Saturday, March 3, 2012

The Influence

The first time my brother David approached me about the bank robberies, I just laughed him off. We had been discussing the fact that I had a two month old baby, my rent was past due, I had lost my job and things were looking rather bleak. David looks at me and says, “Bro, this guy I was locked up with, told me how to get away with bank robbery.” I thought he was joking, or that he wouldn’t really want to rob a bank. “His old lady worked for Bank of the West for years. She says that from the time they know they are being robbed, until the police arrive, is about three minutes!” He was serious. “Do you know how much money you can grab in three minutes?” He was convincing. “If I think of a better way to help you feed Amanda, I’ll do it, but I say we hit this bank.”
About two weeks later, we took my Plymouth Valiant, about two and a half blocks, to the First California Savings and Loan. David went in while I sat with the car running. He was back out about thirty five seconds later, looking nervous as hell and walking real fast. He jumped in the passenger seat and said “Go man, but don’t speed, go like your leaving your business.” I complied, although my heart was racing out of control, and it was difficult not to put my foot to the floor and burn it up! We pulled the car into the covered garage behind my apartment building, left it there and went into the house. I noticed as we walked in that the sirens were just starting to wail. David pulled thirty five hundred dollars out of his shirt and split it with me fifty-fifty. I told him it didn’t seem right. He told me, “Hey, when we get caught, driving is the same as going in, and everyone gets caught.” I thought he was wrong, I really did. “Besides,” he said, “you’re going in next time.”
Seventeen hundred and fifty bucks in less than half an hour start to finish. I paid my rent and filled the house with groceries. I spent pretty much the rest on dope because that’s what we did. If it wasn’t for dope, there would be no bank robberies, no lost jobs, or hungry kids. Of course, I couldn’t see that then. I was still very young.
Three days later, David had a cool new ride. He didn’t have a wife or child to worry about. He spent his money on a car, of course he did. Then he was at the door and ready for the next one. I feigned enthusiasm.
This time, we went to the 7-11 at six in the morning. We pretended to make a phone call while we waited for the right car, the right sucker. Dave’s car couldn’t be used for any robbery; we would need that later, to get dope, after we were in pocket again. So we waited at the seven-eleven phone booth for a sucker to drive up, leave the car running and run in for cigarettes or coffee, then we jumped in his car and drove it quickly to the apartments; stashing it for the bank run later. My Plymouth was never driven by anyone I knew ever again. It was eventually towed away from the apartments, but was never identified in any robbery.  Anyway, this day the take was much more, about fifteen thousand, and that was all it took; I no longer got cold feet. I looked forward to my turn. I was convinced we’d never be caught. I went into the Wells Fargo Bank at the corner of Stevens Creek Blvd and Winchester Blvd. and came out the back door with seventeen thousand, five hundred and twenty dollars. All were brand new bills. A new stack of one hundred dollar bills is one hundred, hundreds, ten thousand dollars. That went in my jeans. I told David that we had gotten seven thousand five hundred and twenty dollars. We happily split that.
We were unstoppable. Sometimes I robbed banks with two grand still in my pocket from the last one. I bought my first Ford truck. I bought my friend Terry Lafond, his first Ford truck. Everybody I knew had new Levi’s and Red-Wing boots. My wife and kids were not hungry. My dope dealer was in seventh heaven. Hey, I’d told everybody I knew I was doing it. The story about the bank robberies would be broadcast on TV every evening and, of course, my house was always full of people. I’d shush everybody and listen seriously, telling them “That’s me and Dave, man, really, we’re real live gangsters.” I’m not sure they believed me, but it didn’t matter, I was a generous guy, I could say anything I wanted.
One day Dave showed up at the house real early. He was ghost pale, seemingly, from fear. I couldn’t imagine why. We had stopped doing the robberies after about two months or so. We later found out it was twenty-one banks, about $165,000.00. We hadn’t done any in a couple of weeks when Dave showed up that morning. He had a newspaper in his hand. When he motioned me upstairs, I knew it had to be serious. He started tearing through the pages of the paper but I saw what he was trying to show me right away. They had composite drawings of the both of us. The one of David was eerily accurate. I felt the fear go right through my guts.  They had tied the robberies together. That was new. The reporter said it was two guys working together, taking turns going in and driving the getaway car. That was new, and really scary. They said they might be brothers. That was horrifying. They also, scariest of all, were offering $2500.00 for any information leading to the arrest and conviction of these dangerous men. That was petrifying because everybody we knew, had heard me bragging. Any one of them, with a couple of exceptions, would take that 2500 and go, no problem.
The composites were the biggest reasons yet for me to remain cocksure I’d never have to pay any price for the robberies.  David was a different story.  The paper had him so good, he may have posed.  They had gotten every detail.  From his thin lips and lazy eye all the way to height and weight perfection, and almost unnaturally red hair.  The witnesses had seen me as 5’9″ to 6’0 with olive complexion, even boldly suggested that I might speak with a Spanish or Cuban accent.  I was practically given a pardon, in my mind anyway.  Being so naive was a comfortable place; I rested there.  But not for long.
About a week and a half later, David showed up early.  He said, “Man, I’m broke, we’ve got to do another bank.”  I was not broke, I was good, and I was back at work at a warehouse making nine bucks an hour.  For a twenty-year old kid in 1980, that was ok.  I had a vehicle, my little girl was now about five months old, and my wife was recovering slowly and painfully from Toxic Shock Syndrome.  We were going to be ok.  There was no way I had ever intended to rob another bank.  After all, hadn’t I just dodged a huge bullet here?  But I said, “We aren’t using my car.”  I knew he was too much in love with his car to dispose of it after a robbery.  I was wrong, of course.  He said to me, “Bro, I’m wanted for parole violation, probably for the robberies, and I’m going to lose this ride anyhow.  I got some stolen plates we can put on before we head to the bank.”  I said, “Let’s go.”  (I was such a shining example of manhood that it disgusts me now)
Anyway, I carried the plates on my lap while David drove as we cruised up and down city streets looking for a perfect target.
By the way, a perfect bank for robbing has some very important musts.  It must have two opposite entrances.  It must be on a main thoroughfare, but just in front of a neighborhood.  It must be federally insured, and lastly, the parking area cannot be restricted in any way. Full access from at least two sides, preferably three.
Anyway at some point in our search we found ourselves at a traffic light and we sat and waited for green.  Suddenly, David says to me in a frantic voice, “Bro that cop just recognized me, I know him, and he’s busted me before and now, he’s turning around!”  He started to pull over to the side of the road just as I rolled down the window and tossed the plates right in front of the lucky officer.  “Go!” I said, “don’t stop, we can lose them.”   I guess I suddenly grew some nuts or something because I was in charge.  Telling David where to turn, where the cops were (now there were a lot of them), and to stay calm, we would get away; I just “knew it”.
We went at top speed right through the banks and lawyers section of San Jose, on Hedding and Bird streets.  We went across red lights and miraculously, in the middle of a busy morning, nobody crashed.  We were really going to make it, if I could just come up with a destination.  As it was, we were just guessing, driving faster than we were thinking and getting real lucky. Then we hit a dead end.  We were suddenly stopping.  We had come up behind the FMC Corporation by N. 1st Street and Market Blvd.  We jumped out of the car and we both ran in different directions (planned, for then, maybe one will escape).  I found myself heading directly for the old rail road yards there behind FMC, I had no idea, nor did I wonder which way Dave went. Fortunately, I can run, I always could.  With a dose of primal fear and adrenaline on the side, I was gone, baby.  Because David had been the reason for the intended traffic stop and he was the main target, they mostly followed him.  While I completely immersed myself in a loose mountain of gravel and stayed for three hours, David was caught, beaten severely, and arrested.
After three hours, during which time I actually slept, I crawled very slowly out of my gravel cocoon and simply walked home.  I told my beautiful wife what had happened and complained about how wrong the San Jose Police were and went right back into my fearless, ignorant bliss.
ÏÏ
The days following Dave’s arrest I learned plenty about my situation. I received many calls from the county jail so that Dave could update me on the investigation. The charges for robbery had not been filed against anyone but they felt they had their man and questioned him endlessly for several days. They wanted to know who his partner was. They even offered some leniency if he were to cooperate and give them a name. We laughed at that because obviously David was the criminal. Whoever this mystery person turned out to be, he was a follower, if not a reluctant participant. Anyway, I was advised to lay low because they had some evidence having to do with the apartment building I lived in. Apparently David had previously used it as his home address. Leaving a trail that could eventually lead to me. Scary. At this time, I had never been considered a suspect. I was not a known criminal. I was ghostly white and painfully thin and almost seven feet tall. Hardly the description of the man they were after.
Enter into the story now, one Terry LaFond. Terry had been a close friend of mine, and ours for several years. A bit older than I but very much a regular in our crowd. Everyone was a bit older than I. Anyhow, during the time of feast, while the robberies were still paying off and going well, Terry had driven a second getaway car for one of the bigger heists. That is to say that David and I both entered a Great Western Savings and Loan at a shopping mall. When exiting, I jumped into the driver’s seat of the first getaway; we careened away while removing over shirts and makeup. We drove only as far as the other side of the huge mall parking area, Terry waited there in my baby blue Coupe Deville. We left our “disguises” in the throw away vehicle and Terry took us calmly away.  So, he was a trusted ally. After that robbery, as a matter of fact, I had bought him a small travel trailer that he and his girl could live in out at the fairgrounds trailer park. We were close.
After Dave was arrested Terry had been using the Coupe quite often. I allowed this because I drove my Ford pickup truck (some things never change).  He needed wheels. “Go Brother”.
Terry was, like Dave, an ex-con. One night while he was driving down the freeway to deliver some drugs in my car, he was pulled over. He was found to be on parole, was subsequently searched and detained in a police car.  The officers at the scene proceeded to tear the car apart. They had found three twenty dollar bags of methamphetamine in Terry’s possession. As an ex-convict, he was going back to prison, guaranteed. As a man, he was broken.  He stated, without being asked, from the back seat of the cruiser, “I know who’s been doing all those bank robberies.” The officer turned and asked how he knew.  “I drove this Caddy as a getaway car for one of them.” Now the officer was really interested. “I would look at Lloyd Miller.” was all he had left to say.
Now obviously, I was not present when the whole thing took place in the police car. I didn’t have to be. I know it all word for word, every detail. I’ve read it in every court document, every arrest report. Every piece of evidence against me started with that conversation in the police cruiser between Officer Teddy Miller and Terry Lafond. (I.e. stoolie)
The police now had a starting point to find David’s partner. I lived in the right apartment complex. I was David’s brother and semi-constant companion. I was the registered owner of a confessed getaway driver’s vehicle. They now put somebody watching the apartments. They now took a photograph of me to every eye witness and asked if this could be the guy. My proverbial goose was cooked.
I’ll leave out some detail but my arrest was even more dramatic than Dave’s. They did not hurt me though. They surrounded my sister’s house with helicopters, newsmen, FBI agents and lots of guns.  They lured my wife out of the house with a weird phone call from her sister and went in and showed me who was boss in a real quick, efficient  no-bullshit way. They had in their possession a Federal Arrest Warrant with none other than the stamp of the president of the United States of America, Ronald Reagan. Bank robbery is a federal crime.
I had very little courtroom experience prior to the great robberies.  I’d seen it on television.  Movies depict some formal drama that seems real.
This trial would turn out to be one of the most educational, riveting, and meaningful experiences of my entire life.  I learned about due process.  I learned which lies are considered lies, and which ones are not.  I especially began a journey into learning about myself.  What I’m made of.  What it takes to be held responsible for my own actions.  I got to find out if I can take as much as I can dish out.  I got to find out what it means to be a man.
I was arrested and formally charged with four open counts of Bank Robbery.  David too was now served charges for the robberies.  At first we each had four separate counts.  We were considered co-defendants and were to be tried jointly in Federal Court.  We were being held, temporarily, in the City Prison in San Francisco.
The morning of the third day of my incarceration we were taken into a chamber room that had barely enough standing room for the ten or so participants.  I expected more cameras, more fanfare.  It was cut and dried.  We were formally charged.  Each side had a few words to say, then the judge stated, “In the interest of justice these charges are dropped.” I was astounded.  My attorney turned to me and whispered, “Don’t get excited.” Federal Marshals took us out of big government handcuffs and left the courtroom.  I was still standing with my mouth open, not knowing what the hell was going on.  Apparently, federal courts at this time didn’t choose to prosecute bank robbers unless they had either used automatic weapons, or taken hostages.  Neither of those circumstances was involved with our little case. The federal courts would then rely on the arresting counties to prosecute these cases.  Within about forty-five seconds of being released from one set of cuffs, I was put into cuffs belonging to the Santa Clara County Sheriff Department and transported to the jail in San Jose, where I remained for the next sixteen months.  County jail would make prison easier but not easy.  In county jail there are no “contact” visits.  I watched my oldest daughter learn to walk and talk through a 3/4 inch piece of security glass.  This is the saddest part of this story.  The relationship that could have been between me and my first born child was to be damaged badly.
The trial was going to last a long time. There were so many witnesses.  Everybody I knew who had heard me brag.
Every customer in every bank we had been into and a few we had not.  See, we were not the only bank robbers in the Santa Clara Valley.  We were just the only ones on trial and we would be tried for every robbery that was yet unsolved.
One hundred and fifty witnesses.  Some were scared, some angry, and a lot of them didn’t even realize what they were saying when they testified against me.  One friend of mine was a young lady named Terri King.  She wanted to help, so she gets on the stand and says, “Lloyd said he was robbing banks, but I didn’t believe him, he would never do that.” Thanks, Terri.
One of the first robberies we had done had proved to be timely. The cameras had not been working, nor had the pull-alarms located in the money drawer.  Had we stayed there and made coffee we probably would have been alright. The manager of this bank was a classic and memorable witness.  She was asked if she could identify the robber in the courtroom.  She stated that her post inside the bank was so that she was facing inside and all she saw was that he had “long thin legs and a small butt.” I was then asked to stand in front of the courtroom and walk away from her so that she may look at my ass and perhaps identify me form the look of my gluts.  If you think this was humiliating, in front of an entire courtroom well, you’re probably right. The only save is that she was still unsure.  I was not convicted of that robbery.  What I came to find out was that a conviction comes down to really one thing.  If I could be positively identified by one bank employee or one customer that could prove to be “reliable”.
One such witness was a young man who had proved him to be reliable by stating that he had just finished airline pilot school. The prosecutor went on and on about how significant that was. How his eyesight had to be perfect and because of that, his testimony would be absolute. The word of God.  He positively identified me and gave me what would become my jail house nickname.  He first described to the court the individual he thought to be in “charge” of the robbery.
He said that person was well over 6 and 1/2 feet tall and had “aquiline features.”  My attorney stood and asked if he could explain “aquiline features.” The gentleman responded by saying, “His nose was large, and appeared birdlike.”  I was instructed to stand in front of the jury and allow them to examine my beak from all angles.  I was convicted of that robbery.  I was called “bird” for the remainder of my time spent in jail.  Even now, occasionally, I’ll run into someone somewhere who will say “Hey is that you, Bird?”  So that witness affected my life like few others.
I was eventually convicted of four counts of Robbery, no weapons, no enhancements.  I can never be tried for those robberies again.  I’m safe to write about them. My brother Dave, whom I love still, was convicted of only one. Come to find out, I guess I was a little scarier than Dave; people seemed more inclined to remember me once they got into the courtroom.
I was sentenced to fifteen years in prison where I served just fewer than eleven.  I got the greatest education of my life in prison.  I believe though, that I learned and saw things differently than most folks do.  But hey, that’s a different story.
Winston Churchill once said, “A society must always be judged by the way it treats its prisoners.”  Interesting thought.  I went into the “Big House” with a belly full of fear.  I guess every man does.  Whether or not they admit that isn’t relevant.  It’s there.  The very idea of being put into a cage with other dregs, and misfits, is frightening, terrifying even.  I knew that I had to be there for what seemed to be forever.  At twenty-one years old or so, fifteen years seems to be forever.  I know now that, although it is far too much time to be locked up, it is far from forever.  I am still young and pretty and I’ve been out of jail for a long time.
When I arrived at the reception center in Vacaville, California I was given a green uniform, a toothbrush, and some bedding.  I was escorted down a huge hallway toward a cell block where I was put into a tiny little cell that had two bunks attached to one wall and a toilet/sink thing at the far end.  I had a cell mate. I had never seen this man before and suddenly our lives are more closely sewn together than married people. We ate together. We showered together.  We had to smell each other.  This is not always pleasant.  I wondered how this would be if two men were put into this situation that couldn’t stand one another.  (I got to find out later.)  It just so happens that psychiatrists and specialists of all kinds have thought of that also, and the state has developed a system for deciding whom gets celled up with whom. They must have learned that if they put a 135lb white guy, who’s in for drunk driving, in the same cell with a 270lb black guy, who’s in for aggravated rape, there will probably be some sparks.  To say the least.
I was taught by some of my more experienced peers how to live in prison. While at the reception center, it’s a good idea to gather as much information as possible. There are more returning inmates in prison than there are new guys. I don’t know why that is, but it seems that way anyway.  May as well dip my eager fingers into this never-ending pool of demented knowledge as much as I possibly could.  I learned plenty.  First of all, I’m no dummy.  I have been called genius, gifted, and all sorts of flowery things as a kid. I don’t know about all that, but I know that I am fairly sharp and that I learn quickly.  What I didn’t know is that the convict mind is a different animal than any I had ever dealt with. Eventually I would be better at being a convicted prisoner than anyone I knew, but first I would have to be the fucking new guy.  No matter how sharp I think I am.
So many times, for instance, some other con would show up at our cell door on Saturday morning and say, “Hey, you two, get ready for visits.  Just hit the buzzer when you’re ready.”  Man, I’d be so happy. Shaving, brushing my teeth, and so on, until I was ready. Then I’d hit the buzzer. Guard’s voice would come over the intercom, “What’s your emergency?” he’d ask. “I don’t have an emergency sir, I was told to get ready for visit.”  The guard would barely be able to keep the laughter out of his voice, “If you had a visit, an officer would come and open your cell. You must be new.”  I’d be so pissed I’d be almost shaking and embarrassed, and totally without any way of releasing that frustration.  That is a small example of how the veteran cons treated their newly arrived comrades. You can probably imagine the extent that sort of practical joke can go to when driven by a deviant mind.
I was lucky in a lot of ways.  My brother had been there before and we spent as much time as possible doing the student/teacher thing.  I also knew some guys from the neighborhood and the county jail and was already respected enough to not get fooled with to much.  Also, I had a long sentence.  Most people in prison, at least then, have less than five years until their release date.  Most of them are going to work camps or level one or “easy time” prisons.  That was not the case for me.  I had over ten years until my date and I would be going “Behind the Wall”.  That was San Quentin State Penitentiary.  At the time, it was the largest and most dangerous mainline in the system.  Designed for the worst of the lot.  Murderers, rapists, predators of all kinds, and I guess, me.  That is where Death Row is, in California.  San Quentin is the second oldest mainline in this country.  Having been in constant operation since 1851, it was built to house prisoners until death.  It has thirteen steps between each tier.  Thirteen foot thick walls surround the place.  That’s where the expression “Behind the Wall” came from.  It’s a formidable sight, no joke.
Someone told me early on that I would survive “The Q” if I stayed clear of three things.  Don’t mess with gambling; don’t get involved with drugs, and, stay away from homosexuality. Period. “You follow these simple rules youngster; you’ll get along just fine.”  Ha-ha.  I bet that guy went to sleep that night still laughing about that.  There is not one man with whom I’ve ever spoken, who has gone through any similar experience, and not been involved with each and every one of those things.  It’s a way of life.  It’s the way that world operates.  There is no staying out of it.  Period.  If anyone, ever, says different, I challenge them to explain how they have done that to my face because I call him on it now.
I went into prison 6’7″ tall, weighing about a 180 lbs. Very thin.  Almost skeletal.  I came out 6’7″ about 290.   I lifted weights, I ran for miles.  I did push-ups, sit-ups, pull-ups, and every other kind of ups that came up(s).  I read every book I could get my hands on for ten years. There was a time when I was reading a full novel a day.  I read Tommy Knockers by Steven King in one day. That book has over seven hundred pages.
Once I found a book I really enjoyed, I would read everything by that same author until I felt I knew the person.  After reading all of Steven King’s books there are certain things that I just know about the man, and about the part of the country he comes from and writes about. Also, because I’ve read so much, I have a passion for writing.  The idea of touching someone’s life in some small way, without every really knowing it, is exciting to me.  Like, I’ve read absolutely everything ever written by Kurt Vonnegut Jr.  As a result, I think differently about some things then I did before I read them.  Kurt Vonnegut has therefore changed a part of my thought procession for the better. Mr. Vonnegut has no Idea who I am, that I even exist, but he has made me, at least a different man, if not a better one.  That is my passion.  I want to do that.  I want to affect you, dear reader, in such a way, albeit small, that you will forever be changed.  This silly little thing, dream, whatever, comes directly from spending time behind the big wall at S.Q.  Ha-ha, funny isn’t it.
That’s not all; I learned some great things about myself while incarcerated.  I learned that no matter where I’m at, I’m noticed.  Not just because of my size, (though that is part of it) but I have a certain charismatic charm about myself.  Don’t take this wrong, I am not bragging or complaining. I’m saying it’s absolutely true.  Once I got used to being in prison, I had no enemies there.  Everyone has enemies there.  I didn’t. I was liked and respected by inmates as well as the guards. I was liked and respected by any and every man, all races.  I’m not sure how this happened because I saw myself as being just like everybody else, but I wasn’t.  Even guards have asked me, “Man, what are doing here? You should be somewhere running for office.” No kidding, I have heard that very line from a guard that was known to really dislike the white prisoners.
I still have a bit of a convict mentality and I’ve been out longer than I was in.  I wish that I could have the time back that I missed with my children.  I wish I could look in the mirror and see the kind of person that I’ve always respected.  That is the man who works his ass off and pays his bills and taxes so that his family may sleep comfortably for one more night.
For now I have to be comfortable with what and who I am.  I like myself a great deal but I know that I’ve made decisions in my life that make me far less than the man I could have been.  Tonight I’ll sleep comfortably and freely because I’m an American and we are a society that treats its prisoners pretty good despite the belly aching.
One more note, I have no animosity for Terry Lafond.  He could never have hurt me had I not been guilty in the first place.  I always think when I hear someone bitching about getting snitched on that it’s probably about time to take responsibility for your own actions.  If you can’t do the time, don’t do the crime.
UPDATE 4-20-2011
This, I believe is just a small piece of this whole story. I have written many more parts of the story and have even considered a possible order to them.
Seems every time I begin to put the parts together, I over-edit, change the degree of emotion…whatever. I guess since I was forced to move my stuff to a new web location, I’ve not found a comfort zone. I’m not sure how many ways that crippled my already fragile intellect, but it seems I’ve yet to fully bounce back.


Truthiness

This is exactly what I try very hard to do, each of these tips. It is not easy and requires practice. This is just one of the things that...