I was young when I got started as a bail recovery agent. I had just turned 23 and recently been honorably discharged from the Army. I was working as an EMT for an ambulance service in Oklahoma City, and I needed a second job to earn a living wage. It was 2004, and the TV show 'Dog the Bounty Hunter' was just starting to become popular. While watching an episode, I thought to myself, "I could do that." So I set out to become a bounty hunter -- or bail recovery agent, as it is properly referred.
After doing a little research I discovered that most states require bail recovery agents to be licensed bail bondsmen. Two of the states that didn't have such restrictions were Oklahoma, the state I was desperately trying to escape from, and Arizona, the state I had always wanted to move to.
Bail recovery is a very difficult business to break into. Bail bondsmen usually work with tight-knit groups of agents, and proving that you are up to the task and not just another 'Dog the Bounty Hunter' fan is quite difficult.
As an interesting side note: Dog is not actually a bounty hunter; he is a convicted felon and is legally forbidden from being a registered bail recovery agent. This is why when you watch the show, you'll never see Dog actually place the fugitive under arrest, nor carry a gun. Hence, the pepper spray guns he carries.
My first case
My first bounty came to me out of the blue, from a bondsman that I had never met before, by the name of Blacky Blackshear out of Colorado. The name sounded fake, like something out of a bad western movie. At first I thought someone was playing a prank on me. But when the fax with the bench warrant came through, I knew the job was for real.
The bounty's name was Roger. Roger was wanted in Colorado for a domestic assault charge and was reportedly staying in Arizona with his mother. Earlier in the week, Blacky had been in Tucson to arrest Roger. When Roger saw him approaching, he ran, causing both of them to get injured and allowing Roger to get away.
Blacky was fed up and wanted someone else deal with Roger, so he called me. I tried to play it cool and pretend that I was a seasoned professional, when in reality I could hardly contain my excitement. I realized immediately that if I wanted the job there were a couple of hurdles I'd have to overcome. First was the fact that I was broke and therefore stuck in Oklahoma. I told Blacky to give me a few days to check the situation out, after which I'd give him a ring.
Though it was my first assignment as a bondsman, I knew I had skills that would help me. My years of working as an EMT had taught me how to deal with people in a manner that greatly diminished the chances of a situation turning violent. I have found, after years on the job, that I can often get people to agree to most requests just by talking to them. If I wanted to, I'm sure I could be a great salesman.
I made a couple of failed attempts to contact Roger by phone. Each time I either got voicemail or his mother, who would repeatedly tell me that Roger wasn't there. During one of my calls I could actually hear Roger talking in the background. It finally hit me. I already had an in and hadn't realized it. Roger's mother was an elderly woman and it was obvious that they had a very strong relationship.
So the next time I called, I didn't ask for Roger, but spoke to her. She told me how the domestic assault charges were really the actions of a jealous ex who was upset with Roger for breaking up with her. She broke down and began crying when the conversation shifted to Roger's encounter with Blacky. She said that he came home cut up and bleeding and told her that someone had chased him through back yards and side streets. She knew that I was coming to arrest her son, and couldn't bear the idea of seeing someone putting her son in handcuffs.
I never mentioned that I was still in Oklahoma. After a little more persuasion, I finally got her to agree to convince Roger to talk to me. She told me he wasn't home, but to call back in a couple of hours when he was and she would make sure that he spoke to me.
I made the phone call, not sure if Roger was actually going to be there, or if he was going to burn me and disappear while he still could. A kind "hello" from a male voice on the other end of the line, greeted me. A wave of adrenaline flashed through my body.
"Roger?" I said, trying to remain professional.
"My name is Topher Jones. I am a bail recovery agent and I need to talk to you about the warrant for your arrest in Colorado."
He was decent enough to honor his mother's and my agreement, so I decided not to insult him by beating around the bush. As we spoke, I could tell that Roger was a rather decent individual who really did want to do the right thing. After talking to him a little longer, I got him to agree to turn himself in. Again, the issue of my location was a problem, but only a minor one. I bought him a greyhound ticket to Colorado and he agreed to show up.
The next day, I was contacted by a guy named Jon who was interested in getting into bail recovery. He told me he was willing to volunteer his time, so I asked him to watch Roger and make sure he didn't try to run.
The day of Roger's bus trip came and I called to make sure that he was going to be on time. The phone rang and rang and nobody answered. Panicked thoughts raced through my head. Had he burned me? Did he skip out in the middle of the night? I called Jon who said that he had been sitting on the house all night and hadn't seen anything. I called again. The "ring-ring" through the receiver seemed to take forever.
Finally, Roger answered. He was just getting ready to walk out the door to go to the station. He thanked me for letting him have a day to say goodbye to his family and we hung up.
Roger got on the bus as agreed. I had forwarded his travel itinerary on to Blacky, who decided to meet the bus two stops early to arrest him. And my first case was successfully closed.
A lesson from the case
Since that first case, I have caught 173 fugitives, and the lessons learned with Roger have been with me ever since. In my time as a bail recovery agent, I rarely have to chase a fugitive. I find that talking will usually resolve the situation. I've spoken to Roger several times since his case and he is doing very well. I realized that when dealing with him, I unintentionally offered him a way to change his life. Instead of forcing him to do something. I offered him the opportunity to choose to do the right thing.
I now know that while some use brute force and testosterone-fueled attempts, in order to impose authority that they don't have, calmer heads usually prevail.