Modern-Day Jean Valjean Set Free

Cornealious “Mike” Anderson, a Missouri man sentenced to 13 years in prison in 1999 for his part in a robbery, instead spent 14 years as a free man with a new lease on life. He didn’t run or hide; after his conviction, he waited for police to show up and haul him off to prison — only, because of a clerical error, they never did. At least, not until July of this year, when Anderson came home from his job to find cops outside his house.

It was a lucky break, and he made the most of it. Anderson rehabilitated himself: he got a job, earned a living, got married, moved to the suburbs, had children, coached youth sports and volunteered at church. This might sound familiar if you heard the This American Life story about Mike Anderson, “Except For That One Thing,” or if you know the story of Les Miserables, wherein Jean Valjean, imprisoned for stealing a loaf of bread, finds life so miserable as an ex-con that he breaks parole and starts a new life, at which point he too becomes a model citizen.

But justice, in the form of the obsessive detective Javert, continues to stalk Jean Valjean until a climactic final showdown. Not to give away the ending of Hugo’s 1862 classic, but even Javert, after much struggle, comes to the same conclusion as the state of Missouri: there is no point in punishing a man who has repented and become a pillar of his community. After many months, news stories, and a petition, Mike Anderson has been set free.

Judge Terry Lynn Brown lauded Anderson’s “exemplary” behavior during his 13 years of freedom before the arrest. “You’ve been a good father. You’ve been a good husband. You’ve been a good taxpaying citizen of the state of Missouri. That leads me to believe that you are a good man and a changed man.”

Anderson walked out of the courtroom with his wife and 3-year-old daughter on one arm and his mom on the other.

Congratulations, Mr. Anderson, and well done, Judge Brown. If only prison really were seen as a last resort. If only more people were allowed second chances.



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