Walking into Leah Hulan’s Grumpy’s Bail Bonds office in downtown Nashville is more akin to walking into someone’s home than into an office, much less an office that centers around bailing people out of jail. The office is in an historic building near Second Avenue and Union Street. It has bedrooms for when agents need to be on call, a large TV room, a personal gym, a bar and office areas. The walls feature bold colors, including red, purple and green.
Leah was running late the morning of our interview and apologized, saying she almost cancelled the interview as it’s been a tough time. She and her husband of 20 years are divorcing, and they are about a month into this decision. She also is the owner of Arcadian Wrestling Association, which she launched in January. So, now she’s running two businesses and raising her 10-year-old daughter. She’s also a Girl Scout leader and is active in the PTA … and now dealing with a divorce from a 20-year marriage. “I need a lot of love and prayers right now. It’s hard.” This is how our interview began, diving deep and speaking from the heart.
How did you get involved in the bail bonds business?
It started from a ministry. My husband and I were mentoring boys who were in the Williamson County jail, juveniles who had been involved in a pretty bad crime, so they were in the adult jail, but separate from the general population because of their age. We found out about them through a bible study we were leading for at-risk boys in the area … these boys were friends with the boys in jail. Through this, we noticed all the bail bondsmen at jail … my husband had just lost his job and we were freaking out a bit … we realized we could do this and from the beginning, it was a ministry. We even hosted AA meetings at my Franklin office until the meetings outgrew our space.
I’ve dealt with addiction in my life, mine for an eating disorder, and I was in treatment for two to three years. This helps me in bail bonding as 80% of the people needing bail are not bad people but addicted to something — drugs, alcohol, a bad relationship … something. We deal with people who are in really bad situations.
How does bail work?
It’s a wonderful right to have the right to bail. Anyone who has ever lived in a country without this right knows this — they can just lock you up and you have no ability to leave. In America, you have the right to bail.
To be given bail, you can put all the money up yourself and you’ll get all your money back as long as you show up for court. No matter the outcome, guilty or innocent, you get the money back as it’s just insurance that justice can be served. But, most people use bail bondsman instead of putting up all the money themselves. So, we’re basically a private jailer. You have to put 10% down, which is our payment. We don’t cost the taxpayer anything. We operate under the auspices of the court. We’re an insurance company for freedom.
Grumpy’s pays the court if the person doesn’t show up. So, while it’s only 10% down, we’re on the line for the whole bail. So, we have to find them when they don’t show up. We can only be on the line for so much money through the court … we pay the court and it’s almost like a line of credit with them. The more fugitives we have on the run, the less bail we can give out until those fugitives are caught, and then our line goes back up. We are incentivized to make sure our people show up.
For the person seeking bail, their 10% to us is nonrefundable, but if they don’t show up, the court seizes the full amount — and that’s from us. People compare it to legalized gambling, as with each person we bail out, we’re gambling that they will show up in court. We have to keep up with them. You can lose your money if you bail out the wrong people.
Do you get to decide who you will and who you won’t bail out?
We get to decide who we get to bail out. Right now, and I don’t know why — more people have jumped bond than ever before. I think it’s just a general disrespect in and for authority.
We can lose a lot of money on bail jumpers. I’m in this to help people out, inspire them. But those that don’t show up to court … if their bail was $5,000, I only made $500 of their bond. But, to hire a bounty hunter, put my people up in hotels and pay for food and gas while we’re tracking somebody … I lose money on that bond. But, it’s still cheaper to track the person down than to lose all the bail money to the court.
How much of your job is fugitive recovery?
In a month? Hmmmm … red files, that’s what we call them. When they jump bail and don’t show up to court, we turn their file into a red file. We call it that because that file is now like a siren screaming at you! We have over 100 red files right now. I’m on the line for over $24,000,000.
Wow. That’s a ton of money. So, where does the name Grumpy’s come from?
I had come up with a lot of great names based on the ministry and outreach that this was founded on. Second Chance, Blessed Assurance … my husband hated them all. He was making me so mad because I came up with over a dozen names that I worked really hard on, and he would just dismiss them. I got really mad and said, “Let’s just call it Grumpy’s because that’s all this is doing for me.” The name came about honestly. He loved the name and it stuck.
How many people do you employ?
Fifteen full-time employees. But, we have about 30 bail agents that we contract with as well.
Your office is not at all what I expected.
I love to renovate old buildings, and when I get tired of chasing down fugitives, it’s nice to concentrate on pretty colors for the office!
Is there a lesson learned in this line of work that everyone could learn from?
Everyday. Probably the lesson that rings true everyday for me is just being thankful and being grateful. No matter what your problems are, in this line of work, you see people at their lowest. Legal trouble and addiction and social issues. People don’t wake up thinking they are going to do this. We are the first people to see them after getting arrested. They are mad that they have been arrested. They may be still be drunk, still wanting drugs. It’s humbling to see people like this, and it reminds me that it could always be worse. For the most part, these are good people who have done something terrible. That’s the lesson … everyday.
By the time my daughter was two, she had probably been in every jail in Middle Tennessee because we’ve always been joined at the hip. What I love about the young lady she is becoming is that she has a real heart for helping people in need. The people who walk in the door … they have a need, and it’s not just to get out of jail.
I understand you had a ROTC scholarship to get through college. How long did you stay in the military?
ROTC paid for college at MTSU. Little did I know that meant I had to serve four years in the active military! This still remains the experience in my life that I am the most proud of, even though I hope there is still a whole lot more for me to do in this life. But, to serve my country … it’s an honor and a blessing.
Is there a quote, saying or piece of advice that has had an impact on your life or you say often?
“The Lord renews his mercies everyday.” Thank God he does, as each day is a brand new day. I’m intrinsically a happy person. I wake up happy. I do go through struggles and heartache, and business is stressful. One of the things that keeps me going is that in this business there is so much opportunity to give. And that feels good as each day I’ve given it my all. I’m replenished and fulfilled to hit the ground running again.
This is my calling. That’s likely why I feel this way. There is so much opportunity to make a difference. It’s never a good day to go to jail. Pets are at home and children are at school. Who is going to take care of them? People have a lot of needs. I was put in this place to help.
And you own Arcadian Wrestling Association as well?!
Yes, I started that this past January with Chase Stevens, a pro wrestler. The big goal is to use the wrestling to do fundraising for charities. We’ve had fundraisers for Heart Babies, a 501(c)3 for babies with heart defects. We held others for the Franklin High School wrestling team and Make a Wish. We’re more passionate about it when we have a purpose. And, we’ve made lots of mistakes. It’s not easy to get people to come! People have been let down throughout the years with wrestling. For me, it’s a creative escape, and it’s fun to put on a show. We’ll do more shows, but I gotta get through this divorce and get my personal life on track.
I’m sure you’ve been called out for using your sex appeal in your marketing. What do you say to detractors?
(nodding) When I first started, I had to find a way to get people’s attention. I could hire a model or do it myself. I wanted to do it myself. I’ve always liked to be on stage. Miss Tennessee, Miss Tennessee USA … it’s just easy for me to be in front of a camera. My personality is really quirky and odd! But, if people find my ads sexy, it doesn’t hurt my feelings!
I am a Christian and have strong faith. People would say, “How can you do these sexy ads?” I didn’t know you couldn’t be a Christian and be sexy. I just try to be me. I just try to do something different so that people can remember in their time of need that they need to call me. If they call me, they really will get the best service and people who care. My people carry the same torch that I carry: to be passionate about helping people get out of jail.
What is one thing about you that our readers would be surprised to find out?
I’ve been myself my whole life, I’m used to myself. But, when people run into me who don’t know me, they say two things: “You’re so nice!,” which makes me happy. “You’re so smart!,” which makes me happy. Oh, three things. They also say, “You’re so short!” Yes, I am! I look way bigger on billboards.
I’m so sorry about your divorce. Seeing how positive you are, I know this is hard.
He has been my friend for 20 years, and it would be a real loss to me to not have that friend. I hope we can stay friends. Life is a journey.
I’ve got to ask you the same thing we ask all of our FACES. What are three light-hearted things you can’t live without?
- Hugs. Start out day and end the day with hugs.
- My high-heeled shoes. At least 5 inches. I wear them into the gym and put them on when I leave.
- My handcuffs. You never know when you need your handcuffs. Don’t leave home without your handcuffs!
Hugs, high-heeled shoes and handcuffs! Leah, thank you so much for sharing your day with us. You inspire us to tackle the day and be a positive force in our community.
And thanks to Ashley Hylbert for today’s gorgeous photos!