INDIANAPOLIS -- In Indianapolis, some families who get entangled in the criminal justice system have an unexpected ally. A bail bonds agent's personal experience with violence has deepened her compassion for those she meets in her office across the street from the Marion County Jail.
As a red Turner Bail Bonds neon sign glows in the window, Stephanie Rader talks with a woman whose son is in jail. “Has he ever been arrested before?” she asks. The woman tells her he was last in trouble as a young teenager.
It’s been Rader's job for the last 17 years to make sure people accused of serious crimes, including gun violence and drug offenses, make it to court after bonding out. Her questions for the woman continue. “And he’s not gonna have a problem with making it back to every last one of his court appearances, is he?” The woman responds, “No. I’ll make sure he gets there.”
It is mothers of the accused who most frequently sit across the desk, opening their wallets to free their children from jail, promising compliance. And many offer Rader a poignant glimpse of the violent neighborhoods of the city.
“I’ve heard too many stories. I know. I’ve heard from the mothers who are scared for their – oh my gosh – who are scared for their sons, their daughters," she says. "And then I’ve heard from the boys – who have had friends that are murdered, or wounded or who have murdered out of fear. My main thing is – getting them help. A lot of them have been traumatized.”
Rader knows that trauma first hand. In the spring of 2011, her 30-year-old son Joe was murdered. Joe, the 8-year-old boy he planned to adopt, and his fiancé lived with Rader and her younger son who was still in high school then. Joe’s sudden death devastated each one in their own way.
“I started to see the damage that had been done with someone that had been murdered," Rader says. "I wanted to do damage control because that deepened my pain, to see them in pain.”
During the homicide investigation, an IMPD detective had given Rader information about Legacy House, which provides totally free counseling to victims of violence. So, she reached out.
“It started out for them," she relates, "but then I realized for in order for me to help them, I needed help and guidance also.”
Rader says staying active and keeping her grandson active helped them deal with the grief.
“Swimming, library, books. He was very afraid. He had nightmares. He kept seeing Joe in his room, which happens a lot with these children,” she says. She drove him to school everyday because kids bullied him on the bus about his dad being murdered.
Rader says scheduling delays in the murder trial were excruciating.
“They would set the trial date for the Monday after Thanksgiving – right before Christmas – and it would get continued right after the new years," she recounts. "And this haunted – I can’t tell you how it really haunted us. They put it on my son’s birthday. Then they put it on the day that he was murdered. Then it was continued until the week my son graduated from high school.”
Three days that week they were in the courtroom for trial.
Adding insult to injury for everyone in the family, the jury found Joe’s accused killer not guilty. But Rader appreciated the acknowledgement from the acquitted man’s mother.
“As we were being ushered onto the elevator by the guards, I looked out – and so, I’m thinking that this is by the grace of God – the mother was standing out there," Rader says. "And she looked at me and she said, 'I’m sorry.'”
Those words were what Rader needed to hear.
In the years since, as she works across the street from where the trial took place, Rader keeps a stack of those counseling information cards for Legacy House to hand to people haunted by the same trauma she knows so well.
“If I have to share my experience with my son, I do," she says. "There’s a lot of good people out there that are going through…what I call hell.”
One mom, bonding with other moms, to help heal the scars of violence.