Sedalia's bond girl

November 9, 2008

Shannon Zerilli began working as a bail bond agent 18 years ago, when her aunt Janie Kindle pushed her into the family business.

“She made me. She told me I had to go get my license, so I could help out around here,” Zerilli said.

When people think about a family-run business, bonding people out of jail may not immediately spring to mind. But Zerilli’s family influences the way Janie’s Bail Bonds operates.

Before Kindle died three years ago, she worked alongside Zerilli, her niece, Kathy Martin, her sister, and Dave Sprinkle, her son-in-law, at their office in downtown Sedalia.

“It’s always been a family-orientated business,” Martin said.

Kindle worked in the industry for about 35 years, starting out at Sharp Bail Bonding Agency in Kansas City before running her own company in Sedalia for the better part of 30 years.

Martin, Janie’s sister, said nearly 3,000 people attended her funeral service, where “there were as many attorneys and government officials as there were criminals.”

Zerilli, 43, apprenticed under Kindle at Janie’s Bail Bonds. She said Kindle put her under her wing to teach her about the business of being “the middle men between the courts, the jail and the people.”

Zerilli said “a lot of instinct and gut” go into doing the job successfully, which is why learning from her aunt was so important. “It takes a lot to learn the business and how to do it well,” Zerilli said.

She said working as a bond agent can be stressful. She puts up the cash to bond people out of jail, charging 10 percent of the bond for a fee. She requires a credible cosigner to ensure her client will pay her back and show up for court dates.

When people fail to show up for court or pay back the bond, Zerilli said they have to track them down.

“Usually we can track them down by phone through people they know, but sometimes we have to go to the houses and take them unwillingly,” Zerilli said.

Those are the extreme circumstances, however. Zerilli said most people are just scared in those situations, which is where her family’s influence provides her with a knack for the job.

“Most people are so freaked out anyway that they just want to take care of business,” Zerilli said.

She said some people need to be shocked so they learn the consequences and avoid future mistakes. “I’m not above suggesting to parents that they just leave them in jail for a weekend,” Zerilli said.

People also come in to her office to turn themselves in to police when they know they have a warrant, Zerilli said. She said that most of the people she works with are not hardened criminals, but everyday people who simply made a mistake, like letting a speeding ticket go unpaid too long.

For those on the brink of delving into a negative lifestyle, she helps them see where their decisions may lead.

“If they are at that edge, we would much rather catch them here and bring them back,” Zerilli said. “If I know you and can help you through this, I enjoy it.”

Martin said Zerilli takes care to explain to people that if they do not take care of their cases, then their problems escalate and will always catch up with them eventually. Zerilli treats people how they want to be treated throughout the sometimes difficult process, Martin said.

“She is so encouraging. I think she learned that from Janie,” Martin said. “They treat people how they want to be treated. I wish every business did that.”

Zerilli agrees about her aunt’s influence on the family business, saying “It’s a legacy she left, and we are trying to keep that torch going.”