House action leads to chance at parole for man facing sentence of more than 2 centuries

      Missouri House legislation has led to a man securing a parole from prison in the next year, about 69 years earlier than he expected.

Bobby Bostic

      Bobby Bostic was sentenced to 241 years in prison after an armed robbery and carjacking in 1995.  Bostic, who was 16 at the time, was tried as an adult and would not have been eligible for parole until 2091, when he would be 112. 

      A House amendment that became law this year as part of Senate Bill 26 makes eligible to apply for parole anyone sentenced to 15 years or more while a juvenile.  The change gave Bostic a chance at a parole hearing after more than 20 years in prison.  That hearing was completed recently and Bostic was granted parole.  He will be released late next year.

      Bostic’s plight became an issue for the legislature in large part through the efforts of O’Fallon Republican Nick Schroer, who was glad to hear about the parole board’s decision.

      “I’m incredibly satisfied.  These are the types of things that kind of justify us being in [the Capitol].  We saw that there was this terrible issue where this minor who committed crimes that did not result in anybody being physically harmed, did not result in anyone being murdered, he’s locked away basically for the rest of his life and taxpayers are the ones paying for him to be there,” said Schroer.

      Schroer took up Bostic’s case in 2019, and then last year with his support, Kansas City representative Mark Sharp (D) sponsored the amendment to Senate Bill 26 that led to Bostic getting a parole hearing.

      “I’m just so happy, really on cloud nine that this decision came through the way it did.  It just shows that we can have some positive impacts here in the legislature.  Even if it only affects one person that’s good enough for me.  You hope it affects more and helps more people but this legislation did exactly what it was intended to do, and that was help Mr. Bobby Bostic.”

      Soon after hearing about Bostic’s case, Schroer met with him at Jefferson City Correctional Center.  He learned that while imprisoned Bostic has earned a GED, an associate’s degree, has completed courses from Adams State University and Missouri State University, and completed more than 30 rehabilitation classes and programs.  He has helped other inmates pursue their education, and has become a published author. 

Representative Nick Schroer (Photo: Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

It was after that meeting that Schroer began pressing for Bostic to have a chance at parole. 

      “I was amazed at all of the things that he had done, the rehabilitation that took place with him within our criminal justice system and it was one of my tasks to ensure that he was either granted clemency by the governor or that we could get a coalition together, get some sort of legislative fix to this issue,” said Schroer.

      That began with a letter to Governor Mike Parson (R) asking him to take executive action on Bostic’s case.  More than 100 legislators in both parties and both chambers signed that letter.

      Bostic was sentenced to 241 years in prison on a series of charges stemming from a 1995 incident in which he, then 16, and an 18 year-old robbed a group of people delivering Christmas presents to the needy.  One victim was shot and sustained a minor wound.  The pair then carjacked and robbed a woman. 

      None of the victims of Bostic’s crimes opposed him being given a chance at parole.  Some testified that he had little involvement in the crimes and that the 18 year-old was the instigator.  While Bostic received more than two centuries in prison, the accomplice pleaded guilty in exchange for a 30-year sentence.   

Retired Circuit Judge Evelyn Baker, who handed down Bostic’s sentence, has become one of the most ardent supporters of his parole and represented him at the hearing.

      Bostic is not expected to be released until late next year.  Sharp said he will spend much of the time until then preparing to return to freedom after 20 years behind bars.

Representative Mark Sharp (Photo: Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

“Now the hard work really begins for Bobby Bostic.  How do we get him back into civilization?  How do we get him a job?  How do we get him back on his feet?  Just being released really isn’t enough, so we have to make sure that he has all the tools so he can be successful upon his release,” said Sharp.

      Roughly 100 others in Missouri’s prison system could have a chance at parole under the language that helped Bostic.  Schroer said for those and others getting out of prison, there are people throughout the state who want to help them start over.

      “If anybody is willing, and I know that there are several employers in St. Charles County and around the area that have taken an interest in [Bobby Bostic’s] case and many others like him, who are hiring people fresh out of the criminal justice system that want to turn their lives around, so any of the readers that are grouped in there, that do have opportunities for people with a criminal record, I urge them to reach out to [lawmakers] so we can at least put them in contact with people like Bobby.”

      Other portions of Senate Bill 26 have led to a court challenge that could see everything in it struck down.  Sharp and Schroer say they aren’t sure what it would mean for Bostic’s case should that happen, but say they will be watching developments and remain committed to helping Bostic get a chance at freedom.

Columbia man: law giving felons more job opportunities is making a difference for him

      Missourians with felony convictions are no longer blocked from working in places that sell lottery tickets, and face less restriction in working where alcohol is sold, under a law that took effect over the summer.  Advocates say the change is a “game changer” for people who get out of prison and want to get their lives back on track.

Henry Mikel and Representative Cheri Toalson Reisch, recently had the chance to meet and talk about her legislation, which allowed him to have his current job.

      Representative Cheri Toalson Reisch (R-Hallsville) sponsored the legislation for several sessions.  It became law as a provision in Senate Bill 26, signed into law in July. She recently got to talk to some people who are taking advantage of the change.

      “I’m just thrilled.  I mean, I’m so happy, because it’s all about helping your fellow man to succeed,” said Toalson Reisch.

      One man with whom Toalson Reisch met was Henry Mikel of Columbia, who says it’s making a difference in his life.     

      “It’s very hard to get a job, man, when you’re a felon, so it’s going to help out a lot for the people that do want to change when they do get out of prison, or the people that are on probation that has committed a felony,” said Mikel. 

      Mikel is open about his past, which includes a 2nd degree assault charge, and that he is recovering from drug addiction.  He is staying at in2Action, a program that helps those released from prison transition back into life and stay out of prison.  He recently began working at a convenience store close to the facility.  It’s a job he couldn’t have gotten just a few months ago because the store sells lottery tickets.

      He thinks the new law is making a big difference for him, and will do so for others in similar circumstances.

      “I believe it’s going to help out a lot, man, because not everybody wants to stay in trouble and not everybody wants to stay in the system as a felon.  People do want to change,” said Mikel.

      He became emotional in expressing gratitude that the law passed.  He said with the holidays approaching it will allow him to do something for his two young adult children.

      “I’ll tell you, to have a job and be able to do something for my kids, man, it’s a blessing.  Being a drug addict and an alcoholic most of my life, my kids missed out on a lot, man, and I feel like a big piece of s**t over that.  Now that I’ve turned my life around, I have a relationship with my kids, I can call my kids, I can go see my kids any time.  It does help out a lot, man.  It helps out a lot.”

      Mikel expressed thanks not only to Representative Toalson Reisch, but to all the legislators who voted for her proposal, and to Governor Mike Parson (R) for signing it into law.

      “It does feel good that there are people out there that really care,” said Mikel. 

“Being an addict I can tell you one thing … not everybody wants to be an addict.  Once you become an addict … the main thing that goes through an addict’s head is, ‘How can I change?’”  Mikel said.  “I understand that a person has to want to change, truly, and they have to show it, but it’s hard to show it when you don’t have people that wants to back it up, and it’s nice to know that there are people out there that are giving people a chance and that wants to help people that want to help their self.”

      Some would dismiss or even look down on a job such as working at a convenience store, but advocates agree it is a big deal for someone in a position like Mikel’s.  He adds that he genuinely enjoys working there, and even as a child he thought it could be a fun job.

      “You see just different personalities.  I’m the type of guy that I want to help a lot of people.  I want to help the people that are weak and the people that are addicts, I want to help people in their faith, so I believe this job’s going to help me in my dream because it helps me read people and it helps me figure people out more.  I’m using it to my advantage.”

      Toalson Reisch had the opportunity to meet Mikel for the first time just a few days ago, at an in2Action Christmas Dinner. 

      “We just hit it off, and he thanked me for giving him the opportunity.  He loves his job,” said Toalson Reisch.  “When I see these success stories, like Henry, that it’s making a real impact on real people in their lives, it just gives me hope.”

      The last time Toalson Reisch’s proposal came to a vote on the House floor the vote in favor of it was 148-1. 

Earlier story: New Law a ‘game changer’ for some felons seeking work

New law a ‘game changer’ for some felons seeking work

      An advocate says a new law that began as a Missouri House bill is a “game changer” for people trying to establish new lives after felony convictions.   

Representative Cheri Toalson Reisch (photo: Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

      The legislation eliminated a prohibition on those with felony convictions working in places which sell lottery tickets.  It also lifted the requirement that businesses who sell alcohol report to the state when they hire someone with a felony.  The changes have been sponsored for several years by Hallsville Republican Cheri Toalson Reisch, and was signed into law this summer and took effect August 28.

      She said it’s about worker freedom.

      “If an employer wants to hire a felon, why should the State of Missouri tell them, ‘No?’”

      Dan Hanneken is the Executive Director of In2Action, a program that helps people transition out of prison.  He says the most important factor in a convicted felon not returning to prison is their ability to find employment.

      “This particular bill might only effect maybe ten percent of the people that we serve, but the level of impact it will make on the ten percent of people will be a complete game-changer for them when they can re-enter the workforce,” said Hannekan.

      “What we want is felons … to work.  We need them to be self-supporting and we need them to support their families,” said Toalson Reisch.  “They want to work, and this gives them more opportunities to go out and get entry-level jobs, work their way up, give them experience, put work on a resume.”

      The proposal, filed by Toalson Reisch as House Bill 316, was amended to Senate Bill 26, which was passed and signed by Governor Mike Parson (R). 

      She said this bill benefit not only her home county of Boone, which she said consistently has one of the highest unemployment rates in the state, but the entire state.

      “Most everywhere sells lottery tickets or alcohol, whether it’s a restaurant, a grocery store, convenience store; most anyplace you walk into will have one or both of those items, and that shouldn’t hold people back who want to work, who want to have a job and earn a living.  They’ve served their debt to society.”

      The legislation had broad support, and was viewed as helping fight recidivism and unemployment while supporting criminal justice reform and helping the economy by boosting the eligible workforce.  The House voted 148-1 for the 2020 version of the bill.

      Hanneken said the law before this change was very frustrating for the people he works with, who often want to rebuild their lives, provide for their families, and simply have a path forward after prison.

      “When people are released from prison and they’re told, ‘No, you cannot even work at a convenience store,’ that was incredibly defeating for them,” said Hanneken.   

      Toalson Reisch said the reporting requirement for businesses that sell liquor was, in practice, a pointless exercise for those employers, who had to fill out a form that wasn’t used for anything.

      “All they did was send it in and I was literally told the state did nothing with this form.  They literally threw it in a file cabinet and did nothing with it, and so it was just nonsensical and had no purpose,” said Toalson Reisch.

      The bill also had broad support from groups including Empower Missouri and the Missouri Petroleum Marketers and Convenience Stores Association.

Pronunciations:

Cheri Toalson Reisch = shuh-REE TOLE-sun RYSH