Andy Wilbanks has a unique perspective when it comes to the issue of mailbox vandalism.

Wilbanks says he's had mailboxes that were destroyed by young vandals in the past so he knows what it is to be a victim. Even more importantly, he knows what it is to be a vandal himself.

"When I read The Cullman Times article Tuesday about mailboxes in the Missionary Grove area being damaged or destroyed by vandals throwing rocks, it brought back a lot of memories and none of them were fond memories," Wilbanks said. "There was a time 20 years ago when a group of seven of us got a kick out of going around the county destroying mailboxes."

The fun, however, quickly turned to anxiety and humiliation, Wilbanks said, when they were turned in to authorities and as a result arrested on charges of criminal mischief.

"I remember Sheriff Wendell Roden reading us the riot act. There we stood, all clean cut boys with nice families, and we were facing some serious jail time for a stupid act," Wilbanks said. "We had to go before Judge (Wilfred) Tucker, I believe, and the first thing he said to us was we were all looking at spending a minimum of six months in jail. The thought of that scared us to death, and I remember getting this huge lump in my throat."

In the end, the boys had to pay court costs. They also had to replace the mailboxes they had damaged.

"We had to go around and replace every mailbox we tore up, and that got all of our attention because over a period of weeks we probably destroyed close to 100 mailboxes," Wilbanks said. "Also, if the people were home when we replaced the box we had to go up and personally apologize, which was tougher than it might sound."

The experience, Wilbanks said, taught him a valuable lesson. It's a lesson he wishes the young vandals responsible for this past weekend's spree could learn without having to go through what he did as an 18-year-old who thought he was invincible and would never get caught.

"Every time there is an article like this in the paper or it's reported over the radio or TV, a family member or friend will call me and ask me what I've been up to. It's been 20 years and people still remember what I did. They do it as a joke, but it's serious. It's embarrassing for me and my family, and if I could turn the clock back I would never have been involved in that," Wilbanks said.

Wilbanks said he remembers calling his dad to tell him he had been arrested for vandalism.

"I told him what had happened. He said, 'Son, I did some crazy things when I was young. I'll back you up on this, but I can't handle it for you. You've got to be a man on this one,'" Wilbanks said. "Yes we were young, full of mischief and stupid, but those aren't excuses. There comes a point when you have to stand and be accountable. I learned that lesson the hard way and it's a lesson those responsible for the mailbox vandalism this past weekend will learn eventually."

Wilbanks said he often wonders what would have become of him if he hadn't been caught.

"I wonder if my activities with the guys might have escalated into something more serious," Wilbanks said. "In a way I guess I'm thankful I got caught because it enabled me to turn my life in an entirely different direction."

Today, Wilbanks likes to think of himself as a responsible adult with a teenage daughter of his own.

"She knows about my past and I've stressed to her how important it is for her to think on her own and make her own decisions and not let peer pressure put her in a position of embarrassing herself or her family," Wilbanks said.

As for what he would say to the vandals who destroyed mailboxes this past weekend if he had the opportunity, Wilbanks said he'd like to tell them to come clean and own up to what they did.

"At the very least they need to step back and take a serious look at their life and the direction they're headed in. If they don't watch, they'll be heading down a path they definitely don't want to follow just for the sake of having fun," Wilbanks said. "I encourage them to do the right thing. We all make mistakes, but if they come clean they can look back on this and take pride in knowing that by taking responsibility for their actions they may have made a positive impression on someone else.

"What I did is part of my past and it will always be a part of my past," Wilbanks said. "I don't want anyone else to make the same mistake."

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