Jim and Darlyne Lyons: grandparents, bail bond agentsby Nikki Tundel, Minnesota Public Radio
The country's current economic turmoil has put the spotlight on risky investments. But it's not just Wall Street workers who deal in risk.
For one Minnesota couple, every business transaction is a gamble.
Jim and Darlyne Lyons are bail bond agents. Their job, in a nutshell, is to lend thousands of dollars to alleged criminals and then hope to come out on top.
Red Wing, Minn. — For nearly a decade, Jim and Darlyne Lyons ran a bed and breakfast in Lake City, Minn.
But today, instead of getting to know customers over French toast in the family dining room, most of their conversations with clientele take place at the county jail.
"We're still in the 'B-and-B' business," Jim Lyons says. "But now instead of bed and breakfast, it's bail bonds."
These 70-somethings have been bail bond agents for the past 10 years. They cater to those who are charged with a crime but don't have the cash to make bail.
Their client base now includes more accused criminals than vacationing couples. But that hasn't stopped Darlyne from serving up the homemade treats.
"We had a client we bailed several times and I brought a container of chicken soup and a bag of chocolate cookies," she says.
As bail bond agents, the Lyons will post a defendant's bail for a non-refundable fee: 10 percent of the bail amount. It's then their responsibility to make sure the accused appears in court when scheduled.
If their client is a no-show, it's the Lyons who must pay entire sum of the set bail - which, depending on the offense, can range from hundreds to hundreds of thousands of dollars.
The couple refuses business from those whose demeanor screams "flight risk." When they do accept defendants, the Lyons call to remind them of every single court appointment. If they deem a client irresponsible, they might drive the person to court themselves -- although Jim admits the home pick-ups can, in his words, be "an adventure."
"We pull in the driveway and there's great big dog tracks, like almost the size of an elephant, (laughs), and there's gun casing shells all over," he says. "That's a bit scary when you have to go up to the door."
The Lyons work for Twin Cities-based Goldberg Bonding, serving as the company's agents in Goodhue County, population 46,000.
"This is kinda like Mayberry," Jim Lyons says.
Mornings always begin at the county courthouse in Red Wing. The Lyons need to make sure all their clients appear as planned, but they also want see if the judge assigns bail in any new cases. That way they can be right there should any defendants need the services of a bail bond agent.
"Here's a man I've bailed out many times. And I've done so many favors for him," Jim Lyons says. "I've driven him all over God's creation, given him money for cigarettes, bailed out his girlfriend."
The couple's clients range from 20-something drug dealers to a 68-year-old woman accused of not cutting her grass, thus disobeying the city's lawn ordinance.
"This one here. I write notes on the file, and on his I put that this guy was a smart aleck, a troublemaker, cocky," Lyons says. "And then this man here, I bailed out the whole family, yep, quite a few times."
A remarkably large percentage of their business comes from men who violate no contact orders, guys who are forbidden from going near their wives or girlfriends but choose to do so anyway.
"It seems like men don't get it," Lyons says. "We bail them out over and over and the bail gets higher each time and gol', can't you catch on. I mean, you're gonna have to give her up and they can't do it."
Depending on the moment, Jim and Darlyne come across as either the least judgmental people on the planet or the most naive. But, the way Darlyne sees it, she and her husband simply approach life -- and their work -- realistically.
"You have to have compassion for people, no matter what they have done or say they have done you have to talk to them with respect in all cases," she says.
"And so many of them are nice people, they just make a couple of wrong decisions," Jim Lyons says. "We're sitting in church and we see a lot of our clients come in. It can happen to anybody."
This particular morning ends up being a slow one. The Lyons leave the courthouse with no new clients. On busy days, the two not only bail people out, they drive them home. Many clients have no one who can, or will, pick them up from jail.
"Sometimes we'll stop at the Dairy Queen or something, get them something to eat," Jim Lyons says.
Along with the D.Q. Dogs and Oreo Blizzards, the Lyons offer up their advice.
"We say, 'You gotta turn your life around here. You can't be doing this. Maybe you should try church, get some new friends,'" he says.
It may seem unlikely that an accused felon would be moved by the words of some Minnesota grandparents. But former clients are always approaching the Lyons in supermarkets and coffee shops.
"They always say 'hello' to us," Darlyne Lyons says. "We ask how they're doing and they say, 'Great, I got a job,' or 'I'm going to school.'"
"Maybe guys have come through five or six times and they finally catch on. That's a big part of the satisfaction," Jim Lyons says.
Over the years, Jim and Darlyne have discovered one major similarity between their old career in the bed and breakfast business and their current one in the bail bond industry - both jobs rely heavily on referrals.
"A lot of the people in jail will tell somebody. You get a lot of recommendations."
- All Things Considered, 10/13/2008, 5:30 p.m.