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Cedar Rapids bondwoman offers advice with the bail

Her clients quickly learn not to mess with 'Mama O'

Tammy Oconnor opened Wildside Bail Bonds in November in the same shop where she and her husband, John, operate Wildside Tattoo and Body Piercing at 413 First Ave. SW in Cedar Rapids. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)
Tammy Oconnor opened Wildside Bail Bonds in November in the same shop where she and her husband, John, operate Wildside Tattoo and Body Piercing at 413 First Ave. SW in Cedar Rapids. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)
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CEDAR RAPIDS — She’s a mothering type who feels God put her in a position to help those in trouble. But she has no problem getting tough and, if tested, she will show how tenacious she can be.

“No show ... Deal with Mama O” is bondwoman Tammy Oconnor’s proverb, which any defendant facing jail time quickly learns if the call her at Wildside Bail Bonds in the middle of night.

Oconnor, 47, of Cedar Rapids, said “I’m too old to chase down people.” But she will. One man found that out last month when he jumped bail on drug charges.

“I looked for him for three weeks,” Oconnor said. “I was all over staking out places. Going back every day to places ... girlfriends’ houses. I finally caught him with (help from) a parole officer — not too far down the street from this shop.”

When police had the 6-foot-3, 400-pound man face down on the pavement, Oconnor leaned down and asked, “Remember me?” He said yes, commending her on her persistence, vowing to tell others not to mess with her because she would find them.

Bail bondsmen — and women — put up bail for people who are charged with a crime, getting them out of jail and guaranteeing they’ll show up for future court dates. If the suspect doesn’t, the bail bondspersons forfeit the bail — unless they find the suspect and returns him or her to jail.

Oconnor and her husband, John, decided to open a bail bonds shop last year when someone who had just gotten out of jail came into Wildside Tatoo and Body Piercing, the business she has co-owned with her husband since 1998. The man wanted to re-pierce his piercings, which he had to remove while in jail.

“I thought this could be a one-stop shop,” Oconnor said, laughing.

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bad choices

Within the first week of opening the bail bonds business inside the tattoo shop, she was offered sex and drugs — by males and females — in trade for bail. She made it clear she wasn’t running that kind of business.

“I pick and choose my bonds,” Oconnor said. “If I don’t like the (crime), I won’t take them. I won’t take someone charged with murder or a pedophile. And I won’t take them if there is no means to secure a bond.”

She has taken precautions with the new venture, pointing to the additional surveillance cameras her husband installed. And, she said, “I carry” a gun and Mace.

Oconnor has placed 125 bonds since opening her office.

Oconnor looks more like a nurse at a dermatology practice, which she was until she retired last September, than someone who tracks and chases bad guys.

But she said she doesn’t view her clients as bad, and the chases are few.

Most of her clients have drunken driving charges — “people making a bad choice.” Others face drug or theft charges.

“It’s not my job to judge,” she said. “I have a daughter and stepson but have about 150 ‘kids’ I mother. I run my bond company different from others. I make them (clients) check in with me every week, usually by text. I send them reminders for court dates.”

‘here to help’

John Oconnor said his wife goes out of her way to help clients. She has picked them up for court, taken them to the hospital or to get treatment. But usually she meets them at the jail.

“I’m always concerned, but she’s careful, and I’ve been in business for 20 years, so I know a lot of people and will check them out,” John Oconnor said. “Tammy is just a genuine, caring person with good morals. She’s always looking out for others.”

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Tammy Oconnor said some clients stay in touch with her and text her for advice. She doesn’t mind because she knows they don’t have anybody else.

“Most of these clients come from backgrounds where they were never taught any better,” Oconnor said. “I feel like I’m here to help.”

She said she recently bonded out a 23-year-old woman with anger issues. The woman smashed a card reader at the grocery store after she was carded when buying beer while others were not.

She learned the 23-year-old had been abandoned by her mother as a child and then abandoned again when she was pregnant.

Oconnor told the woman to change the pattern — “Don’t be your mom.”

family businesses

Oconnor admits the bond business wasn’t easy in the beginning, given the clients and the job’s crazy hours.

“But when that phone rings, it’s money,” Oconnor said with a grin. “I had to tell myself: You want sleep or money?”

The tattoo side wasn’t easy either in the beginning, she said. She and her husband started out in Mount Vernon in 1998 and opened the Cedar Rapids shop, at 413 First Ave. SW, in 2006. The 2008 flood forced them into a temporary space for a year before they rebuilt Wildside at the same First Avenue location.

The entire Oconnor family is involved with both Wildside businesses. The couple’s children, Megan, 27, is a body piercer and has served as a bounty hunter for her mother, and their son, Josh, 28, is a tattoo artist.

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“We are very blessed with the business, and we hope the kids will take over both businesses some day,” Oconnor said.

l Comments: (319) 398-8318; trish.mehaffey@thegazette.com

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