Re: 'We were big softies all the way' - Yeah, right
"We really didn't mean it" is absurd.
This was blatant blackmail and it should be thought of as such. They might as well have held a gun to the kid's head. Being a felon has all sorts of implications beyond the trip to jail.
I challenge anyone trying to trivialize the prison sentence to go spend 6 months in a US federal prison NOW.
Talk is cheap.