CADILLAC — It is not uncommon for Penny Jenema's phone to ring a lot.
It doesn't matter what time of day or the day it is, either. She could get a phone call in the middle of the night, on the weekends and even on holidays such as Christmas. But in Penny's line of work, that is par for the course.
Jenema is a bail bondsman, or in this case, bail bondswoman.
A bail bondsman, bail bondswoman, bail bondsperson, bail bond agent or bond dealer is any person, agency or corporation that will act as a surety and pledge money or property as bail for the appearance of a defendant in court.
Throughout her five-year career in the bail bonds business, Penny said she has held to one tenent — she is not there to judge but rather help those who call her.
HOW DID SHE BECOME A BAIL BOND AGENT?
In and around 2015, Penny was an insurance agent. She had been working in that capacity for the past 18 years when one day, out of the blue, her phone rang. The call was from Christine's Bail Bonds in Grand Rapids, specifically, owner Christine Spoor.
Penny said Spoor told her someone suggested she give her a call to see if she wanted to be a bail bond agent.
Penny said she instantly thought of one thing — Duane Lee Chapman, or as he is better known, Dog the Bounty Hunter.
While the picture of Chapman’s long, flowing, blonde hair and sunglasses-covered face shot into her mind, Spoor simply asked if she would be willing to go on a bail bond call with her. Somewhat reluctantly she agreed, and that night she went to a call in Traverse City. It was during and after that night that Penny said she started to change her mind about what it meant to be a bail bonds agent. She also started to think she might want to do it as a career.
“I realized a bondsman is basically helping someone,‘ she said. “My goal in life is if I can help someone that is what I do. Not only in bondsman work but in everything.‘
Penny said she started to wonder if Spoor calling and asking if she wanted to become a bail bonds agent was a message from God.
“Is this what I’m supposed to be?‘ Penny asked herself.
With her epiphany, Penny said she left her insurance job and started doing bail bonds. While some might feel that type of career change would be stressful, Penny said it has been an absolute blessing in her life.
WHAT’S IT LIKE TO BE A BAIL BONDS AGENT?
As a bail bonds agent, Penny said her job is to help get people out of jail, and it is ultimately the person who is asking for their help to take the right or the wrong path after they get out. Penny, however, said if she can help them after they are bonded out, she will try to do what she can.
That approach is a little different than what an agent typically does. That is what drew her to Spoor and her bail bonds business.
For those who don’t know, Christine’s Bail Bonds is Michigan-based and comprised of all female agents. They tend to try and treat their customers like family and not like a criminal. Penny said she and all the agents at the business try to take a nurturing approach to each client and understand that they are in a difficult situation.
“It is very unique (to have all female agents),‘ Penny said. “When Christine started the company her husband also had a bail bonds company. She went with him and saw what he did and said, ‘You could have been nicer.’ So she decided to have an all-girls company because we are more nurturing.‘
At the same time, Penny said everyone, including herself, understands that people are in jail for a reason, so they are cautious. At the same time, you can’t be scared that something might happen.
For the most part, Penny said the people she bonds out are thankful. She also said the first thing they want to do, if they are a smoker, is smoke. They will ask her if she has any cigarettes, but she doesn’t smoke and she doesn’t carry any.
“Once they get out of jail, we are kind of forgotten, and that is OK,‘ she said. “I hope when I do my job and get them out that I do care but after that, they go about their lives and probably don’t want to look back.‘
Penny said being a bail bonds agent is a private job, so if she sees a former client out in public, she will never approach that person. If they choose to approach her and start up a conversation, she will.
Finally, Penny said there is never a day off. Calls come in 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year, but that doesn’t mean if they want to take time off they can’t. She said since there are three agents if one or two want to take a night off, the others will cover. Likewise, if all of them are sick or unavailable, they are able to contact other bail bonds agents.
“It is important that all bondsman work together,‘ she said. “There is more than enough for all of us.‘
NOT EVERY CLIENT IS A REPEAT CUSTOMER
Having repeat customers in Penny’s line of work is an unfortunate reality, she said. In fact, Penny said it is “sad.‘
She said typically if a person doesn’t change by their late 20s, people in her business will see them again and again. By that point in their lives, they simply don’t want to change.
“You can preach all day long to them,‘ she said. “That is just their lifestyle. That is what they know. They say, ‘I will do what I want to do and if I get caught it’s no big deal.’‘
She said in some cases, some of her clients prefer to be in jail, especially during the winter months. They don’t have to pay for heat and have three warm meals and a place to sleep. She said she doesn’t try to understand anymore and it is not her place to judge.
Despite the repeat clients, Penny said sometimes she has customers who decide to straighten up and not repeat. In fact, she received a phone call in early January from a previous client.
It was the year anniversary of when she bonded him out of jail. At the time he was 17 and frightened of being in jail. When he called a year later, Penny said he asked her if she remembered telling him that the situation he was in was only a bump in the road and that he had a choice to make. He could either choose to go down the right path or the wrong path.
“I chose the right path,‘ Penny said he told her.
During the brief conversation, Penny said the man was back in school, has a full-time job and is the happiest he has ever been in his young life.
“Those are things we should do,‘ she said of helping the man. “We should help when we can. I’m not here to judge. I’m here to help.‘