Back in the old west, when someone was accused of a crime and thought to be guilty, there was normally some sort of brutal execution of other unimaginable horror that befell the accused without much of a trial or chance to defend themselves. The US Justice System has come a long way in how justice is carried out but I think we have a much longer way to go.
According to the University of GA, the current estimated percentage of convicted felons in the US was about 8% of the population as of 2010. We all know that number hasn’t gotten smaller.
As a prior criminal myself, in my youth I found myself staring firmly down the barrel of getting that big F on my life’s report card at the ripe old age of 17. While some may think that it was the flex of my natural born “privilege”, the truth of it is I had had so many minor encounters with the law by that point that I had learned at an early age that you don’t tell the police ANYTHING. It was that alone that prevented them from prosecuting me as an adult. That put the courts in a precarious position as they could not prosecute a minor for a misdemeanor and they didn’t have the evidence to run me thru the ringer as an adult. There was a compromise that had to wait until my clock struck 18 but that’s a story for another article. With that being said, I feel like my brush with being a felon gave me some intimate insight and a new understanding of how fast your life can turn upside down.
Most people love the “tough on crime approach”, which I don’t take issue with, but I don’t think they realize how adding to the ever growing list of things that qualify as felonies, different classes of misdemeanors and acts that qualify as “domestic violence” could just as easily turn their world upside down as the next person. Many people don’t even grasp what having one of those convictions on your record means for that person’s future.
Let’s examine a short list of things that a convicted felon CAN’T do
VOTE a felon cannot participate in the political arena or have a say in the direction of their own country
SERVE JURY DUTY being a felon somehow invalidates the reasoning of someone
OWN, PURCHASE OR POSSES A FIREARM a felon cannot hunt to feed their family, protect themselves or just shoot for sport.
Those are just the upfront issues that felons deal with once they are released from custody and returned to the world. There is a real long list of incidental issues that a felon has to contend with that aren’t on that list. Just a few examples are
Finding a decent job or someone to give you a chance
Possible child custody issues, not being able to see your kids no matter how good to them you would be
Getting approved for certain housing
I deal with clients on a regular basis that say they want to live a normal life but can’t because of that permanent mark on their record. I’m not talking about the “I break the law because I can’t do anything else” people.
I’m talking about the lady that called me for a job but I couldn’t hire her because she was a convicted felon for a bounced check from the 1980’s.
I’m talking about the guy I went to church with that was a registered sex offender and got drummed out of all the local stores for being such, because in a small community you can’t hide anything. His crime you ask? Urinating in public. Not on a park playground, but in a dark parking lot outside of a bar.
The list of ridiculous felonies could go on and on but that’s not what I’m here for today.
I have always been uneasy with how the US Justice System deals with people that make mistakes in life. Whether the mistake be a misdemeanor with possible lasting effects or a felony with definite lasting effects. We have long since abandoned the rehabilitate and reeducate position and moved full steam ahead to a convict and incarcerate position. Our system has absolutely no room for concern about the welfare of a released “convict”. It spits you out into the world with very little, or in many places, no support.
I have a simple position in these matters. If someone is so dangerous that they can no longer participate in the normal functions of society, they shouldn’t be released. If it is ruled that a person is to serve X amount of time in jail or prison for their crime, they should be released back into society with their freedoms and rights in tact and their record sealed or expunged. It’s really that simple. There is no need to continue someone’s sentence to the rest of their natural life for a 1 time mistake that anyone could have made in the right circumstances.
As a person that has been a bondsman for 20+ years, I have met a lot of honest upstanding people that happen to be felons. I have also met a lot of people with “clean records” that I wouldn’t trust to walk my dog. What the paper says usually has nothing to do with who the person is.
It’s my opinion that the criminal justice reform advocates are looking at things from the wrong direction. Instead of just trying to figure out how to stop the system from being unfair in the beginning of a case, let’s look at how unfair the system is in the aftermath of the case.
We just got back from a road trip to Greer SC. We even slept in the “bounty hunter hotel”. The trip went well. 36 hours with very little sleep, a little over 1000 miles round trip.
We were acting on a hunch that our guy was living with his mom in SC, so we went there. With 3 days left to pay the bond and no luck with phone contact it was our last resort. Had we not gone it would have cost $2300 for sure to pay the bond, had we gone and not been successful it would have cost $2300 + expenses for the trip. That’s why experienced bondsmen make these choices and sometimes with nothing more than a hunch. Not all hunches pay off but since this one did, we saved the $2300 and are only out the expense for the trip. ROUGHLY $250
People wonder why bail bonding works, well that’s why. See, a police department will not bring someone back from 8 hours away to face their charges on a misdemeanor charge in our state. They have no incentive to do so. A bondsman will because it costs less in gas to make the trip than to pay the bond off. That’s the whole point in the bonding system. Not to keep poor people in jail but to make sure that the accused see their day in court.
When we arrived in SC we did what we normally do. We let the police know that we were there. We did a drive by on the address to size it up then we came up with a plan of approach. As an added layer of protection we tried to contact a local bonding company so that we would have a SC licensed agent with us although that’s not required by SC law. Much to my disappointment, out of 7 companies called, only 1 answered the phone and she would not give us her bounty hunter’s name or # because “he only hunts on weekends and he’s busy with my files” and “that bond wouldn’t be big enough for him to fool with”. So, that’s the kind of help we get from other companies more often than not. Another company called me back after seeing a missed call and I explained what we needed and he said he would call me back and never did. All we really wanted was an agent to spend 15 minutes of their time to be there when we knocked on the door and/or to let us know what to expect out of local law enforcement if they got involved. Ironically the local LE was way nicer and more helpful than our “fellow bondsmen”.
We decide to go ahead and make contact at the mothers address. A young girl and young man come to the door and tell us that they haven’t seen him in a “while” (teen speak for 3 hours) but they did put me on the phone with his mother. After a short and pleasant conversation, the mother let me know that we are welcome to come by any time but he doesn’t live there he just comes by off and on. She also told us that he didn’t have a phone and she had no way to get in touch with him. Hmmm, OK anyway. Once we made the choice to knock on that door we eliminated the element of surprise but it was a chance I was willing to take. We leave and do some driving around and looking for him to be walking around and hanging out with no luck. So, we decide to go get some food and sleep in our “bounty hunter hotel”. Once we get settled, I get an urgent call over the radio from the office. I say “go ahead” and words that don’t often come over the radio were “ I just got off the phone with your guy, he’ll be at his mom’s house waiting for you when he gets off at 8:00”. WOW, that doesn’t happen often. Apparently “somebody” was able to get a hold of him. So, it’s like noon and we have 8 hours to kill. We decide to go into Greenville and visit Palmetto State Armory, while we’re there we get to watch half the staff run out the front door and take down a shoplifter. Then we checked out all the cool gear and grabbed some patches and t-shirts for the memory. We go from there to see a waterfall in town where we played with some random dogs that a couple had that were just running around. Then we had dinner at Smoke On The Water which by that time exhaustion prevented me from being able to eat but it looked good in front of us. By the time we were finishing dinner it was after 8:00 so I called our guy (on that phone that he didn’t have) and sure enough he was at his mom’s waiting.
We arrived at his moms to find about a dozen guys in the driveway hanging out a drinking. Of course my thoughts are, this could be a set up. But regardless, we were there now. I get out of the van and ask, who’s ********. He spoke up immediately and said “I’m right here”. He hugged and said by to everyone and we loaded up into the van no cuffs no fuss and head on down to Mississippi. I had chosen not to show up at the guys house in full battle rattle as to not embarrass him since he was doing the right thing. In fact, I wasn’t wearing anything to Indicate what I was or why I was there. So when his friends asked where he was going, he just said he had to go handle some business. He can tell them if he wants on his terms later.
Our guy was an interesting, intelligent and pleasant guy. He wasn’t a bad guy but he made no apology for who he was and the life he lives. We had some very interesting and entertaining conversation on the way back. When I dropped him off at the police department, we shook hands and he thanked me for being straight with him.
I hope that one day he finds his path to success without the illegal ways of getting there but none the less he’s a grown man and is well aware of the risks. We had a successful hunt and he gets to move past this chapter his life. We even got to have breakfast with a long time friend that I met in person for the first time while we were there.
I thought I would share this story about how cool this job CAN be but also show how a little honesty and respect can go a long way. I hope you enjoyed it. Check out the pictures of the trip and of the “bounty hunter hotel” below.