhound starting around age 8 or 9.

    1. Flights from LA to NY and back with my 5-years-younger sister starting when I was 9 or 10. The first two times we were tagged and tracked as kids flying alone (yay access to airport lounges), but after that I managed to get us both to NY safely with plane changes in Chicago, Atlanta and Philly. Needless to say my grandparents were horrified.

      My 12-years-younger brother was not allowed to ride his bike to highschool school (under two miles) because it was “unsafe” so they bought him a car.

      1. My friend’s parents both travelled for work. He had a car at age 14 that he was only supposed to use for grocery shopping and getting to school (he attended a magnet with no bus service to his house). We might have abused that privilege on occasion.

        1. Florida used to have it so you could get your license at 14, right? I remember talking about that with envy. In CT it was 16.

          1. Maybe, this was TX. I expect if he got caught, the sheriff’s department at the time would have called his mother to confirm his story and send him on his way. You had to be 15, I think to have a hardship license.

            1. I think you can still get a license that only works during the day for vehicles with AG plates at 14 in a lot of places.

        2. I actually didn’t get my license until after my younger sister did (two months before I turned 18), just so I could avoid playing chauffeur to my three younger siblings. My mother was PISSED. I also turned down my parents’ generous offer of a cell phone back when they weren’t all that common because I knew it was an attempt to keep me on call to drive my two younger siblings and take grandpa to all of his doctors’ appointments.

          Not that my parents weren’t available to do it, they just liked delegating most of their familial responsibilities to me.

          1. Smart kid.

          2. And here we have jesse’s life story. If he were a chick.

            1. Ha. Would not make out with Sam J. Jones. Or someone named “Battle” for that matter.

              1. You’d turn down Flash Gordon? You’re not the slut I thought you were, jesse. Not like me. I’d never turn down Ornella Muti/Princess Aura.

                1. Just because my sluttiness is different than yours doesn’t make it worse. Stop trying to prude-shame me, Epi.

  4. I understand why a man travelling alone in this day and age might refuse to transport a minor child he isn’t related to, but calling the cops was a dick move.

    1. This. What the fuck was he trying to accomplish with that? All he needed to do was tell the woman, sorry, I can’t transport an unsupervised 9 year old alone because of liability.

      1. Probably a new immigrant who doesn’t really realize what he was screwing with by calling the police. He probably still thinks that the government is his fren.

        1. Almost no immigrant thinks in any way the government is his friend. The police pretty much everywhere are not your friend. Except the RCMP in Canada, for the most part. They’ve been pretty good to me.

    2. Maybe he thought he was being set up for some undercover “what would you do” show?

      1. Good point. Some lickspittle reporter demanding to know why you’re being insufficiently fascist.

        1. My first thought was being set up for a lawsuit.

    3. ^This. Thanks, Brett.

      1. Surprised that it took this long into the thread before somebody made that point.

  5. “When asked why it had added a full five years to its minimum traveling age, Amtrak replied that this was not in response to any incident whatsoever, but merely out of “an abundance of caution.”

    I suspect it’s more likely that children cause extra work for Amtrak employees and Amtrak has a strong union.

    It’s noteworthy that the Greyhound bus line allows unaccompanied minors as young as 8.

    1. From what I am told from frequent train riders, they have greatly reduced the staff on trains these days, and the ones they have don’t do much. Typically, unaccompanied minors were checked on frequently during transit.

    2. I’m admittedly biased. I live near one of the largest cities in the country without Amtrak service and my wife and I thought it would be interesting to take a long train trip since neither of us had ever had one.

      I experienced some of the worst customer service I’ve ever had. It felt like I was riding a plane with TSA as the crew.

      1. At only twice the cost and four times the time as flying.

  6. I wonder if the Germans or Japanese look at us and say “We lost the f’n war to these guys? Really?”

    1. Probably not the Japanese.

  7. What’s with this, Reason? You decided that our testicles weren’t taking enough punishment, so you decided to start reprinting Free Range Kids stories? Monsters.

    I fear that if I allowed my kid half the freedom growing up that I was afforded as a kid, I’d be arrested and she’d be in foster care.

    1. You don’t have the official, Balko-shield cup insert?

  8. What’s the basis for the arrest?

    Last time I checked, if I wanted to hire a babysitter for my kid, I could hire whoever the fuck I wanted.

    What’s the difference between dropping my kid off at a babysitter’s house and coming back for him in the morning, and having a babysitter drive my kid around in a minivan for a day before bringing him back?

    If I was a lawyer in this woman’s jurisdiction I’d be chasing her ambulance offering to file a lawsuit for false arrest.

    1. FTFA: Joyner was arrested after a baby sitter arrived with the boy at the drop-off point on Friday. She was being held in the Cobb County Jail on charges of contributing to the deprivation of a minor. Jail records don’t show whether she has an attorney.

      Not sure false arrest would fly. I’m guessing that the “contributing to the deprivation of a minor” contains pretty vague language, so an acquital is probably the best you could hope for.

      Having a third party drop the kid off really ratchets up the sketchiness of the situation, thus rendering Joyce as an unsympathetic defender.

      Trying to put myself in the driver’s position, I imagine he thought he was being setup for something.

      1. Then he should have said “No thanks, I don’t like kids” or something like that, and gone on his way. Or are we now coerced to report to the gummint anything out of the ordinary that we may witness?

        Side note: a Facebook commenter on the linked article suggested the driver might be mad because he really wanted a hot young girl, and got a surly boy instead.

  9. Okay, you really want an example of how things have changed?

    When I was 10, my father permitted me to go a night Red Sox game, at Fenway Park. My aunt, who was in grad school, had an apartment about a mile from Fenway. So, I accompanied her from my hometown, Newport, to Boston.

    I walk from her apartment to the ballgame. I bought the tickets right at the gate (box seats, btw – 4.00 or 5.00 bucks at the time, max). The Sox blew a 4-0 lead in the top of the ninth. Still remember Willie Horton hitting a grand slam.

    Then, leave game and walk back to my aunt’s apartment – get back at about 11:45.

    No adults even questioned me as to where were my parents or anything. No calls to the cops. Nothing.

    What result today?

    1. SWAT team would have been called to your parents’ house. You would probably have been flashbanged and had your face burned off… For the chirrunz!

  10. I hope the name of that driver who called the cops gets published and no one ever hires him for anything again. He called the cops? Fucking asshole.

  11. children like this 9-year-old boy in Atlanta are no longer unable [sic] to take the train to grandma

    You should not take care of not getting rid of that double-negative.

  12. Isn’t there some federal law that makes it technically a crime to transport a minor you aren’t related to across state lines?

    1. I promise not to initiate any football talk b/4 football season if you promise to object to soccer talk.

      1. I’ll see what I can do.

    2. Without written parental consent it is. But you can do it.

  13. What I don’t understand is how they can arrest her for something she planned to do, but never actually did. So at no point was the kid every being supervised by the CraigsList driver. I don’t know why the police officer just didn’t call the mother and say “We got this call from the driver, he is afraid of being responsible for your child. He is right, this is not a safe plan for your son or the driver. Have you called Greyhound?” It seems like police are obsessed with making everything into a felony nowadays.

    1. I think that in cases like this they are more interested in covering their asses.

    2. Thought crime?

    3. She was arrested because she demonstrated that she is mentally unfit (makes dangerous decisions). Or at least that would be the rationale.

      Personally, I think the mother is a fucking idiot looking on Craigslist for a stranger to transport a little kid.

      That’s a whole lot different than handing over a kid to an airline employee at airport A, and having that kid met by the grandparents at airport B.

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