Banning "bad guys" a bad idea?
Mickel Wilson is 40 years old, a career drug dealer out on parole, a man who has been ordered to move from the only home he insists he's ever had.
"I have nowhere else to go." Wilson said.
"You can't go to another county somewhere?" asked Fox 5 I-Team reporter Randy Travis.
"I ain't got no money," he insisted. "No family in another county that you know... I'm pretty sure I got family in another county but I don't know. Who wants a grown man 40 years old come stay with them, ain't got no money, ain't got no job?"
Wilson has been banished from Upson County, meaning he can't live there, work there, travel through there without risking being caught and a judge ultimately ordering him back to prison.
Georgia is one of 16 states whose Constitution specifically forbids banishment:
"...neither banishment beyond the limits of the state nor whipping shall be allowed as a punishment for crime."
But some career criminals still face banishment as part of their sentence. Prosecutors and judges simply ban them from certain counties or judicial circuits -- not the entire state -- allowing them to move to another part of Georgia.
The idea is to take a longtime drug dealer or chronic thief out of his or her environment, away from bad influences and force them to start anew somewhere else.
Does it work? A Fox 5 I-Team investigation discovered no one has ever studied the hundreds of cases of banishment to see how many stay out of trouble, and how many wind up back in jail in their new home.
Houston County district attorney George Hartwig may be the biggest proponent of banishment in Georgia. He keeps no numbers, but agrees with estimates of 400 cases where drug dealers, thieves and domestic violence offenders were banished from Houston and surrounding counties.
"It's not going to solve the world's problems," he admitted. "But it's a tool."
Hartwig also says he's certain the tool works because few offenders who are banished wind up back in his courtroom for getting into trouble in another county and having their probation revoked.
"I think we've been pretty successful, but we have no statistics to track," he told the Fox 5 I-Team.
A few days before his deadline to move, Mickel Wilson showed the Fox 5 I-Team around Thomaston
"Basically nothing change around here," he said, pointing to a popular restaurant. "That's the best chicken in Thomaston. The best fried chicken right there."
He says don't feel sorry for him. He agrees he did all this to himself.
"This is where I first started getting in trouble right here," Wilson says as they pull into an apartment complex on the outskirts of town."
Trouble that started with breaking and entering as a 14-year-old... eventually leading to a career in dealing crack on the streets of Thomaston. Multiple trips to prison. Multiple chances blown.
He came home on parole in November 2014 with 25 bucks in his pocket.... but a big change he says in his heart.
"I'm just a different man. I just know that I'm different. I know I've changed and I'm just... tired of going to prison, said Wilson.
Yet prison is where he could easily wind up again. To resolve an outstanding theft by taking charge, Wilson negotiated a plea agreement that includes banishment from the four-county judicial circuit. He's supposed to leave town and stay away for 10 years.
District attorney Scott Ballard plans to use banishment even more in future plea bargains.
Fox 5 I-Team: How do you know it works?
Ballard: I don't know if I've seen any scientific studies. It's just common sense to me. It's very appropriate in drug sale cases where you don't have people coming out of prison and immediately being surrounded by their former customers.
Fox 5 I-Team: What about somebody who doesn't have any place to go? Do they just wind up back in prison?
Ballard: Well, that's their problem.
Right now Wilson shares a house with his girlfriend... working for a local tree service. He checks in with his parole officer by phone every afternoon.
He showed the Fox 5 I-Team parts of Thomaston where he once sold drugs... took them to the neighborhood where he committed his first crime.
Fox 5 I-Team: The whole idea of banning you from Upson County is to take you away from places like this.
Wilson: Well, I have no more desire for places like this. I have no more desire for places like this. No more friends. Friends I used to hang with to get in trouble you know?
Fox 5 I-Team: They're not here anymore?
Wilson: I'm not there with them anymore.
Next month he goes back to court to ask a judge to modify his sentence. The DA says they will not oppose his request to drop banishment because he's now struggling with diabetes and needs family support.
Wilson thinks his only shot at rehabilitation is staying in the one place where he's forbidden to live... rather than pass his problems on to another Georgia county.
"Why even let me out of prison if you're not going to give me another chance?" asks Wilson.