I spent this last week volunteering at a shelter. I guess volunteering is not entirely accurate. I volunteered to work at this particular one of the several places the court offered for fulfill my community service requirement.

Let me explain.

Three months ago, I got a speeding ticket. I’ve gotten tickets before that I disagreed with, where I felt like cops were trying to make a quota. This one I deserved. So instead of scheduling a trial and hoping the cop didn’t show up—(life hack)—I elected to accept the penalty. I believe in consequences.

Unfortunately, the US government and I have different ideas of what that means.

They sent me a fine that was about equal to a month of my rent. I was speeding, but I wasn’t going that fast. And I certainly don’t have that money… Being an out of work actor doesn’t pay as well as you might think.

So I called the court, picked a date, and asked the judge if there was any other way to atone for my infraction. She offered me community service.

I didn’t know this, but with a judge’s permission, you can get pretty much any fine commuted to community service. I got 25 hours due in two months.

I picked homelessness, something I care about, and last Thursday I got up at 4am and went down to the shelter. It was a wonderful experience; nothing difficult, just basic kitchen work. And yet it was met with extraordinary gratitude from the kitchen employees and hungry alike.

As I was driving home, something occurred to me. This is the way it should be. If you commit a harm against your community, like parking illegally, speeding, public intoxication, anything really, you shouldn’t have to simply pay money to the government. Especially if it’s money you don’t have. All that does is drive a greater wedge between those who can afford fees and those who can’t. Everyone pay the community by serving it. A parking ticket? Two hours of community service. A speeding ticket? Ten. Onward and upward, accordingly.

I understand that people have jobs, and time can be hard to come by, but people who can’t afford fines have to work overtime just to pay them as it is. I would have had to do so had I not had my fine commuted. So I encourage you, if you get a fine from the government, see about getting it commuted to community service. See if you can pay back by giving pack, rather than simply paying. It’s better for your community, it’s better for your bank account, and it’s better for your soul


  • Edward Hoke is an actor and writer, based in Los Angeles. Last summer, he completed his BA in Theater and Classics at Northwestern University after three years of study. He is an avid Red Sox fan.