A Bipolar Dad Is Serving Life For Stealing Three WWII Rifles, Two Bayonets, Tools, And DVDs

ACLUJoel Daigle and his sons

Florida dad Joel Daigle, who has struggled with
bipolar disorderfor years, is one of 3,278 Americans who will probably
die in prison for a nonviolent crime.

Daigle is serving life in prison without the possibility of parole for a 2008 theft of tools, three World War II rifles, two bayonets, and DVDs, according to a new ACLU report. He and his wife, Nicole, both say he was depressed at the time of the burglary, when he was 26 years old.

The father of two young sons had been “self-medicating” with narcotics because he had no insurance to treat his bipolar disorder — a serious illness characterised by mania (extreme hyperactivity) and severe depression.

Florida Judge Dan L. Vaughn couldn’t give Daigle any leniency, though. Under Florida’s harsh Prison Releasee Reoffender Law, Daigle had to get life in prison because he had prior offenses. (Those prior convictions includes credit card fraud, burglary, and drug possession, according to Florida news site tcpalm.com.)

Daigle was also convicted of “armed burglary” because he stole guns; it didn’t matter that they didn’t contain any ammunition. It also didn’t matter that the man Daigle had stolen from, Tyler Morris, asked the judge to give Daigle five to 10 years in prison instead of life, according to the ACLU. The judge also couldn’t pay attention to pleas for leniency from Daigle’s wife, Nicole, who told the court that Daigle had managed to be an amazing father despite his lifelong problems with mental illness.

From her letter to the court, which she posted on the website Prison Talk:

The purpose for my letter is to take a moment to inform you of his character, the type of man, father and husband, Joel Daigle is, and that this man, is not a menace to society or something society can do without …

Throughout the time I have known him, he has always been a very productive, hard working and good hearted man to myself, my children, our family, and even strangers he would encounter. He has always tried his best to bring in a steady paycheck and provide for his children. We have one child together, and I have a son from a prior relationship for which his biological father is not in his life at all. Joel adopted him.

My husband has always treated both children equally and accepted the roll of father to both boys. My sons are Nicholas who is age 7, and Andrew who is age 3, and both refer to my husband as “Daddy.”

Public defenders appealed Daigle’s sentence, but a Florida state appeals court affirmed the life sentence in a one-page order that referred to two other Florida cases. One of those cases found that a person could get convicted of armed robbery for stealing an unloaded gun.

Daigle has already served five years for stealing the unloaded rifles and the bayonets and the tools and the DVDs. It’s not clear whether he’s received adequate treatment for his bipolar disorder. (He is in good company, though: The Wall Street Journal recently called jails the “new asylums” because so many mentally ill people are doing time.)

The ACLU reports that Daigle has taken a parenting class during his five years in prison. He sees his sons twice a year.

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