So, here’s the deal.

Fifteen years ago, as a young and admittedly troubled man, Cornealious “Mike” Anderson was convicted of armed robbery after he and friends stuck up a Burger King manager making a deposit. After his conviction, he posted bond and was released during the appeals process. His appeals failed and he waited for the state to tell him to report to prison. He waited and waited. He called his lawyer who told him to just keep waiting. The state would surely come for him.

The state never came. In the meantime, he got married, had four kids, and led a law-abiding life. He lived under his name, registered a business, and never tried to hide. A clerical error told Missouri officials Anderson was already in jail. In 2013, when he was to be released, Missouri finally realized its oversight. They sent a SWAT team to pick up Anderson and make him serve his 13-year-sentence. He was 22 when he was convicted. He’ll now be 50 with grown children if he serves all his time.

You can listen to Anderson’s story, below. For what it’s worth, the victim, who was deeply affected by his mugging, doesn’t think Anderson should be imprisoned:

“It’s their fault, so I mean it’s like they’re going to try and penalize him for another 13 years,’’ said the man, identified only as Dennis on “This American Life.” “That don’t seem right.”

Some argue that if the hope or point of prison is rehabilitation, then Anderson’s already rehabilitated. That much is certainly true. But part of a prison sentence is simply punitive. Should Anderson have to pay that debt regardless of his status as a stand-up citizen?

On the other hand, doesn’t the state have to pay a price for its mistake? If any of us had neglected to, say, pay our tax bills for 13 years there’d damn sure be a penalty involved. I’d rather let these children keep their father and let the state keep collecting the tax revenue from his business and his family full of current and future decent citizens rather than spending money to keep him in jail.

A Change.org petition to the Missouri AG for his release has almost 20,000 signatures.

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