Ray didn’t have any family and claimed to have been raised by gypsies.  But that is not what this story is about.

Ray robbed banks. I know because I sentenced him three times. What made Ray’s crimes unusual was that he pulled the bank heists in a wheel chair.

Years ago, Ray worked as a tree trimmer. He fell from a tree and was paralyzed. Seven years later, Ray got fed up and shot himself in the gut with a .38. The shot did not kill Ray, but it really screwed up his intestines and stomach.

One of the bank robberies involved a very small bank in a very small town. Ray rolled into the bank, grabbed a big letter opener from the receptionist and then demanded the cash. Taking the money, Ray rolled out of the bank and down the street. Minutes later, Ray was stopped on the street in his chair. I don’t know why, but this scene–the confrontation between Ray in his chair and the sheriff in the middle of a dusty small town street–reminded me of the film Gunfight at the O.K. Corral.

Ray explained that he had robbed the bank because he needed money and no one would help him. Despite his claim, Ray had received tons of help over the years from the Social Security Administration, social service agencies and other good Samaritans. He sure as hell needed that help. In addition to Ray’s horrible physical problems, he was illiterate. He could understand road signs, but could not read the words on them. Ray was not retarded, but he was not very bright either. He suffered from a mix of personality disorders. Although Ray was not dangerous in the sense that word is typically used in the crime biz, Ray could be downright nasty.

Later on, Ray got a van that was fixed up to allow him to drive. He could even sleep in the van if needed. One day the van was parked in front of a metropolitan bank. Ray rolled out of the bank. Snow had fallen. Ray was having trouble getting into the van. People passing by saw Ray’s troubles, and helped him get into the van. What they didn’t know was that Ray had just robbed the bank while pretending to the teller that he was packing heat.

Over a span of about 12 years, I sentenced Ray to the Bureau of Prisons on three occasions.  John V. was the AFPD who represented Ray on each case. John V. made sure that we knew a lot about Ray-from detailed medical workups to multiple mental health evaluations. As usual, John V. did a great job.

Ray was afraid of me. It had something to do with my black robe. The robe creeped him out. So, John V. suggested that when I dealt with Ray I should sit at counsel table in my shirtsleeves.  That I did, and Ray and I got along quite well.

Last year, I got a notice from the Bureau of Prisons. Ray had died in prison. It seems cruel, but Ray’s death put a smile on my face.


11 responses

  1. Among other things, the role of prison is (1) to deter the offender from repeating his criminal behavior, (2) to deter others from crime, (3) to extract a measure of retribution for offending against the laws we enact for ourselves, and (4) to protect the public from the offender by keeping him out of circulation. In my opinion, prisons almost never rehabilitate anyone and I doubt that prisons could be designed to rehabilitate. Even if prisons might be designed to try to rehabilitate, I have a deep distrust in governmental action designed to make people “better.” If you get a chance, go rent “A Clockwork Orange.

    All the best.


  2. I’m curious as to what you mean by #1. Does prison deter the offender from repeating his criminal behavior merely by removing the offender from society? I think you mean something else, because that would appear to be what you meant by #4. If you mean that prison provides deterrence from repeat criminal behavior *after* the sentence is completed, doesn’t that amount to a kind of rehabilitation?

    Also to clarify, do you think that prison education programs and/or counseling wasted efforts?

    Thanks for the provocative post.

  3. To clarify point 1, if I hit you with a hammer on your head because you did something I don’t like, and I had the power to do it again, perhaps the hammer strike would inhibit you from repeating that which caused me and my hammer to strike you. That’s the sense of no. 1. I wouldn’t call that rehabilitation, but a clinician might call it “aversion therapy.”

    I don’t think prison education programs or counseling such as cognitive behavioral therapy are a waste of time. I believe those programs are worthwhile. I grant you that the line is thin between my support of these programs, and my opposition to rehabilitation writ large as a goal. But here is my admittedly thinly sliced explanation:

    Providing a tool is one thing–the offender’s free will remains. The tool can be used or not used as the offender thinks best. Rehabilitation implies the breaking down of the offender’s free will, and the imposition of a will that is external to the offender. In the second situation, the offender does not consciously decide to use the tool, the offender has been forced to use the tool.
    All the best.


  4. Judge Kopf:

    Your post reminds me of the hilarious “gub” scene in Woody Allen’s Take the Money and Run. http://www.funnyordie.com/videos/dd7248e10a/bigdowner-presents-take-the-money-and-run. My boss (a long-time AFPD) first showed me this clip while we were defending a client against an attempted bank robbery charge. Our client, like Ray and Allen’s Virgil Starkwell, was accused of pretending to the teller that he was packing heat. The problem was that this teller didn’t believe our client was actually trying to rob her. She literally laughed him out of the bank. Poor guy. Anyway, thanks for giving me an excuse to revisit that clip.

    – Lauren

  5. Lauren,

    I am ashamed to say I had never seen that clip before.

    I laughed my ass off, and spit out my dentures while watching it now, for the first time. Thanks ever so much.

    All the best.


  6. My dad has had many interesting clients over the years. One was a guy in a wheelchair who was convicted of timber theft.

  7. That’s a good example of why the practice of law can be an endlessly fascinating experience. All the best.


  8. Marc, at least in the federal system, probation is thought of as alternative to incarceration where the costs and benefits to society are thought to weigh in favor of a less expensive or less punitive form of punishment. And, sure probation can be and is sometimes abused.
    For good or ill, you seldom see probationary sentences in the federal courts. I can’t remember the statistics but probationary sentences in the federal courts comprise only a small fraction of the total sentences. Also, note that after federal prisoners serve their prison sentences, they typically have to serve years of supervised release afterwards where their lives are monitored in rather strict fashion.

    All the best.


  9. Pingback: Peace, finally « Hercules and the umpire.

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