It’s been a week since what’s being called “the hottest mugshot ever” took over the Internet and sent worldwide women swooning. As a journalist, I was all over the story when the news broke. But I didn’t say a word – not a Tweet, not a Facebook update, not even an Instagram meme. In a bizarre way that I couldn’t explain, the viral mugshot of Jeremy Meeks was haunting to me. I didn’t want to touch it. Until now.
Because I am Jeremy Meeks… sort of.
Jeremy Meeks is on lockdown and women think he’s hot. Women think I’m hot and I used to be on lockdown. Yup. Despite enjoying a glossy 10-year career as a celebrity magazine editor, I’m a former felon. I’ve been to prison. Twice. And I’ve taken so many mugshots I probably couldn’t count them if I tried. I’m not proud of them, and I’m definitely not proud of being an ex-con. Because even though I’ve been a law-abiding, tax-paying, contributing member of society since my release in 2003, my arrest record often shuts me down for that plum job I want. And there’s nothing “hot” about that. Trust me.
But I will say this – Jeremy Meeks is viral proof that being attractive has its privileges. It’s just one of those superficial, American contradictions that we can’t get rid of. With a slew of gun charges and a bounty-like bail, Meeks most likely won’t see freedom anytime soon. But if he did, modeling agencies say they would sign him on the spot, and easily book him at Versace and Armani for $15k-$30k a month, even as a convicted felon. Now if that’s not a textbook example of America being “looks-struck,” I don’t know what is.
I’m definitely not firing shots at Jeremy, because I’ve benefited from the same advantage. My past incarceration has never been a secret. My story has been widely published in national magazines, on reality TV, and I’ve even written a soon-to-be-released memoir that chronicles my crimes. Yet, the good-folk women at a popular Black women's magazine have featured me in their esteemed publication five times, three of those times as "Eye Candy." That was a little bizarre to me, because among the ranks of A-list dudes like Shemar Moore, Idris Elba, Tyson Beckford, Nick Cannon, and LL Cool J, I once landed at number 25 between Tyrese Gibson and Hosea Chanchez. Wow. Little old me – a former felon-turned journalist who just happened to be determined to turn his life around, gets listed in a hot list with Hollywood heavy-hitters. I was the only ordinary, nine-to-five-working dude on the whole list! It kind of blew my mind because I never expected that type of adoration and credit. When I got out of jail, all I wanted to be was a good journalist. Period. But I’d be lying if I said I scoffed at the accolades. It truly was an honor.
It seems my ex-felon status has never deterred women from dating me, even after I’ve told them the details. And, not to sound pompous, most of the women I’ve dated are high profile, stunningly gorgeous women in power positions that a lot of dudes without criminal records could never pull. But I’m quite certain that what’s worked in my favor, opposite from Jeremy Meeks, is that I’m not in jail anymore, and I haven’t been for a long time. I’m also a professional living an honest life, who takes pride in being a decent, nice guy. My bad-boy edge, regardless of whether women think it’s attractive or a red flag, is somewhat neutralized because I’m 100 percent legit now. At the end of the day, that’s what women respect about me most. My so-called good looks are just a bonus.
So the rub is this: Jeremy Meeks is currently in jail on gun charges as a repeat offender, with a $900,000 bail, yet he still has won the approval of women worldwide, along with potential employment at top model agencies. All from a criminal mugshot. Ironic, isn’t it?
In the famous words of Don King: “Only in America, boys and girls. Only in America.”
Joel Randell is a New York City-based magazine editor, and the author of the forthcoming memoir Razor Horizon: My Curious Journey from Jail to Celebrity Journalism. Follow him on Twitter: @JoelRandell.