It’s foolish to become indignant or upset when people act true to their character.

This morning’s Miami Herald had a news article about a zookeeper who lost the tip of her finger to a hungry tiger. It brought back memories of a similar though far more tragic accident many years ago in which a zookeeper was killed by a lion.

It’s not the tiger’s fault.

The tragedy at the zoo was front page news. At the time I was new to the bail business. I was in the company of veteran bondsman Douglas Aabbott when we passed a newspaper rack with the lurid bold headlines.

Doug asked me, “Whose fault is it?”

I responded with something along the lines that it was a terrible tragedy and that the zoo would certainly have to conduct a thorough investigation.

Doug interrupted me.

“Is it the lion’s fault?”

I stammered a bit and then conceded that what he was saying made sense. Whatever happened at the zoo, certainly the tragic death was not the fault of the lion. The lion simply acted like a lion.

Doug pressed his point home.

“That poor sap who died has only himself to blame. He never should have put himself in a position where the lion could kill him.”

Doug’s assessment was harsh but true and contains a lesson I have carried for many years in the bail business.  Our clients never put us out of business. Rather, we put ourselves in a position where our clients can hurt us. It’s never the client / defendant who makes it a “bad” bond. We make our own beds. It is foolish to become indignant or upset that a lion acts like a lion or that a tiger acts like a tiger or that a liar lies or that a thief steals.

Where we go astray and risk getting eaten up in the bail business is when we delude ourselves about the truth.

“He wouldn’t dare lie to me.”

“Even though he failed to appear before, it’s different this time.”

The reality is that a person who routinely lies will almost invariably lie to us — especially when they need our help. Likewise with someone who has a history of failures to appear for court. When dealing with such a client I have to ask myself, “What makes me so special?” It is not uncommon in the bail business for us to deal with unscrupulous people. Most of the bonds I regret weren’t about the client lying to me but rather me lying to myself by denying or refusing to acknowledge the truth. People act true to their character.

It’s the lies we tell ourselves and not the lies of our clients that lead to disaster. In the past I have taken car titles as collateral security for the posting of a bail bond. If my clients think that they are putting up their car, wonderful. If I lie to myself that I am holding anything more than an easily replaceable piece of paper, then I am headed for trouble.

We are in the business of risk. That said, the bail agents I most respect never allow a single defendant to be in a position to wipe them out. They do not put themselves in that position. A good question to ask ourselves is, “In a worst case scenario on this bond, what happens?” If the answer is that I am out of business and lose my livelihood, it’s time to explore alternatives.

The same lessons apply to insurance companies who underwrite bail. In my experience you can spend half a day in any jurisdiction in the United States and easily discover who the bad bail agents are. Amazingly, some insurance companies — obviously motivated by greed — will regularly give contracts to these bad actors and later cry about their losses. If a bail agent burns an insurance company by not properly reporting bond powers or handling forfeitures, what makes the next insurance company think that their results will be different? What makes them so special?