Editorial, Opinion

EDIT: Self-rehabilitation

In 1999, Cornealious ‘Mike’ Anderson robbed a St. Louis Burger King. He was convicted and condemned to 13 years in a Missouri state prison. He posted bail, filed an appeal and after the appeal failed, then waited in his home for law enforcement to arrest him to enforce his sentence. However, the arrest came a tad bit later than expected — 14 years, to be exact.

After discovering in July 2013 that Anderson never served his sentence, a SWAT team broke into his home to inform him it was time to go to prison. According to the Census Bureau, 130 per 100,000 Missouri residents are convicted of robbery each year. Now, is it fair to those felons that Anderson be pardoned simply because the court ‘forgot’ him?

A clerical error resulted in the State of Missouri neglecting to enforce Anderson’s punishment. Thinking the court changed its mind, Anderson moved on. He got married, had four kids, started a contractor service, built a home and coached his son’s football team. Now Tuesday, Anderson is forced to wait just a little bit longer while the court determines whether he should serve his sentence or continue living the upright life he established in the meantime.

There are two perspectives to consider when looking at Anderson’s situation. Yes, he committed a crime and yes, it is fair and just for those convicted to accept the punishment issued to them. However, if the court never enforced the punishment he willingly accepted, is it fair and just to hold him accountable for their oversight?

The goal of the U.S. prison system is to rehabilitate each criminal so that he or she exits prison as contributing members of society. Anderson never tried to leave St. Louis, alter his identity or avoid law enforcement in any serious way. Although the legal system’s snafu never gave him the opportunity to be rehabilitated by a prison, Anderson fulfilled their mission by making those changes on his own.

It may seem unreasonable for Anderson to be relieved of his sentence while other convicted felons sit in prison, but at the same time, who will benefit from him being forced to serve his sentence? Well, his children, wife and employees surely won’t.

As of Tuesday, nearly 20,000 people have signed a petition on Change.org in favor of releasing Anderson from prison. The Burger King manager he robbed so many years ago publicly stated that imprisoning Anderson now would be pointless. To send this man to jail just because it’s ‘fair’ is unfair to the community Anderson has enriched.

After waiting a year in custody, Missouri officials need to make a decision on whether or not to incarcerate him because there is a whole community waiting for him.

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