• By Lt. Tim McMillan

My Problem Isn't With Jeremy Meeks. It Is With Us.

First of all, let me make this point abundantly clear, I indeed, am happy for Jeremy Meeks, aka the "Hot Convict” in that he has been able to overcome his past mistakes and is a position to be very successful. I genuinely mean that, and will always encourage and stand by the fact that no matter what someone’s past is, they are always capable of doing great things in this world. In truth, I am probably more forgiving and believe in second chances for people than most might realize. Basically, I’d be a horrible traffic cop, because everyone would always get a warning.

Now, as I read the comments on the article I published this morning, I would be remiss if I didn’t say a few things. First and foremost, I have never once stated that I stand up in support of merely the “feel good” story in life. Now, I frequently encourage everyone to strive for happiness and greatness in their lives. So essence, I do truly desire everyone to indeed feel good.

However, one of the most vital aspects required for someone to ever reach a place of true happiness and contentment involves the ability to discern and accept what is legitimate virtuousness and high moral character. Without at least the desire to seek and take in these qualities, our happiness will always lack authenticity and will simply be a generic meme that replicates what are the particular cultural norms of the time. This degree of generality will almost always involve a degree of selfishness, and it will come at the expense of others.

With that said, we do a great disservice to ourselves and others if we celebrate Mr. Meeks story felon to fashion model, and elevate it to be something it isn’t. Again, I stress I am an adamant supporter of people getting second chances in life. So, indeed Mr. Meeks has been afforded a second chance from his previous lifestyle or mistakes, and for that, I truly wish nothing but great things for him personally.

The contention I have is with us. Notice, I said, “us.” Not, “you” or “them.” Rather I say, “us” as in “we the collective of all people in society.” The reason, I include myself in amongst the collective views of society, is because whether we like it or not, our success or failure as people will come by the actions of the collective of all of us. Basically, it is irrelevant if I agree with every a single person's or beliefs, or none at all; if the ship sinks, I’m going down with it, so I mind as well go ahead and accept that I am indeed a part of the collective society and try to work with it.

See, Mr. Meeks’ story is not one of rehabilitation and in totality, it isn't one that speaks highly of our ethical character as a society. Why? Well, because Mr. Meeks was afforded a second chance at life based on absolutely nothing that he actually did to improve himself or even an inkling of desire to be a good person. No, Mr. Meeks second chance at life came as a result of one thing and one thing only, his physical attractiveness. He was good looking.

Look, I don’t begrudge the guy for being good looking. In fact, when it comes to Mr. Meeks individually, frankly I’m glad he has his attractive physical appearance. Because, without it, statistically speaking, he would be highly unlikely to have had such a fortunate second opportunity. Let’s put it this way, the road would have at least been a lot harder.

In truth what differentiated Mr. Meeks from any of the other 2.3 million Americans who are incarcerated at any given moment in the U.S., was his physical attractiveness. His 2014, Mug shot was posted by the Stockton Police Department’s Facebook page after he was arrested for weapons violations. That mug shot, essentially became a modeling head shot, as his tanned skin, piercing blue eyes, and chiseled cheekbones went viral on social media. Overnight Mr. Meeks became known as the “Hot Convict” or “Hot felon.”

Now, lest we forget, for millions of other Americans, the sharing of their arrest and booking photos online and in the media represents something that is in no way a positive experience. In fact, many people have lost their careers or faced public scrutiny and shame over their mug shot being in shared in the public domain. For this very reason, I have previously come out and said I do not like the posting of individuals booking photos, as it represents a form of extra-judicial punishment.

However, for Mr. Meeks, his booking photo ended up gartering quite the opposite response, both personally and professionally. In fact, as a result of his viral mug shot, Mr. Meeks was given an opportunity when he got out of Federal prison, 27 months later, at a life that is unattainable by the overwhelming majority of people.

Mr. Meeks is very fortunate in this regard. Because, in reality, the United States of America has the highest rate of recidivism in the world. In the U.S inmates released from prisons have a five-year recidivism rate of 76.6%. So in America, three out of every four people released from prison will return to being incarcerated within five years of their release.

It is also important to note that Mr. Meeks is biracial with Brazilian heritage. Now, if anyone read something I wrote back in February, they may recall that in the eyes of America, biracial individuals are viewed by the collective conscious of society as being Black. This is a result of archaic and prejudice perceptions from the mid-to-late 1800’s, called the “One Drop Test.”

So, let none of us also fail to acknowledge that in America, 1 out of every 15 Black males is incarcerated, compared to a rate of 1 out of every 106 White males. In light of the fact, that 60% of the entire population of those incarcerated are comprised of non-Whites, following release from prison; wages grow at a 21% slower rate for former Non-White inmates than White ex-convicts. Mr. Meeks good fortune based on his good looks represents something that 99.999993% of all non-White felons or 99.9999996% of all persons imprisoned will ever experience. In fact, for the majority of ex-convicts, the road to success in society will be a very long and difficult one.

In addition, let us not forget what actually caused Mr. Meeks to be photographed by the Stockton Police in the first place. In June of 2014, Mr. Meeks was arrested during a traffic stop, in which he was discovered to be in possession of a semiautomatic handgun with two fully loaded extended magazines. At the time of his arrest, Mr. Meeks was on parole and already convicted felon, therefore, beyond any doubt, barred from possessing a firearm.

Furthermore, Mr. Meeks, as a 30-year-old man, who at the time of his arrest was a member of the Northside Gangster Crips, who claimed he got the tear drop tattoo on his cheek for, “doing some things in his past he is not proud of.”

In the realm of gang culture, the tear drop tattoo can signify several things. One of which is to symbolize that they wearer has killed someone. Provided, we assume these cultural norms apply to Mr. Meeks, by his statement we can assume that his tattoo is to signify something bad he had done in his life.

We would be doing ourselves a disservice if we didn’t mention that after Mr. Meeks booking photo went viral, a fundraiser was established to help pay for his bail. The eventual response from donations was significant enough to catch the attention of the crowdfunding website, GoFundMe, and they shut the fund raiser down. The attention Mr. Meeks’ crowdfunding fund raiser gartered, provoked the Hofstra Law Review to publish a 32-page article condemning and challenging the legality of online crowdsourcing for bail money.

Legality aside, it is undeniable that Mr. Meeks’ received quite a bit of financial support before the fundraiser was shut down. Meanwhile, a 16-year-old, Kalief Brown was held in Riker’s Island, because he allegedly stole a backpack, for three years because he couldn’t afford his $10,000 bond. Eventually, Brown was released by the district attorney’s office for insufficient evidence that he had actually committed a crime. This was after he had endured beatings by inmates, prison officers, and 400 days in solitary confinement because he tried to kill himself.

Eventually, in 2015 after his release, Brown did successfully take his own life. He told his mother, “Ma, I can’t take it anymore. I'm not all right. I'm messed up. I'm mentally scarred right now. There are certain things that changed about me and they might not go back." Brown was only 22 years old when he committed suicide. Ultimately, the only “crime” Brown ever committed was being born Black, to a mother who was a drug addict, which led to him and his seven siblings to be taken by Child Protective Services, leading to him growing up in foster care. Oh, and if the case of Mr. Meeks is any evidence, he also failed to be good looking enough.

Lastly, in my original post, I mentioned Danielle Bregoli aka the “Cash Me Outside” girl, comparing her and Mr. Meeks celebrity fame. Some people who commented were quick to push back on this comparison, suggesting Mr. Meeks shared nothing in common with Bregoli. Now, I have to be honest, I haven’t spent enough time contemplating it to theorize why some liked Meeks but didn’t like Bregoli. It could be implicit gender bias, or it could be related to the fact that people were able to actually see Bregoli’s bad behavior, while Meeks’ was merely retold by police and prosecutors. Regardless, let me be pointedly clear, they absolutely are similar in nature at their fundamental level.

Just like Meeks, Bregoli achieved widespread fame after the results of her bad behavior became viral internet fodder. Now, Bregoli is superficially famous because of her immature and irresponsible conduct, however, there is not a soul on this earth who can tell me that if Danielle Bregoli was 50 pounds overweight or viewed as being astatically displeasing that she would be getting paid $60k for public appearances or potentially her own reality television show.

Feel free to check out any of her modeling photos or her Instagram feed. You will see a 14-year-old girl, in overly sexually suggestive poses and clothing- or lack thereof rather. In fact, if you really would like to enjoy some of the more disparaging aspects of her reality celebrity, you can even watch some of her videos were she is “twerking,” and bent over on her hands and knees on a bed, wearing only a bra and stretch pants.

Now I repeat my sentiments again, I take no exception with Mr. Meeks current modeling career and truthfully I wish him nothing but the best. If his unbelievable turn of fate can inspire even one person to remember than life is never static and it can always change for the better in an instant, I will equally be thrilled. I hope that the opportunities Mr. Meeks has been afforded change him and his family’s life forever for the better. In truth, I would be equally thrilled to see the same positive influence somehow appear for Danielle Bregoli.

However, I wouldn’t feel like I was staying true to myself or my desire to motivate others to enjoy happiness in their own individual lives, if I didn’t speak out for the fact that as nice as Meeks’ story is for him, it is extremely atypical and should not be considered a celebration of best aspects of our society.

In truth, what it is said to the 2.3 million over people imprisoned in America is, “Too bad! Sorry, you weren’t born better looking.” When in reality, there is nothing that says some, the bulk, or all of those 2.3 million people cannot equally provide great value to our society exclusive of their appearance.

Additionally, Meeks’ story says to Kalief Brown, sorry you weren’t born better looking. Instead, you ended up spending three years in prison for something you didn’t do, were beaten, isolated, and ultimately it led to you taking your own life. Sorry, no one cared enough to raise a cent for your bail so you didn’t have to endure everything that ultimately led to your pain and death. Had you just been a little more attractive, someone might have cared.

To, Danielle Bregoli, at a 14-years-old child, Mr. Meeks story tells her, “Hey! Don’t worry about what you do, whether you behave good or bad. The most important thing is that you look good doing it.” This ultimately is why we can see a 14-year-old girl, in photographs with her breast exposed and bent over in sexually suggestive poses right now. All while hordes of men, far too old to morally or legally be considering engaging in the very acts she is encouraging, watches and cheers on.

At the end of the day, the truth is we have a society that glorifies bad behavior. We place more value on appearances than the merit of one's character or actions. Which is crazy, because we all then simultaneously condemn racism and prejudice, which is exactly that. Placing more value on someone's appearance than the person they are.

Jeremy Meeks untold story is one of a child who grew up with a father who was in prison and a mother who was a heroin addict. Assuredly, this is one of the contributing factors to what led to him ever being a gang member or in prison in the first place. I take no exception to the fact that Meeks was attractive enough that he became a model when he went he went to prison. However, I have to wonder, why wasn’t Jeremy Meeks attractive enough to be a model before he went to prison?

Basically, why don’t we encourage a society that inspires people to see their talents, gifts, and virtues they have before they reach the point of needing a second chance? Undoubtedly, there are plenty of people in that 2.3 million person prison population who are just as talented and gifted as any of the rest of us. Equally, many of those individuals had rough upbringings like Meeks or Brown. Unfortunately, for 99% of them, we’ll never know what they might be able to contribute, simply because they just aren’t pretty enough.

So, now you know the reason that I say that Meeks’ outcome speaks more about us than it does him. In truth, I’m not throwing shade on him at all. Rather, I’m throwing shade on all of us in society. Not because I want to speak poorly about us. Instead, because I believe we are capable of so much more.

Tim McMillan is a retired police lieutenant and investigative intelligence analyst; and holds BA's in mathematics and cognitive psychology. Primarily, focusing on the Defense and Intelligence Communities, he now uses his unique background, coupled with a willingness to examine any mystery, to deliver groundbreaking investigative reporting. Tim is a contributor for The War Zone, Vice, and Popular Mechanics

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