Michelle Esquenazi, bail bondsman and the founder and CEO of Empire Bail Bonds, continues to fight for gender equality as the industry begins to restore from the initial destruction of Covid-19. As a leading woman in the industry, especially in New York, she has been pivoting her business approach through the pandemic and New York’s latest bail law. Initially, the new law eliminated pretrial detention and cash bail as an option. Judges had the option of setting cash bail and for most misdemeanors and nonviolent felonies, cash bail was no longer permitted. Bail agents feared that this new bill would put them out of business. Three months after the bill went into effect, the state legislator amended it so that now there are more situations where the judge can impose cash bail.
During the adversity and uncertainty, Esquenazi expanded her position within the industry. In February, right before the nation underwent quarantine, she founded the National Association of Bail Agents to message the importance of bail agents and fugitive reconstruction agents in every successful criminal justice system throughout the nation. The Association has attracted roughly 2,000 members.
As a leading woman in the male-dominated industry, Esquenazi quickly learned how to deal with large egos. “I was jumping into a universe that had very little to do with women,” she shares, “and how to navigate that is something that I still work on to this day. A lot of the time [when working with men], it’s not about whatever cause it is that we’re working on, whether it’s a corporate cause or social cause, it’s about them. I find when women work together, it’s more about we. I still have to learn how to navigate that. I try to strip whomever it is of their ego, and certain women have this as well, but it’s fewer, bringing them back to being human. For example, if I met a very successful and egotistical man, instead of asking him about the stock market, I’d say something like, ‘how are your children?'”
Esquenazi faced many challenges at the start of her career. Being a domestic violence survivor meant she had to raise her children as a single mother while attending school to become a paralegal. Her introduction into bail bonds came through a relative who had married a bail bondsman. She was hired to run the office. “I realized that I was not only good at what I did, but I really liked helping people who were in bad positions because I came from that,” she states. “Shortly thereafter, I thought I could possibly do this on my own.”
She left the first bond office and began working with another bondsman who fostered her knowledge and gave her the experience needed to start her own business. As she organized her company, her niece and nephew joined the team. “I started teaching them every single thing I knew,” Esquenazi explains. “Then I said, ‘well, our first shop was in Nassau County, but here’s the thing, we’re all from Brooklyn.’ It was a natural parlay to open up another office in Brooklyn.” Within her two decades of working in the industry, Esquenazi opened seven locations throughout New York. As of January, she has consolidated to two offices because of the bail reform.
Although Esquenazi sacrificed moments with her children to transition and expand her company, she focused on the following essential steps to remain steadfast:
- Utilize your resources, especially Google. Research the top women leaders in your industry and connect with them. Discover the different opportunities available and what schooling or certificates may be needed to advance in your area.
- Make sure you have everything in place. Take care of not only the business but the personal issues as well. If your personal life is out of order, it will affect how you run your business.
- Understand that everyone makes mistakes. Forgive yourself and move on. Don’t let past regrets hold you back from moving forward.
“The biggest lesson that I have learned is that, I think it’s very MLK, not to judge a person by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character,” Esquenazi concludes. “I did not grow up in a world that was a white world. I don’t believe in messaging to young children that they’re limited because of their skin color.”