Second chance, wasted

How much would you pay for a second chance?

Amber Waterman

Amber Waterman/Sun Journal

Norman "Bo" Thompson speaks about his life on drugs and the crimes he committed while high, including jumping off of a third story balcony in October, 2007, only to be tackled by Sun Journal photographer Russ Dillingham. "It took 10 years off my life," said his mother Sharron Fuller.

They come along so rarely, after all. It is not every day that a person receives, in golfing parlance, a mulligan for their past bad actions. A second chance is a precious asset, but only for the lucky souls who get one. It's non-negotiable currency. One either uses it wisely or wastes it.

Norman "Bo" Thompson is wasting his. The notable criminal — immortalized by the photograph of his frozen form jumping from a third-floor balcony on Howe Street last year — was granted a rare second chance earlier this year, when a judge suspended his lengthy prison sentence and set him free.

Thompson knew he was blessed. He told us clearly that he didn't want to be aging in jail, like the men he met while inside. "I'm 36 an' I can't handle it no more," Thompson said. "I don't wanna be them sittin' in jail when I'm 50."

Police in Portland have now charged Thompson in connection with recent burglaries, the familiar kind: smashed windows of stores and cars, stolen cigarettes and gadgets. He faces the execution of the 15-year sentence, which had about 13 and a half years left hanging over his head.

Bo, the way it looks now, you're going to be one of those guys. And there's nobody else to blame.

There are other suspects. It would be convenient to blame a system, like the judicial or mental health systems, for failing Thompson. He does have a diagnosed mental illness, bipolar disorder, and the courts essentially compelled him to live in Portland, away from family, to access services.

We could say Thompson is an example of how the corrections system, as a whole, is ill-equipped to handle inmates with mental illnesses. Given the seriousness of bipolar disorder, Thompson likely would have languished in jail. In society, getting treatment, living a normal life was best for him.

These are concerns. Jails are not the best place for mentally ill inmates. The courts can hand down judgments that are deaf to the needs of the defendants, or that are inappropriately harsh given the circumstances of their offense. For policymakers and judges, these are evergreen concerns.

They don't apply here.

Bo Thompson got a second chance. He professed regret and sobriety, just weeks ago. His attorney waxed eloquently about how Norman was ready to move into a new chapter of his life. Norman, himself, told us about his plans to buy a new tow truck to work and, eventually, a camper to retire.

Systems aren't perfect, but they need a chance to work. It would seem unfair to blame the mental health and addiction advocates treating Thompson for failing him, because it looks like they didn't have the chance to succeed. If the allegations against him are true, it seems he was just talking a good game.

While walking the same old path.

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Throw the bum in jail before

Throw the bum in jail before others are victimized. The judges are too darn soft with these career criminals.


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