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Gangster set free while mom salon owner jailed? Not quite

“What’s the difference between these two people?” asks text in a graphic circulating on Facebook in South Africa on 15 May 2020.

It shows a photo of a man with a tattooed face next to a photo of a blonde woman.

The man is identified as “a gang member released from jail because of Covid-19 overcrowding”. The woman, it says, is a “mom and hair salon owner” who was “locked up for opening her business to feed her kids, violating the BS Covid-19 orders”.

On 8 May the South African government announced that 19,000 non-violent inmates would be paroled to help slow the spread of Covid-19 in prisons.

And the country’s lockdown regulations have shuttered many businesses, including hair salons.

But does the graphic show an inmate released to relieve prison overcrowding during the Covid-19 pandemic, and a hair salon owner who was jailed after opening her business to feed her kids?


MS gang member in El Salvador

The photo of the man is from a series of portraits of prisoners in El Salvador’s Penas Ciudad prison, taken by British photographer Adam Hinton in 2016.

“Penas Ciudad Barrios is a maximum security prison for members of the Mara Salvatrucha Gang, or MS, in the South of El Salvador,” Hinton told the Independent in a feature on the portraits published on 1 March 2016.

Unlike many other countries, El Salvador has not released convicts to curb the spread of Covid-19 in prisons.

Instead, president Nayib Bukele ordered a lockdown in prisons in late April.

Contempt of court

The blonde woman is a hair salon owner who was jailed – in the US state of Texas. 

She is Shelley Luther, who spent two nights in jail early May 2020. She had been sentenced to seven days for criminal contempt of court after she violated a court restraining order to close her business during the state’s coronavirus lockdown.

Dallas County Judge Eric Moye Moye reportedly cited “the refusal of the defendants to cease operation of the salon, despite the clear and unambiguous language of the order”.

According to appraisal records, Luther owns two properties, one valued at $292,256 and the second at $103,768. Business property at her salon, where 19 people are employed, is worth $23,620.

It later emerged that Luther had received a forgivable pay cheque protection loan of $18,000 from the US federal government to pay her employees. – Mary Alexander



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