This article was printed in the Summer 2014 edition of the Missouri CURE newsletter.
Mike Anderson and the 85% Issue
by Caroline McGinness
As we fight to reform the mandatory minimum sentencing law in Missouri, we need to consider what Mike Anderson’s case and the 85% issue have in common. When the state legislators return to the next legislative session, they need to take time to think about what the court in Mississippi County, Missouri recently decided.
By now, most of us know the story of Mike Anderson. It made national news. He was a St. Louis area man who was convicted of first degree robbery and sentenced to prison. He didn’t go to prison, though. Instead, for whatever excuse that the “clerical error” occurred, Mike Anderson never spent a day in prison. That is, until last July, when it was time for him to be released. It was then that the Missouri Department of Corrections realized that he had never been incarcerated. He was then apprehended and placed in the Southeast Correctional Center in Charleston, Missouri.
Especially following the CBS Morning News story highlighting his situation, many people across the country learned of what had transpired in Anderson’s life in the years following his conviction. Had this first time offender become a habitual criminal? Had he brought harm and destruction to his community? No. What he had done was live a quiet and productive life. He owned a business, married, had children, built a home, and coached children’s sports. That sounds like the kind of man we all want living in our communities. He paid taxes, voted, and never tried to hide his identity. In plain sight, he led a model life.
When appealing his incarceration, his attorney argued that it would be “cruel and unusual punishment” to imprison a man who obviously had done well for himself, his family, and his community. The judge agreed. He released Anderson, and he counted the days between his conviction and the present as time served. He cited that Anderson had shown that he was “a good man.” Those were the judge’s words. It was obvious that he had rehabilitated himself. In fact, his lawyer contended that he did a better job rehabilitating himself on the outside than he would have had he gone to prison.
Is Mike Anderson some sort of oddity in the world? Is he somehow unique in being able to be a model citizen in the wake of making a mistake? He isn’t. He is a regular man who did nothing more than learn from his mistakes and then proceed to live a regular life. There are hundreds, if not more, Mike Andersons who are being warehoused in Missouri prisons. Wasted productivity. Ruined futures. Destroyed lives. All for what? Would it be cruel and unusual punishment for Mike Anderson to be warehoused, but not so for other men? I don’t think you can answer that truthfully with a “yes.”
Missouri has had its fair share of negative press this year regarding our prisons and court systems. Ryan Ferguson brought a spotlight to the unfairness of keeping a man imprisoned for a crime he had not committed. Mike Anderson brought awareness to the ability of men and women to be productive members of society as first time offenders. Now it’s our opportunity to encourage and educate our legislators to do something positive. We need to use the awareness that has been drawn by these cases to reform our sentencing laws. Particularly first time offenders should have the ability to earn release at 50% through good behavior. If Mike Anderson can do it through an error on the state’s part and through media attention, then other inmates deserve the opportunity to earn their freedom through showing a pattern of good behavior.
I invite you to contact us at www.End85.com for more information on how you can help bring about change. Don’t leave it up to someone else to fight the good fight. Change begins with you.