Try to put yourself in Cornealious “Mike” Anderson’s jumpsuit. He was 23 years old when he was sentenced to 13 years in prison. That was in the year 2000. The sentence followed a trial in which Anderson was found guilty of robbing a fast-food restaurant’s assistant manager.
Like any man condemned to a long stretch in stir, Anderson got his affairs in order, knowing that any day the authorities would be coming for him. Days stretched into weeks. Mike even asked when his period of incarceration would begin. But the order that would send him up the river to pay his debt to society never came.
So he decided to repay his debt to society in a different way. He started his own construction-related businesses, married, and had children. He coached youth football and volunteered at his church in Webster Groves, Missouri.
Then last year, the State of Missouri discovered its “clerical error.” Anderson had never served a day of his 13-year sentence.
And now he never will.
According to NBC News, Judge Terry Lynn Brown lauded Anderson’s “exemplary” behavior during his 13 years of unintended freedom. Said the judge:
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.
Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster said in a statement that the outcome was “appropriate”:
From the outset, I have proposed a solution that balances the seriousness of Mr. Anderson’s crime with the mistake made by the criminal justice system and Mr. Anderson’s lack of a criminal record over the past 13 years. Today’s outcome appears to appropriately balance the facts as we understand them.
As the judge handed down Anderson’s decision, close to a dozen of his relatives broke out in sobs and cried. Anderson himself dabbed tears from his eyes. Afterward, he hugged his toddler daughter tight.
The hearing lasted about 10 minutes. Afterwards, Anderson left the courtroom with his wife and 3-year-old daughter on one arm and his mom on the other. I am “very happy,” he told reporters. “My faith has always been in God. I’m just so thankful. Thank God for everything.”
There is much in the news about people who are falsely arrested and about ways of reducing the prison population. Apparently, for one inmate-who-never-was, the threat of imprisonment was enough to cause him to walk the straight and narrow. As a bonus, his sentence ending up not costing taxpayers a dime. Something to feel good about?