When 21-year-old Chaunce Hoxie was arrested, charged, convicted, and sentenced for breaking into more than two dozen residences throughout the Anchor Point area, an interesting phenomenon began to unfold in the town of just under 2,000. The very people whose homes Hoxie had burglarized did not clamor to have the proverbial book thrown at the errant son of their friends, but instead became the ones urging for his early release from jail.
Hoxie grew up in Anchor Point (his parents, John and Dawn, still live there), and many of the people he stole from knew him well; some since he was a child. For two months in late 2009 and early 2010, he pilfered their firearms, their jewelry, cash, and food. He forcibly entered their homes and took from them what was not his to take.
But when Hoxie was arrested, his victims and other Anchor Point residents gathered to discuss what would become of this wayward member of their tight-knit town. Many were angry, and justifiably so. But their anger couldn't occlude their better judgment: Hoxie would do more good out of jail than in.
"A lot of people were saying, 'Look, Chaunce has grown up here,'" said Andrew Haas, Hoxie's lawyer. "'What we really want to see happen is for him to get out and work and pay us back because he owes us a lot; he owes us a lot in many different ways.'"
When he was sentenced on Jan. 24 for second degree burglary and theft (he pleaded guilty to both counts), Hoxie had already spent nearly a year in prison. A handful of his victims, appearing in person and telephonically, addressed Judge Peter Ashman before he delivered Hoxie's fate.
"He served 340-something days already and we could lock him up for another three or four years," Mark Cocke said. "But in this case, I don't think that's going to be beneficial to him or anybody else."
Ultimately Ashman agreed with Cocke, sentencing Hoxie to 72 months in jail, with 54 of those months suspended. At the time of the hearing, Hoxie had already served 12 months and was released on good behavior to return to Anchor Point on Feb. 6.
"I don't see many people come out of jail better than they went in," Ashman told the court. "And I see a lot of people come out worse.
"I'm particularly concerned about young people going to jail," he continued, "because in a sense we take somebody who is irresponsible and stupid and lock him up with a whole community of irresponsible and stupid people. And they feed off each other. They learn from each other. They develop criminal attitudes."
Hoxie, in addition to the jail time, restitution, and probation aspects of his punishment, was ordered to write a letter apologizing to the Anchor Point community for his behavior to be printed in the Homer Tribune and Peninsula Clarion. A somewhat rare strategy, this method of restorative justice focuses on making the perpetrator consider his actions from the perspective of his victims.
"I think that part of the reason young people commit some offenses is a lack of empathy and insight into how their actions affect others," said Andy Pevehouse, who in his three-and-a-half years as a public defender has only seen two such letter requirements. "Petty vandalism, for example, might seem fun if you're the one throwing the eggs but not if you're the homeowner who has to clean up the mess."
Ashman directly addressed Hoxie on this matter at the sentencing hearing, pointing to the 21-year-old's inability to understand what years of hard work and saving really entail: "You don't know what it takes to get what these people lost and you don't have a sense of how invaded they feel."
"In the end," Ashman concluded, "it appears to me they (the community and the victims) decided that human relationships are more important than things."
"That's what makes you so lucky," he told Hoxie. "Because there are a lot of people who value things more than they value relationships."
Hoxie is currently living with his parents in Anchor Point and working part-time for Al Poindexter mixing peat and soil while looking for a second job to supplement the first. In a town as small as Anchor Point, though, it is nearly impossible to avoid the daily reality of interacting with someone he once stole from, someone who's house he once covertly entered without their consent. How can he scrape even an iota of trust back out of those betrayed neighbors?
"I ask for forgiveness from all of you for what I did and hope we can build a new trust between us," Hoxie wrote in his apology letter to the public. "And I am sorry."
"I know saying this won't change what I did or fix the damage I caused. But I have to start fixing what I did somewhere."
Karen Garcia can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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