While other T-shirt wearers go for works of art or personal statements, Russell Hackler goes it alone by flaunting a telling treatise on crime and punishment. Blunt blue letters emblazoned across the chest of his two plain white T-shirts announce that MY RECORD AND TWO SLX PACKS EQUAL FOUR YEARS, and on the back, I AM ON FELONY PROBATION FOR THEFT. By agreeing to present this sartorial message for a year, whenever he was outside his house, Hackler, 30, was able to duck a lengthy prison term.
California Superior Court Judge Howard Broadman, who designed—and paid for—Hackler’s newest apparel, wanted to tailor the punishment to the crime. He came up with his novel “sentence” after hearing Hackler’s case in a Tulare County court. Hackler, unemployed at the time, was arrested after wandering drunkenly past a supermarket checkout with two six-packs of beer. Because of his lengthy record—including incarceration for robbery—he could have been jailed for four years. But Broadman, 40. who quit a career as a litigator to spend more time with his family, is not one to go by the books. “If prison isn’t going to work,” he reasoned, “maybe public humiliation will.” The thief couldn”t believe his ears when he heard Broadman’s deal. “I had to have him repeat it several times,” said Hackler. “I’m getting a second chance to make something of myself. This judge is different.”
Just how different remains to be seen. This week Hackler will appear before Broadman to plead not guilty to charges he and some friends burglarized a Visalia. Calif., residence. Police who canvassed local shops discovered that 48 Kennedy half-dollars taken from the home had been spent for beer at a nearby liquor store. They had little trouble, they say, in identifying one of the suspects: According to the police, Hackler was still wearing the T-shirt. “The concept isn’t wrong,” says a slightly red-faced Broadman, “the individual was wrong. I was burned.”