TRAVERSE CITY — "Frequent fliers" aren't uncommon at the Grand Traverse County Jail.
Several repeat offenders are in and out two or three times a year, men and women who can't seem to break a cycle of crime or substance abuse. Some are out for weeks, some just days before they again run afoul of the law.
If ending up behind bars was a contest, Michael Edward Morgan would be the consensus champion.
Morgan, who is homeless, has been arrested 105 times on roughly 130 complaints or charges since 1994. That's almost six arrests per year, in addition to dozens of disturbances that didn't result in an arrest. None of his crimes were serious.
He's done a cumulative total of about nine years in jail, he said, with no individual stint longer than eight months.
"It's certainly something I'm embarrassed about," he said during a recent interview at the jail. "It's not something I go around talking about or boasting about, certainly. It's just one of those really bizarre things about me."
Police said Morgan, 64, is a prime example of a small minority of local homeless people who seem to thumb their noses at both authorities and a network of support for people who live on the streets. To Morgan, it's not that simple.
"It's really a difficult cycle to break once it becomes a way of life," he said. "And obviously it's a way of life for me."
'Home away from no home'
Morgan originally hails from Columbus, Ohio, and lived in several states before he came to Traverse City in 1993. He said he has a bachelor's degree in business management from the University of South Florida, and held various jobs in sales, warehousing and even substitute teaching prior to becoming homeless for good in 1999.
He was married twice and has two children, 40 and 34, from his first marriage, but he hasn't seen either child in years. He admits he's a chronic alcoholic, and both he and police said almost all of his arrests were tied to alcohol consumption. He has more than 20 theft arrests — mostly for stealing booze — and plenty more for drunk and disorderly behavior or trespassing.
But Morgan doesn't think drinking is the problem. He's been divorced since 1999, and believes the lack of a steady female companion prompted him to make poor decisions.
"Being in a relationship tends to keep me on the straight and narrow. I'm obviously not out roaming the streets," he said. "Without it, I have no one to account to, and it makes it easier for me to be irresponsible."
The jail has been Morgan's "home away from no home," for too long, he said.
"I'm tired of this place being a revolving door for me. I'm tired of that, and they're probably tired of seeing me here, in and out, in and out," he said. "I'd like to get back to a more normal way of life. I'd like to have a roof over my head."
Sometimes, though, the jail is a good thing to have around.
"Have I used this place in the past, have I purposely got myself arrested so I could have three meals a day and roof over my head when it's cold outside?" he said. "You bet I've done it."
Morgan said he'll never quit drinking, and he's largely resigned to his way of life.
"I don't know if there's an end to this. There's got to be an end to me, literally," he said. "I don't know. I can't see my lifestyle changing, I really can't."
Part of that is because he's convinced he'll never land a job. He gets a small inheritance and hopes to qualify for Social Security, but long-term income is a pipe dream.
"With my criminal record and my age working against me, who's going to ever want to hire me?" he said. "I'm pretty much resigned to the fact that I'm not employable anymore."
He also believes he suffers from mental illness.
"I absolutely believe that if you take people who are really sane, really together mentally, if you put those people on the street long enough, living a homeless lifestyle, they're going to become mentally ill," he said. "It is a very stressful situation, and sooner or later, if you spend a enough time on the streets, you're going to start to break down."
But the homeless life isn't all bad, he said.
"There's a certain amount of adventure involved in it," he said. "I'm almost inclined to say it's an addictive feature about being homeless, the fact that there's always a change, no two days are alike."
Being homeless doesn't give Morgan a blank check to commit crimes, no matter how minor.
"Although we understand that living on the street is difficult, we expect people to behave within the confines of the law and not do as they please simply because they are homeless," Traverse City Police Capt. Brian Heffner said.
As many as 700 people in the region are homeless, Heffner said, including those who couch surf or don't otherwise have a permanent home. Only about 10 percent are noticeable, and an even smaller minority cause problems.
"Of those 70 people ... less than 10 percent of those are individuals we run into on a daily basis, for an example, Mr. Morgan," he said.
Morgan's repeated arrests — he's now in jail after a drunken tirade at a Wendy's restaurant — lead to constant frustration and major expenses for city police and the Grand Traverse County Sheriff's Department.
"Tens of thousands of dollars have been spent on the arrest, incarceration and medical treatment of this individual alone," Heffner said.
District Court Judge Thomas J. Phillips, who's had plenty of encounters with Morgan, couldn't talk specifically about him because of a pending case. But he said repeat offenders need to be open to changing their behavior if improvement is to be made.
"The only people we are able to help are the people who want to help themselves," he said. "They have to want to change."
Heffner hopes Morgan's situation is resolved.
"In this situation, certain individuals would call for us to lock him up and throw away the key," Heffner said. "However, Mr. Morgan's issues are clearly more than that of him just wanting to commit crimes. Getting to those underlying issues that led to Mr. Morgan getting arrested so many times is where we as a community need to start."