While other young girls grew up playing with dolls, Courtney Smith had handcuffs and shackles as toys. She spent a lot of time inside prison sally ports as well, waiting for her dad to pick up accused criminals.
Such was life as the daughter of a professional bail bondsman — and occasional bounty hunter. Every day was like a "take your daughter to work" day. And every day prepared her to eventually take over the company.
These days, the 31-year-old is the owner of Smith Bail Bonds, the bail-posting service on Carey Avenue in Wilkes-Barre that her grandfather started six decades ago.
"This is what I was born to do," Smith told The Citizens' Voice.
She was in the news a lot last week after a defendant she bailed out, Clyde Tonkin, skipped his child-rape trial. She then led a dayslong effort to capture him. Smith eventually got her man. She concocted a plan to catch him by creating a fake story that a pro bono human rights attorney secured him amnesty and a new trial.
"I'm a bail bondsman," Smith said, making it known she prefers not to be called bondswoman because it sounds odd. "If someone misses court, it's my duty to make sure they appear."
The process of posting bail is a business agreement between Smith and a client, she explained. A large part of that agreement is the promise to show up for court hearings until the case reaches a resolution. If that promise is broken, Smith sets out to track that person down.
"Then, we turn into bounty hunters," she said.
Smith says she has a posse of people she dispatches to help her track down fugitives.
"It's 24 hours a day, seven days a week, every minute of my life," Smith said. "But I love it."
Smith notes that her company just doesn't post bail for anyone who walks in or calls. She is on the hook for the money should a defendant abscond. If a defendant flees after she posts his bail, she must find him within a year or the money is lost.
She considers a person's background, ties to the community, and a host of other factors before deciding to front the money for them.
"Our family's motto is good bail or no bail. If we don't think a person is going to appear, we don't post bail," Smith said. "My entire job is based on intuition."