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It started the Encinitas drug scene

Aunt Pudge and the bank robber

My recommendation to the young guys breaking in would be to go rob a drug dealer.
  • My recommendation to the young guys breaking in would be to go rob a drug dealer.
  • Image by Byron Pepper

I robbed my first bank out of sheer fear. But once I walked in with my gun. the fear was gone and I knew just who I was. It started in the Encinitas drug scene, where I was a local. Moved out there from the Chicago drug scene right after high school. I was what you’d call fully involved. I'd been buying eightballs and quarter ounces of coke from this loser and going out to La Costa to purchase from this mobster guy I'll just call Carlo. And the loser was duffing my shit up. which I wanted stopped.

I flew back to Encinitas, back to being the life of the party.

I flew back to Encinitas, back to being the life of the party.

One time I happened to see Carlo walking his red dohermans outside the house, and the paranoid dude I was dealing with told me never to come there alone, hut Carlo saw my face. Couple hours later I came over and knocked on his door, told him that the dweeh had been duffing my coke, stepping all over it somehow before he came out of the house. Carlo said he liked my style, fronted me an ounce of cocaine, and told me how much to pay him hack.

I'd been buying eightballs and quarter ounces of coke from this loser and going out to La Costa to purchase from this mobster guy.

I'd been buying eightballs and quarter ounces of coke from this loser and going out to La Costa to purchase from this mobster guy.

Within a matter of weeks, I was driving around in my car dumping off kilos of cocaine, getting a quarter pound, walking around with thousands of dollars in my pocket. After a couple months I had a 911 Porsche, jewelry, an early VCR, the whole nine yards.

Michell's arrest in 1980

Michell's arrest in 1980

This was around 1978, when freebase cocaine started entering the picture. Carlo decided to take a vacation or lie low or whatever. His newspapers were building up, and his grass was growing. This went on for several weeks. I held on to about $4000 that I owed him for four weeks just out of fear of him, hut after about six weeks the four grand was gone. I smoked it up. Like I said, freebase was coming on and I was a sort of trendsetter.

I had to walk all the way back to Encinitas from La Costa about two in the morning  in my shorts.

I had to walk all the way back to Encinitas from La Costa about two in the morning in my shorts.

After about eight or nine weeks, I was just jonesing, trying to collect money that people owed me, desperate for more rock, and there was a knock on my door. You know the kind. It was this greaseball strongarm, Carlo’s bodyguard, telling me I should get in touch right away. I asked him could I put some clothes on, and he just snatched me up about my neck at gunpoint. It was November and it was cold out. It was horrible out. But he wouldn’t let me put on any clothes or anything. I had to go in just my shorts.

When we got to the house. Carlo’s coke whore was sitting there — these are the people who really introduced me to freebase, by the way — snarling at me, and so were his dobies, who used to love me. They’re at the end of a chain from this other little slimebag hit man. Soon as I walked in, the coke whore started spinning the barrel on a .357 and saying, “Just kill him, just kill him. He’s a punk.” Stuff like that.

Carlo tried talking to me real nice. Asked me, “Do you got my four grand.7" I said, “Man, I’ve been coming over, I’ve been trying to...” He goes, “That doesn’t cut it, man. Look at you. You got a nice car. What happened to your car?" My car had just been stolen. Repossessed. It was paid for in cash, so I could guess who repossessed it. Because he asked the question with a charade of a smile. He said, “You had a nice car. And look at your jewelry.” And he snatched my jewelry off. My rings, my gold, all I had on besides my shorts.

He sat me down, and the dobies were like fucking four inches from my kneecaps and frothing at the mouth. He told the goon to take them outside, then he told me that he liked me and we did good together, and even if I didn't pay him he wouldn’t kill me. He’d bend my legs backwards and have me selling pencils at Jack Murphy Stadium. That’s what he threatened me with. Because he liked me.

He said he wasn’t going to kill me. He said, “You don’t owe us money. You don’t owe people like me money.” I said, “I know that. I was trying to pay you.” I was crying and shit.

Meanwhile, they’re fucking smoking in front of me, sitting around their modest but elegant three-bedroom step ranch house up on the hill in La Costa. Everyone smoking these big rocks in front of me except Carlo, who never touched it. He used to watch people get high and say, “Man, I don’t know about you guys.” They were doing it on purpose, blowing smoke at me. Then Carlo kicked me out the door and told me I had two weeks to pay him the four grand.

I had to walk all the way back to Encinitas from La Costa in the fucking rainy, fucking freezing November night about two in the morning by the time I got out of there, which is about a five-mile walk, in my shorts. And every step of the way I was thinking, “What the fuck I’m gonna do, what the fuck I’m gonna do?"

I spent the next two days trying to collect debts people owed me, which were in excess of $10,000, which is the way the game goes. Nobody had nothing for me. But I had a girlfriend at the time in a Midwestern state, and I decided it might he a good time to go see her. First I flew back to Chicago and started working with my brother in the carpentry business, making about five bills a week.

After about two months of this, I came home one day, and my brother’s wife was at the door with his newborn son, crying, saying some guy was looking for me. A guy who said I owed “them” money and had threatened her and his family. So I told my brother what was going down, and I tcxik a bus to a neighboring state where this girl lived.

I’d been making pretty good money, but not enough to even think about saving up four grand, especially since I was doing coke. But not nearly as much. And I’d already planned to see this girl who I’d been dating for a few years but hadn’t seen for about six months. I was supposed to go the next day, but I ended up taking a bus there that same day. I caught her in bed with some dude. She ended up spending the night ar his house,

I spent the night at her house, and I woke up the next morning to see the First National Bank across the street. I went out and bought a 12-pack of Red, White, and Blue and went back up there and watched a few soap operas while I drank it. I said, “I’m gonna rob that motherfucker.”

See, bank robbery is the all-American crime. Kids grow up watching Bonnie and Clyde, all those movies. Every bank robbery movie ever made, they’re glamorous, there’s heroes. All through your life you hear, “Where’d you get that money.7 Did you rob a bank?" or “Shit, I’m gonna rob a bank.”

Jesse James was an idol of mine.

So I’m looking at the bank. Now, I’d already dime one armed robbery. When I was 18, I robbed a gas station with a ski mask on, so I already had that under my belt. I went into another room and started putting a disguise together. Understand that a disguise is pan of a bank robber’s... what would the word he...axle of ethics. I mean, you don’t want them to see your face. Even Jesse James — they knew it was him, hut he still covered up his mug when he went in the hank. He put his bandana over his kisser and went in there with his gang, and they did their deal.

So I was working with a stocking mask. I went over and just walked through the hank and cased it out. There were no guards; there was no nothing. I went back up and got my disguise together, and I wrote about ten different hank robbery notes. “I’ve got a gun, gimme the money, gimme this, gimme that." I finally decided, “I ain’t going to use a note, I’m just going to take my gun with me.” Which was always unloaded. But it would always be a real gun. I grew up in Chicago. I always know where to get guns. Especially around the scene in Encinitas, where I know everybody, I can buy guns.

I always carried an unloaded weapon, which a lot of people looked down on in the pen. It doesn’t fit that code of conduct I mentioned. But I’ve got my personal axle too, and it said that if I was going to do something so desperate and despondent, I wasn’t going to take a chance on hurting somebody when I was doing it. A guy in prison was sounding me, asked me if I’d have rather got gunned down myself than shoot somebody else, and I said, “That’s right. My aunt was a bank teller.”

Anyway, I finished off the 12-pack, mustering up courage to go through with it. That first job and the last one were the only times I was ever under the influence of anything when I went to work. I had the stocking mask, which I knotted up to slip under my ball cap. So, my disguise was together, and I sat there for about two hours on the second floor of the bungalow. I had the curtains split open about two inches so I could see the bank. I charted my escape route and tucked the stocking up under my ball cap, put on some jogging clothes. I always wore jogging clothes so in case I had to run, I’d run at a jogging pace and look like I had a reason to be running.

As I went down the flight of stairs and burst into the midday sunlight, I was like a computer. Everything was like a time-freeze, like freeze-frame photography. Click, buzz, click, buzz. I was controlled by a force other than my own; I don’t know what that would be. By some inner mind set on successfully doing it. I started feeling really confident. I don’t know if I can describe it. It’s like surfing in the tube, man. The way you remember every second of your best tube ride. Time-freeze photography.

I can still picture the whole thing in my mind. Every motion, every half-glanced distorted picture of the rest of the bank, which I scanned like the Terminator, like zeroing in with an infrared eye. Sometimes the picture turns into black and white. It’s like a vacuum ride, like space. You just turn in to the tube, and you get the same feeling. Nothing sexy about it; it feels like life and death. Like it’s 15 feet at Swami’s and you’re going backside, and the inside section is closing off, and it looks like second reef Sunset. You just gotta go, life or death.

It’s a feeling that drugs and sex can’t touch, and believe me, I have a more than passing acquaintance with both.

I had arrogance as I was doing it, and I was thinking about Jesse James. The first major perpetrator of the American daylight bank heist. I wouldn’t say Jesse James was a role model exactly. I just thought it was cool that he used to give a lot of money to Indians and to the poor, and I ended up doing a lot of that stuff with my money. Giving bums on the street $20, you know, helping people in need. I’d give them money.

As I approached the entrance to the bank, I rolled the stocking down over my face, slipped on a pair of sunglasses. So I had a ball cap, stocking mask, and shades. I had my gun wrapped up in a sweatshirt in my hand. As soon as I hit the bank, I got a super adrenaline rush. Full confidence. I didn’t know what I was going to say until I got in there.

There was nobody in the bank; nobody even looked at me. No customers, dead as a doornail. I heard the clickety-clack of a cart filled with money being pushed out of the vault by this lady. She looked at me and startled. That’s when my M.O. came to me.

God, I don’t even know if I want to say this; those fucking Feds will be on my ass again. But they already silent-beefed me for all this shit anyway, so it doesn’t matter. I ended up using the same scheme for all of my subsequent bank robberies, except the last two. There was a teller window on the outside that was in view of the inside tellers. And it just came to me. I had this super-confidence and adrenaline going, and I envisioned a guy with a telescopic rifle watching the whole proceedings from across the street somewhere. As the lady approached, I said, “My partner’s across the street with a telescopic rifle, and if you move anything but your left hand from the money to the desk, he’s going to open Fire.” She froze, then started handing over the stacks of bills.

I had a little sack, a little brown bag to stick all the money in. I forgot about that and just started stuffing wads of cash down into my pants. Just stacks of money laying there. Real convenience shopping. I stuffed stacks of money down my pants until I couldn’t fit any more, and she kept lixiking out to where the alleged marksman was. I told her, “Don’t be looking back that way.” I told her, “Now when I leave, he’s going to keep an eye on you until I tell him to split. For three minutes I don’t want you to even move.”

As I left, a lady looked up from her typewriter with a shocked look, and I burst through the door. I got about 30 feet away from the bank and rolled the stocking mask up into my hat and just crossed the street at a leisurely jog with my gun hanging down in the sweatshirt. I went back through the alley, came back upstairs, came through the door, and for the next three hours I was pinned against the back wall of the living room, staring out those two inches between the curtains, where I could see a little sliver of the front of the bank.

All that money was still sticking down in my pants like a basketball, and I couldn’t get to it. I was, like, paralyzed. A couple of times I got up the balls to crawl over and peek out, and I saw cop cars of every color and description down there; news cameras, satellite dishes, SWAT truck, everything. For the next three hours, I was either on my knees peeking out the window or back up against that wall in a profuse sweat.

Finally, I figured I’d better go turn myself in because I saw a couple of guys come across the street to where I was. With shotguns. I was almost out the door to turn myself in because I thought they were going to come up and kill me. But they just stixxl right in front of the building, then they left. Eventually everybody left, and the bank was back to business as usual. I said, “Fuck this, man. I’m going to go in the back room and count my money."

First of all, I took the gun and the disguise and the whole outfit and put it in the incinerator down in the basement. And I still had all the money in my pants. I opened them and it was just clump, clump, clump — all those big stacks of money falling out on the floor. I thought I had couple hundred, couple thousand dollars. Before I started counting individual bills, I was counting $500 and $1000 stacks, 50s and 100s and 20s. Came to a total of over $18,500. I’d been in the bank less than a minute. Call it about a million dollars an hour. They didn’t even get any pictures.

Well, the girl came home that night because she was going to take me to the airport. She was even going to pay my ticket back to Chicago, which I let her do because I didn’t want her to know I had the money. Because, you know, I robbed my first bank out of sheer fear. But once I walked in with my gun. the fear was gone and I knew just who I was. It started in the Encinitas drug scene, where I was a local. Moved out there from the Chicago drug scene right after high school. I was what you’d call fully involved. I'd been buying eightballs and quarter ounces of coke from this loser and going out to La Costa to purchase from this mobster guy I'll just call Carlo. And the loser was duffing my shit up. which I wanted stopped.

One time I happened to see Carlo walking his red dobermans outside the house, and the paranoid dude I was dealing with told me never to come there alone, but Carlo saw my face. Couple hours later I came over and knocked on his door, told him that the dweeb had been duffing my coke, stepping all over it somehow before he came out of the house. Carlo said he liked my style, fronted me an ounce of cocaine, and told me how much to pay him back.

Within a matter of weeks, I was driving around in my car dumping off kilos of cocaine, getting a quarter pound, walking around with thousands of dollars in my pocket. After a couple months I had a 911 Porsche, jewelry, an early VCR, the whole nine yards.

This was around 1978, when freebase cocaine started entering the picture. Carlo decided to take a vacation or lie low or whatever. His newspapers were building up, and his grass was growing. This went on for several weeks. I held on to about $4000 that I owed him for four weeks just out of fear of him, hut after about six weeks the four grand was gone. I smoked it up. Like I said, freebase was coming on and I was a sort of trendsetter.

After about eight or nine weeks, I was just jonesing, trying to collect money that people owed me, desperate for more rock, and there was a knock on my door. You know the kind. It was this greaseball strongarm, Carlo’s bodyguard, telling me I should get in touch right away. I asked him could I put some clothes on, and he just snatched me up about my neck at gunpoint. It was November and it was cold out. It was horrible out. But he wouldn’t let me put on any clothes or anything. I had to go in just my shorts.

When we got to the house. Carlo’s coke whore was sitting there — these are the people who really introduced me to freebase, by the way — snarling at me, and so were his dobies, who used to love me. They’re at the end of a chain from this other little slimebag hit man. Soon as I walked in, the coke whore started spinning the barrel on a .357 and saying, “Just kill him, just kill him. He’s a punk.” Stuff like that.

Carlo tried talking to me real nice. Asked me, “Do you got my four grand.7" I said, “Man, I’ve been coming over, I’ve been trying to...” He goes, “That doesn’t cut it, man. Look at you. You got a nice car. What happened to your car?" My car had just been stolen. Repossessed. It was paid for in cash, so I could guess who repossessed it. Because he asked the question with a charade of a smile. He said, “You had a nice car. And look at your jewelry.” And he snatched my jewelry off. My rings, my gold, all I had on besides my shorts.

He sat me down, and the dobies were like fucking four inches from my kneecaps and frothing at the mouth. He told the goon to take them outside, then he told me that he liked me and we did good together, and even if I didn't pay him he wouldn’t kill me. He’d bend my legs backwards and have me selling pencils at Jack Murphy Stadium. That’s what he threatened me with. Because he liked me.

He said he wasn’t going to kill me. He said, “You don’t owe us money. You don’t owe people like me money.” I said, “I know that. I was trying to pay you.” I was crying and shit.

Meanwhile, they’re fucking smoking in front of me, sitting around their modest but elegant three-bedroom step ranch house up on the hill in La Costa. Everyone smoking these big rocks in front of me except Carlo, who never touched it. He used to watch people get high and say, “Man, I don’t know about you guys.” They were doing it on purpose, blowing smoke at me. Then Carlo kicked me out the door and told me I had two weeks to pay him the four grand.

I had to walk all the way back to Encinitas from La Costa in the fucking rainy, fucking freezing November night about two in the morning by the time I got out of there, which is about a five-mile walk, in my shorts. And every step of the way I was thinking, “What the fuck I’m gonna do, what the fuck I’m gonna do?"

I spent the next two days trying to collect debts people owed me, which were in excess of $10,000, which is the way the game goes. Nobody had nothing for me. But I had a girlfriend at the time in a Midwestern state, and I decided it might he a good time to go see her. First I flew back to Chicago and started working with my brother in the carpentry business, making about five bills a week.

After about two months of this, I came home one day, and my brother’s wife was at the door with his newborn son, crying, saying some guy was looking for me. A guy who said I owed “them” money and had threatened her and his family. So I told my brother what was going down, and I took a bus to a neighboring state where this girl lived.

I’d been making pretty good money, but not enough to even think about saving up four grand, especially since I was doing coke. But not nearly as much. And I’d already planned to see this girl who I’d been dating for a few years but hadn’t seen for about six months. I was supposed to go the next day, but I ended up taking a bus there that same day. I caught her in bed with some dude. She ended up spending the night at his house,

I spent the night at her house, and I woke up the next morning to see the First National Bank across the street. I went out and bought a 12-pack of Red, White, and Blue and went back up there and watched a few soap operas while I drank it. I said, “I’m gonna rob that motherfucker.”

See, bank robbery is the all-American crime. Kids grow up watching Bonnie and Clyde, all those movies. Every bank robbery movie ever made, they’re glamorous, there’s heroes. All through your life you hear, “Where’d you get that money.7 Did you rob a bank?" or “Shit, I’m gonna rob a bank.”

Jesse James was an idol of mine.

So I’m looking at the bank. Now, I’d already dime one armed robbery. When I was 18, I robbed a gas station with a ski mask on, so I already had that under my belt. I went into another room and started putting a disguise together. Understand that a disguise is pan of a bank robber’s... what would the word he...axle of ethics. I mean, you don’t want them to see your face. Even Jesse James — they knew it was him, hut he still covered up his mug when he went in the hank. He put his bandana over his kisser and went in there with his gang, and they did their deal.

So I was working with a stocking mask. I went over and just walked through the hank and cased it out. There were no guards; there was no nothing. I went back up and got my disguise together, and I wrote about ten different hank robbery notes. “I’ve got a gun, gimme the money, gimme this, gimme that." I finally decided, “I ain’t going to use a note, I’m just going to take my gun with me.” Which was always unloaded. But it would always be a real gun. I grew up in Chicago. I always know where to get guns. Especially around the scene in Encinitas, where I know everybody, I can buy guns.

I always carried an unloaded weapon, which a lot of people looked down on in the pen. It doesn’t fit that code of conduct I mentioned. But I’ve got my personal axle too, and it said that if I was going to do something so desperate and despondent, I wasn’t going to take a chance on hurting somebody when I was doing it. A guy in prison was sounding me, asked me if I’d have rather got gunned down myself than shoot somebody else, and I said, “That’s right. My aunt was a bank teller.”

Anyway, I finished off the 12-pack, mustering up courage to go through with it. That first job and the last one were the only times I was ever under the influence of anything when I went to work. I had the stocking mask, which I knotted up to slip under my ball cap. So, my disguise was together, and I sat there for about two hours on the second floor of the bungalow. I had the curtains split open about two inches so I could see the bank. I charted my escape route and tucked the stocking up under my ball cap, put on some jogging clothes. I always wore jogging clothes so in case I had to run, I’d run at a jogging pace and look like I had a reason to be running.

As I went down the flight of stairs and burst into the midday sunlight, I was like a computer. Everything was like a time-freeze, like freeze-frame photography. Click, buzz, click, buzz. I was controlled by a force other than my own; I don’t know what that would be. By some inner mind set on successfully doing it. I started feeling really confident. I don’t know if I can describe it. It’s like surfing in the tube, man. The way you remember every second of your best tube ride. Time-freeze photography.

I can still picture the whole thing in my mind. Every motion, every half-glanced distorted picture of the rest of the bank, which I scanned like the Terminator, like zeroing in with an infrared eye. Sometimes the picture turns into black and white. It’s like a vacuum ride, like space. You just turn in to the tube, and you get the same feeling. Nothing sexy about it; it feels like life and death. Like it’s 15 feet at Swami’s and you’re going backside, and the inside section is closing off, and it looks like second reef Sunset. You just gotta go, life or death.

It’s a feeling that drugs and sex can’t touch, and believe me, I have a more than passing acquaintance with both.

I had arrogance as I was doing it, and I was thinking about Jesse James. The first major perpetrator of the American daylight bank heist. I wouldn’t say Jesse James was a role model exactly. I just thought it was cool that he used to give a lot of money to Indians and to the poor, and I ended up doing a lot of that stuff with my money. Giving bums on the street $20, you know, helping people in need. I’d give them money.

As I approached the entrance to the bank, I rolled the stocking down over my face, slipped on a pair of sunglasses. So I had a ball cap, stocking mask, and shades. I had my gun wrapped up in a sweatshirt in my hand. As soon as I hit the bank, I got a super adrenaline rush. Full confidence. I didn’t know what I was going to say until I got in there.

There was nobody in the bank; nobody even looked at me. No customers, dead as a doornail. I heard the clickety-clack of a cart filled with money being pushed out of the vault by this lady. She looked at me and startled. That’s when my M.O. came to me.

God, I don’t even know if I want to say this; those fucking Feds will be on my ass again. But they already silent-beefed me for all this shit anyway, so it doesn’t matter. I ended up using the same scheme for all of my subsequent bank robberies, except the last two. There was a teller window on the outside that was in view of the inside tellers. And it just came to me. I had this super-confidence and adrenaline going, and I envisioned a guy with a telescopic rifle watching the whole proceedings from across the street somewhere. As the lady approached, I said, “My partner’s across the street with a telescopic rifle, and if you move anything but your left hand from the money to the desk, he’s going to open Fire.” She froze, then started handing over the stacks of bills.

I had a little sack, a little brown bag to stick all the money in. I forgot about that and just started stuffing wads of cash down into my pants. Just stacks of money laying there. Real convenience shopping. I stuffed stacks of money down my pants until I couldn’t fit any more, and she kept looking out to where the alleged marksman was. I told her, “Don’t be looking back that way.” I told her, “Now when I leave, he’s going to keep an eye on you until I tell him to split. For three minutes I don’t want you to even move.”

As I left, a lady looked up from her typewriter with a shocked look, and I burst through the door. I got about 30 feet away from the bank and rolled the stocking mask up into my hat and just crossed the street at a leisurely jog with my gun hanging down in the sweatshirt. I went back through the alley, came back upstairs, came through the door, and for the next three hours I was pinned against the back wall of the living room, staring out those two inches between the curtains, where I could see a little sliver of the front of the bank.

All that money was still sticking down in my pants like a basketball, and I couldn’t get to it. I was, like, paralyzed. A couple of times I got up the balls to crawl over and peek out, and I saw cop cars of every color and description down there; news cameras, satellite dishes, SWAT truck, everything. For the next three hours, I was either on my knees peeking out the window or back up against that wall in a profuse sweat.

Finally, I figured I’d better go turn myself in because I saw a couple of guys come across the street to where I was. With shotguns. I was almost out the door to turn myself in because I thought they were going to come up and kill me. But they just stood right in front of the building, then they left. Eventually everybody left, and the bank was back to business as usual. I said, “Fuck this, man. I’m going to go in the back room and count my money."

First of all, I took the gun and the disguise and the whole outfit and put it in the incinerator down in the basement. And I still had all the money in my pants. I opened them and it was just clump, clump, clump — all those big stacks of money falling out on the floor. I thought I had couple hundred, couple thousand dollars. Before I started counting individual bills, I was counting $500 and $1000 stacks, 50s and 100s and 20s. Came to a total of over $18,500. I’d been in the bank less than a minute. Call it about a million dollars an hour. They didn’t even get any pictures.

Well, the girl came home that night because she was going to take me to the airport. She was even going to pay my ticket back to Chicago, which I let her do because I didn’t want her to know I had the money. Because, you know, catching her in bed with that guy and all. I had a little sports bag with my shit in it, and it was full of cash. I’d taken off all the identification bands and everything. But that was really the worst thing I could have done, going to the airport right then. I should have waited a day or two or taken the bus, maybe. They stake out the airports, the stations, looking for somebody that fits the description. But I was just learning my trade at that time. got on the plane, got to Chicago, took a cab home from O’Hare, immediately hooked up with a coke dealer.

I was just sniffing it then, so I didn’t have a really big problem. Because you can only get so high sniffing it. I told my Chicago friend Raymond what I had done, and he goes, “Why, you motherfucker,” and I handed him a grand just...just because. He was hurting for money, laid off from his refrigeration job, so I handed him a thousand.

I went to my brother’s house and told him I’d caught my chick in bed with this guy and was going back to California. He goes, “Well, bro, I don’t want you around here, not with people threatening my family.” I could understand that, and I left him $5000 just in case somebody came looking for me. He didn't want to take it, but he did — in case the guy from the Mob came over, he could hand it to him. He never asked where I got it.

I left his house and stayed with my friend Ray, and we snorted coke and talked about what I’d done. Up till now he’s the only person other than another bank robber that I ever told about it. Oh, and the girl whose apartment it was. I eventually called her from the federal pen and told her what I’d done that day. She loved it. She was a little Midwest farm girl, but she got off on that sort of thing. A lot of people do. She said, “I wish you’d told me then — I could’ve used some money.” I said, “Well, I didn’t want to blow my cover, you know. I wasn’t sure where you were at.”

Instead of flying back to California, I went to Arizona, where I’d gone to college, and stayed with some coke people I knew who had Miami connections. I continued snorting coke, bought a motorcycle, partying up, you know — “I’ll buy everybody a round, buy the next eightball." Everybody was my friend, everybody loved me. People on coke coming up saying, “I love you, you’re so cool." Yeah, right, do another line and shut the fuck up. You know how people on coke are; “My dad used to beat me with a coat hanger, man, but I feel like I can tell you this because it’s here and now and this is what’s happening.” Shit like that.

Eventually I got bored of partying and rode the motorcycle back to La Costa and pulled up to Carlo’s house.

He knew something was different about me, and he had always liked me. I was really reliable for him until I started smoking the rocks. He used to always tell me, “Don’t be smoking that shit, Rick.” He wouldn’t ever let me smoke rocks in his house. He said, “It’s a gonna be your fucking downfall.” He looked me over, and since I’d just been snorting instead of smoking, I had half a life, you know, and my btxJy looked like I had half a life. He says, “Looks like you’re doing a little bit better, man.”

He invited me in the house, and nobody was home; even the dobies were in the back. I gave him $5000, the original $4000 plus interest. Which he took. Then he asked me if I wanted to go back to work again. But I said no. I told him I was going to clean up; I didn’t want to do coke no more. He said, “Fine. If you ever want to work again, just call me.”

So there I was with maybe five, six grand left over, and I started partying in North County. I’d go to a party with an ounce of blow and dump it on the table. While everybody else was hiding in the bathroom doing little rails, I’d be dumping dust on the kitchen counter and letting everybody get at it. Anybody at the party could just do it, fucking put it in a matchbox, steal it, whatever they were doing with it. I didn’t give a fuck. It was just there, go ahead and deal with it. Everybody loved me. And those same people, after I got busted, it would be, “Collect call from Rick? Rick who? We can’t take collect calls from no prison.” My fucking entourage. Shit, all I wanted was a Surfer magazine. That’s all I was calling for, somebody to send me Surfer once a month. I’d say, “Dude, you said you loved me. Now I’m not good for a copy of Surfer? Shit.”

At the time, I went back to working as a carpenter around Encinitas and I didn't think about robbing a bank for six months. The next eight banks I robbed were not out of any kind of desperate necessity. I had plenty of money. What would happen, I’d wake up early in the morning and say, “I’m going to rob a bank today." I’d organize and clean my room, make sure all my laundry was done. For some reason, I don’t know. It wasn’t that I didn’t want the G-men seeing my dirty undies; I don’t know what it was. I wasn’t paranoid. I had enough money to fly wherever I wanted to go, so I’d just take off a day from work, fly to a different state, and do it. I was just flying out, doing one, flying back the same day.

I had a great new M.O. I was a master of disguise, and I’d really get into them. That was part of the whole thing. I’d go to trick shops and choose my disguises. I mostly tried to look like a real person. Other than me. I used latex masks sometimes, but mostly just personal disguises — fake eyebrows and cotton in my cheeks, fake mustache, wig, pillow under my sweatshirt to look like a fat jogger. Mostly what I wanted was a fake face. Most of the time I just looked like a college Joe. With a mask on.

I always made sure I had a change of shoes, because shoes will give you away every time; either footprints or forensics on your shoes. I’d choose a college campus and go to a bike store and purchase a ten speed. Then I would steal another ten speed. I’d park one at one end of the campus and lock it up, and I’d be riding the other ten speed. I’d have two bags, like the backpacks that every college student in the world has. I’d have maybe a red one and a blue one. I’d choose a bank that was near the campus, then I’d put the bike by a 7-Eleven or somewhere right around the comer where I could just hop on it and get.

Say they’d have identification of me with a black bike and blue backpack. But immediately the backpack was ridden across campus, where I’d park the bicycle and walk over to where I’d already have a gymnasium or bathroom picked out to change clothes, switch shoes, stuff all the clothes or disguise or anything with identity into the blue backpack. It wouldn’t matter if they found it later, so I’d stuff it into a trash can or something, making sure to leave no fingerprints. I’d get rid of the gun. And I’d come out with the red backpack and a totally different look, the money in the gym bag. Then I’d casually walk to the other bike, parked over at the other end of the campus, then pedal back to the scene of the bank robbery. Because you know, fuck it — I always wanted to go back.

We always go back to the scene of the crime, or so they say. I just wanted to see it. I’d be there with 50, 100 other kids on their bikes coming from school with their backpacks on, looking at what’s going on. The cops, the news, all that shit — standing around saying, “Oh, rude. The bank’s been robbed." Meanwhile, I’ve got a couple of grand right there in my backpack, hanging around talking to all these people. And I’m the one who did it.

This went on for a period of about a year and a half. I was getting off on it so much, the whole thing — the planning, the disguises, the feeling when I went through the door. It was a rush. It was something to do. It gave meaning to my life.

Then I started smoking rocks again and flew to a Southwestern state and went into another bank, and everything came unscrewed. I knew my career was coming to an end when this happened.

By then I was wasted, just hitting banks without the proper attitude or preparation, like so many unprofessional assholes. I wasn’t getting the old rush anymore, nothing like that at all. I was nervous, upset, scared. I’d never been scared before. My confidence was gone. It was gone because I was gone. For one thing, I was paranoid from smoking rocks again. For another, I was making good enough money where I shouldn’t have been doing it anymore. And I knew I shouldn’t be doing them anymore, but I couldn’t quit. Bank robbers never quit until they get caught. I think I was just looking for a stupider M.O. so I’d get caught, just someone who shouldn’t be doing what they’re doing anymore.

Anyway, what happened next really blew it all up. I had on this Alfred E. Neuman mask, this goofy-looking fucking mask. I was really nervous, really had no plan of escape other than the bicycle that I was on, and I hadn’t even chosen a bank with an outside teller window. I walked into the bank and brandished my weapon, and the teller lady looked just like my Aunt Pudge. That’s my fat aunt that was married to a Chicago cop and never took any shit from nobody.

I said my spiel, and the people hit the floor. I didn’t even order anybody on the floor. They must have been robbed before or something. This fat lady says, “Go ahead and shoot me, punk.” I showed her the gun and spun the barrel, and she goes, “I don’t think you have the balls. I think you’re a pussy. Get the fuck out of here.”

She wanted to hit me, and the other ladies were trying to pull her to the ground, saying, “Just give him the money.” She goes, “I ain’t giving him shit.” I said, “Hey, lady, this is a goddammed bank robbery. You wanna get blown away right now?" She goes, “Blow me away,” and, “You probably don’t even have any bullets in your gun.” Which I didn’t, damn it.

She started to clamber over the counter to get at me, and she was big enough to kick my ass. So I just put my tail between my legs and scurried out of the bank empty handed.

What happened next is even worse. I got rid of my disguise and went to a drug store to steal some pantyhose. I was pissed by then, and I was going to rob a bank if it was the last thing I ever did. So I was in there trying to shoplift these pantyhose and this, like, 300-pound Negress got after me. I ran out to my bike and was pedaling out of there, and she clawed down my back — I still have scars on my back from this lady’s fingernails. My whole shirt got ripped off while I was gearing up to get away from her. Then she sprayed me with some Mace. But I got away.

Those people chased me, like, for three fucking miles. The fat bitch and a box boy in some sort of generic Chevy, chasing me all over the fucking desert. I rode like hell, lost those fools, went to the other side of town, went to 7-Eleven, ripped off some pantyhose, went directly to the first bank I saw, and took it off for about four grand. Just cowboyed it out, man. Desperado tactics all the fuckin’ way.

I flew back to Encinitas, back to being the life of the party. I took off a few days after that debacle, got fired from my job. I didn’t yet realize the psychic toll of the fuckup with the Fat Broads from Hell. I lost all the feeling. It wasn’t going to work anymore. I bailed, dude. I went over the falls, down the elevator shaft. I lost it when that fat lady was going to hit me and drag me in by the hair and probably give it to me with a big, black, double-dong 12-inch strap-on before she was done. That’s what she wanted to do to me. That’s when I started losing the thrill. It took the all macho out of it. How could I be Jesse James after that? Jesse would have belted her in the head with his gun. Things were a lot more gritty in those days. But I’m not that gritty, and I can’t see hitting some woman or some old Uncle Red-looking bank teller upside the head. You can hurt somebody like that.

And yeah, I took a lot of flack in the pen for not having bullets in my gun, for doing my final bank with a cap gun. Jim Brock, one tough motherfucker, he would mess with me and say, “Yeah, you’re one of those surf punks, huh? The kinder, gentler California peace-queer bank robber, huh?”

I ended up with around two grand and moved into this house with a little surf rat and his father. I’m just surfin’, getting pretty healthy, staying away from the coke. Then I hit the La Jolla Federal in Cardiff.

By then I was back to my old M.O. of the phantom sniper at the drive-up, the Jesse James bandana over my lower face. But it didn’t cover my eyes, and it was eventually my eyes that got me convicted. I went in there and told them the spiel, then I cut out the back, through the alleys up to Birmingham, and to a friend’s house. I went up from Manchester, to where I had a change of clothes in the alley. I had the money in my pants, maybe $2800, $3200, something like that. I just went to my friend’s house and said, “Can I use your can, dude?” He had no idea what was happening; he was working on his truck parked on the street.

Next thing I know, the mailman comes up, “Hey, the bank got robbed.” I was under the hood with the other guys by then, we’re working on the truck, telling him we’ll keep our eyes out. Sheriffs up and down the street, Highway Patrol. I knew I’d gotten away with it. I asked my friend for a ride to the coke dealer’s house.

The dealer, coincidentally, was the guy who introduced me to the mobster in the first place, the guy who was duffing my stuff. He got me an ounce, and I played guitar for two days at his house, ended up in downtown with some sluts in some bare-light-bulb-on-a-string room, that type of shit. I got away with it. I got into the surf rat’s old man’s good graces, bought them a drver they needed for their washing machine in the garage. I bought a couple hundred dollars’ worth of food, bought the old man a case of Scotch.

I’m still not working, about five months of no working — I was living that kind of life. Selling a little blow for the money I had, so I could make my stash. I was just snorting it, but then I started smoking again.

On April 29 of 1980, we were watching the news, and there was this bicycle bandit in San Diego and Arizona, mostly in Arizona. He kind of fit my M.O., but he kind of didn't. He’d pulled off 10, 12 banks on his bicycle. I think it was mostly in San Diego — “Bicycle Bandit Hits Again.”

The old man is talking to his drinking pal, “Gawdammit, I’ve always wanted to rob a bank. Let’s rob a fucking bank. Look at this guy on his bicycle, he’s done it a dozen times.”

And I said, “I know a guy used to rob banks.” And he goes, “You don’t know shit. You don’t got the balls to know anybody who’d rob a bank.” This is what the guy is saying to me. I go, “Yeah, I know the guy. He’s pulled off more banks than this bicycle guy.” He goes, “Ah, bullshit."

So I was having an affair with the girl next door, this divorcee, and I had access to her vehicle. This was the first time I’d ever used a vehicle. I got my same disguise but had no gun. And I took a lot of flack for this in the pen too. I had this plastic cap gun I shoplifted from a five and dime.

I asked to borrow her car, said I was going to get some coke. It was fine with her. If I was going to get some pot or coke, that was fine. I took the car, the same mask, the same clothes, the same bank, two blocks away. But this time I was desperate — I was pissed off at the old man. So I went in there and they remembered me. Hey, here he is again. Same red bandana. I had no escape route. I shoulda went out the back door. Had I gone out the back door, I would have never got caught, but if I hadn’t got caught, I’d probably be dead. Because of the lifestyle I was leading. Fucking around and doing this type of shit.

So I went out the front door and starting jogging down the street. There happened to be a guy from National Cash Register there fixing a machine, and he started chasing me on foot. There was a place called Besta-Wans Pizza, and I eventually talked to the owner and his son, who was instrumental in my getting nailed, and thanked them for tracking me down, because my career had to end at that point. They hated me at first, but I said, “I just wanted to thank you guys,” and then they bought me a beer and said thanks for coming in.

But anyway, this is what happened with them. I’m jogging down the street, this NCR guy in shirt and tie is chasing me, yelling, “The bank’s been robbed.” He didn’t care if I had a gun or not. In fact, if I saw a bank being robbed these days, I’d tackle the motherfucker. Chances are 99 percent that the bank robbers aren’t going to shoot nobody. They’re mostly middle-class people with good moral values. I would say that from the hundreds of bank robbers I’ve met. They come from good families and are driven to bank robbery under a desperate situation, whether it be drugs, or, like, I’ve met a man whose mother needed life support that her insurance couldn’t pay for. But after the initial one, they kept doing it until they got caught. Usually there’s a desperate thing on your first one, but after you do it, you keep doing it until you get caught. It’s an addiction. It’s all for the rush. It’s all for the thrill.

So I get in my car, and I see a Corvette pull up on the corner with the pizza parlor owner’s son in it, and he gets out of his car and he’s got a CB. CBs were still sort of happening in those days. He’s on the CB, and I took my fake gun, drew into a stance, and pointed it at him. He dropped the CB and I got in my car and split. He chased me in the Corvette — I was in a little Datsun B210 or something like that. I lost him, though.

I’ll never forget the look on the lady’s face at the drive-in window at Jack In The Box. Thank God there was nobody in line, because I went through there sideways, and I remember her freeze-framed, just about to flip out. That’s where I lost the Vette. Because he ended up on the bottom of Birmingham, waiting behind a bus and a couple of cars, which I saw when I skirted through the Snack In The Crack.

I pulled up in the driveway next door, where the chick’s car belonged. The driveway right in front of the guy who lived back in the duplex with a full field of marijuana in his back yard. I’d thrown the gun out by the railroad tracks and dusted my prints off the car.

I went into her house and showed her a wad of cash and said these dope dealers wanted to kill me and take it right then. I told her if the cops came, just tell them she didn’t even know the car was gone. Then I went next door and changed clothes, getting ready to head to the beach on my beach cruiser. All I wanted to do was get some blow, go be on coke. Mellow out.

If I could have gotten on my bike and down the street, I could have gotten rid of any kind of incriminating evidence. But they would have eventually got me anyway. So I went to go out the back door, and my dog is there. He thinks he’s going to the beach. I lost my dog through all this, a samoyed/ Australian shepherd I had for six years. Best Frisbee dog in the world. A cat killer. He would kill a cat if he could catch it. He was a primo pup.

But just as I’m about to go out the back door, I see this rifleman in fatigues perched on a garage, not looking at my house but at the house next door. Where the car is. This is a half hour after the heist, and I thought I’d got away. But a sheriff had just happened to see the car in her driveway and made it from the basic description over the air. I see the guy who lives in back, who more or less matches my description, out watering his pot plants and getting tackled by these two sheriffs. They never even busted him for his plants, they didn’t even look at his pot. They were after a bank robber.

He’s lying in the mud getting handcuffed, and I go out the front door and they’d already started putting up yellow ribbons next door, cordoning it off. There’s already, like, this golf gallery starting to accumulate, the neighbors rubbernecking. They knew there was something going on there.

I went to go out the door, and the old man, his drinking buddy, and the little surf rat come off with, “What’s going on here?” I said, “I dunno. I think they’re busting Dan next door for his pot.” But I knew they were after me. I mean, the big black SWAT truck was there and everything.

So I went back in the house and took the three grand and stuffed it in the split in a mattress and stuck it under the surf rat’s bed. Then I went up in the attic. In all the commotion, nobody even knew I was in there. They were all looking out the door wondering what was going on. Next thing, there’s a big knock on the front door, the back door gets kicked in — “Where is he.7"

They had gone to the chick whose car I’d used. She told them, “Yeah, he flashed me a big wad of money and said the police were after him. He used my car. He lives next door.” But the old man covered for me, “I ain’t seen him all morning.” He didn’t know what was going on, but maybe he figured there was some money in it somewhere, so he stalled them, “He’s down at the beach somewhere.” He almost got himself charged with aiding and abetting.

Then finally they got the surf puppy and just jacked him up, and he said, “Last I saw him, he was fucking with the attic entrance.” I was up there itching from all the fiberglass and cobwebs and shit, going back and forth, looking out this little air vent at a guy with a bullhorn coming on like, “RICHARD MITCHELL, YOU HAVE TWO MINUTES TO COME OUT. THROW OUT YOUR WEAPON.” The whole fucking Jimmy Cagney nine yards. What I did, I replied in kind, “Fuck you motherfuckers. Bomb me, kill me, I don’t give a fuck. Fuck all of you pigs.” I was that movie too.

Then it got down to about 15 seconds, and I saw about six deputies with pepper guns cocking their weapons and coming in the house. I went back to the other side of the attic and saw them coming through the other way. They were going to give me a hotfoot. You know, up through the floorboards. Said, “We’re going to open fire if you don’t come down.” So I said, “Well, okay."

They said, “Approach the attic access and lift the cover with your feet and stick your feet out." And dig this. They were using my surfboard to batter the door up. The crudest cut of all, you know. I could see the nose of my favorite board crumbling and shit.

Man, I never used bank money to buy anything that I kept. I never used bank robberies to pay any debts. I never used bank money for anything else than to do what I had to do. No personal items. Just charities and parties. I couldn’t have been out in the water and knowing that the board I used I bought robbing a bank. So this board I bought with my own working money and they crumpled the nose up on it. I knew I was busted.

As soon as I stuck my feet out, they snatched me down — my chin snapped on the door frame as I went through. They pulled me down and wrapped me up in about ten yards of that plastic restraint shit. My dog’s jumping all over me, and I had two sheriffs lifting me under my arms. I looked like Magnum, P.l. when they were leading me out. I had a brushy mustache and a flower shirt and the shorts and shit.

They took some of the nylon off me and calmed me down a little. I told them, “Yeah, I’m guilty. I’m glad you’re here. My number’s up.” They put me in handcuffs and led me out. I was barely walking, more like they had me under my armpits, mostly dragging me. And my dog’s jumping around thinking we’re going to the beach. Because just before I left, I was going to use my dog as a little additional cover. I’d said, “Wanna go to the beach?" And you say “beach” to that dog and he’d be nuts until he got there. So when they stuffed me in a Fed car, he jumped in the back seat. We’re going to the beach, right?

This big fuck-faced sheriff or SWAT guy, he had big combat boots on, hauls my dog out by the scruff of the neck and kicks him right in the balls so hard he runs off screaming. Went all the way down to the beach by himself, and he would never leave me like that. I watch him run all the way down and across Vulcan. And I was incensed. I went off. Just then comes a total dickhead photographer from the paper, coming up right in the window of the car taking my picture, ten seconds after the dog got kicked. He says, “We’ll see you in 25 years, bank robber.”

He’s this faggoty little shit. But he takes my picture just as I started kicking the window. They had my feet taped together, and I started kicking with both feet and kicked the window out at the photographer, and that was on the front page, me kicking out the window.

So they put me in another car and right away started Mutt-and-Jeffing me. Good cop/bad cop, you know. I believe they took me down to the sheriffs substation in Encinitas, but everything for about five days after that is a kind of a haze. I didn’t know where I was. I’d never been in jail before; I knew nothing about the jail system.

They kept on Mutt-and-Jeffing me. The Feds were being real nice to me, like, “We think you’re responsible for some other bank robberies. We think you were at that bank once before.” I knew enough to stick to the story that I hadn’t done it. Kind of tough to, though, after telling them, “Thank you for finally busting me” in the car. They said, “We know you did one, and the other one we got a picture of you wearing the same shit. Why don’t we just clear everything up right now? Tell us about all the bank robberies you’ve ever done.” I told ’em I wanted a lawyer.

Next time I turn around I’m in MCC. Metropolitan Correction Center. I didn’t know it was MCC. I thought it was county jail. They put me in an orange jumpsuit; there’s all the guys in red jumpsuits, blue jumpsuits...I though each color meant a different thing. And they put me in lockdown for three days, then arraigned me. I was facing 50 years, since they were charging me for both jobs, even though my lawyer fought tooth and nail to get me out of the first one. He was a public defender — a real good guy, who now runs Federal Defenders of San Diego. Name’s Mario Conte, Jr. Almost got himself a contempt charge for me. Solid guy.

Meanwhile, I still didn’t know where I was at, held in solitary, thinking I was in county jail. Then they took me over to county jail for a lineup. They put me in a holding cell there, and right away I knew I’d hit an even worse place, ’cause the guys were saying, “Oh, you with the Feds, man? You got it made, homes, over at that MCC. A.k.a., Mexican Country Club. Looka this, they give us each a pack of cigarettes.”

These were the co-stars of my lineup. The Feds gave us each a pack of smokes and a red bandana. All five of them had striking blue eyes like mine, blonde hair. So we’re all working on our story, you know. How to talk, what not to say, how to act more like me than I did. They’re all trying to help me get through the lineup. It wouldn’t have mattered, because on a plea bargain I would have got the same time if I’d told ’em about all 12 banks I did. But it was quite the little rehearsal.

Well, we trooped on in there, and everybody looked just like me. With the bandana on and the blue eyes. Trouble was, everybody had different blue eyes. And she remembered my fuckin’ eyes. Three times we went by, half turns, quarter turns, “Give me all the 50s and 100s.” I tried talking like an East Coast Puerto Rican when I said my line. And I’d coached the other guys to say it like a coked-out surfer, like I would have. But she still picked me out, and I got beefed for two counts bank robbery. And while I was dealing with that, the DEA came in and indicted me for conspiracy to distribute 22 kilos of cocaine. So now I’m facing 150 years in the pen — 150 years, man. I never felt so young in my life.

So I was getting a lot of visitors because the DEA was coming in asking me questions. The FBI was coming in showing me pictures of old men looking like I’d look when I’m old, saying, “Come on, Rick, let’s clean up the whole picture.” Within a month I was under the Grand Jury for an organized crime beef, tb“ coke bit. Federal RICO act beef, coming from the La Costa mobster back before the bank business. Another ‘one of his mules had ratted all of us out. He got a $50,000 lawyer and beat it all, but they rolled up his whole downline.

I kept my mouth shut and they dropped the coke charged. I pled guilty to one count of unarmed bank robbery because they never got a picture of the second one. I told them about the plastic gun, was pretty open about the whole deal.

But I just couldn’t bring myself to snitch off my previous jobs. I just couldn’t do that to myself. I was proud of my abilities. Years later, I’d be feeding off those jobs, knowing that they were up there looking at pictures and videos of me raking off a bank and not being able to charge me with it.

But they silent-beefed me anyway. That means they can’t get an indictment on you for something, but the judge sees it anyway. So there I was, 26 years old, no previous convictions, college graduate. But I didn’t get a first-offense-type thing like most people in my situation, which would have been a 90-day study and nine months in a camp, the way they did it in the 70s, when they were into doing studies and finding out why you went from shoplifting cheese to bank robbing. Nowadays they don’t give a fuck; they just give youten years, you do eight, and that’s it, you’re done.

See, the silent beef kind of accelerates your classification, as though you’d had provable priors. They gave me Youth Act, which I shouldn’t have taken, because with all its stipulations I ended up doing five years. The Youth Act was for felons under 26 with no prior convictions, and technically I could have done 22 months, 4 more months in a halfway house, then had my whole record expunged after three years of good parole.

But what I did was, when I got to the pen, I balked, I got in fights, I had an attitude, went to the hole, got a high classification, got an attempted-escape charge for kicking the door off a holding cell. That type of shit. I ended up spending five years locked up out of a six-year sentence.

Initially did almost a year at MCC because they lost the records of my 90-day study, and my judge was on a guest gig in Alaska — the fairly honorable William D. Enright. Good judge to have had, because Thompson or one of those might have given me the adult ten years. So I did another study, went back to court, all that shit. They gave me the time and sent me to Terminal Island. It was great. Just to be out of that stone fuckin’ monolith mausoleum of MCC, man. To get to see some grass, see the harbor.

And I ran into a friend of mine. I first met Damon Owens surfing at the Swami’s. Half-black, half-Hawaiian type of guy, had this giant Afro. This was at the height of my bank-robbery career in Encinitas, and we used to see each other partying. But the first time I met him I’d lost my board in a pretty heavy surf and would have been gashed on the rocks there at the Swami’s, but here comes Damon with his big white teeth and bleached-out Afro and my leash in his teeth. “Hey, I got you one board, guy.” We became friends.

He always had money, I always had money, but the funny thing was neither of us knew that the other one was robbing banks until we met in the slam. He got caught in Cardiff too, by the way. He’d been doing banks all up in Orange County. Did like 20. And as soon as I hit MCC, there he was, “Hey, you wanna surfer roomie, bruddah?" So we ended up rooming for three months. It was a good transition.

Me and Damon were the real surfer bank robbers, come to mention it. Point Break was a totally jive picture, man.

Surfers know it, bank robbers know it. That “Bill and Ted” dickhead thinks he can paddle out to Santa Cruz, and after two weeks on that egg-pig board that nobody would ever surf those waves with, he’s up there doing all these backside tube slides and shit. And at the end, when old Patrick Swayze, whatever his grunt name was in the film, is paddling out to the big 50-year swell he robbed the banks to finance the safari to New Zealand to ride, he’s paddling like a kook. Maybe some chicks liked his buns or something, but he looked like a kook.

The bank robberies were pretty bullshit too. I mean, they went in there four deep. They got a lot of money, but they had people lying around all over the floor, yelling and creating too much energy. They were in the bank so long. They were in there for an eternity. They could have done the vaults in that time. Going in with four guys, they could have done the safes, should have been able to get in the vault. But yeah, they were better robbers than they were surfers.

Of course, they had real surfers like Archibald doing the surfing. They should have got some real bank robbers to do the robbing. Stand-in thing, you know; technical consultant. If you like surfer bank robbers, fuck that Kenau twink, check out me and Damon. We were out there doing real jobs, bank bucks paying for our own real surf trips. Hanging loose. Financing psycho trailer park needle parties. All on the real.

And as soon as I hit the yard at Terminal Island, look who’s there with a big joint in his pocket. “Let’s go to the big yard, brah, and bum one.” So we smoked a joint, and it was so beautiful out there, ships and yachts cruising by in the harbor. I thought, “Yeah, I could do some time here.”

Then he goes, “Yeah, the Police are playing tonight, bruddah.” I though he meant the guards were having a concert. Hell, no; the damn Police were playing. Sting and the boys. And Chuck Berry was doing his community service for the Feds. He had to play, like, 20 free gigs for his rat-off on George Kirby. Kirby got a 15-year sentence for the heroin deal he had going with Berry. Kirby was up there too, playing MC and doing impressions. Didn’t even seem pissed off at Chuck.

The Police left some of their equipment at Terminal Island, so I immediately got into the music scene, since I had a background playing in rock bands. I was playing in several bands, but my main group was called 211, which is the code for bank robbery. An all-bank-robber band. There was me and a black drummer named Maurice who had been a studio drummer, very John Bonham influenced, the best Led Zeppelin-type drummer I’ve ever heard. He initially robbed banks to pay off some medical expenses in his family. This big, giant Samoan named Junior was on bass, a stone-cold heroin addict, but you’d never know it. All through his time in the pen, he’d go in the gym and press 400 pounds cold, then split. This white guitarist named Jimmy had been doing banks up in West Covina.

Then we had this undercover homosexual — the kind that doesn’t tell the classification interview about it so they can get in with the real men — but we threw him out of the band when we noticed the Rolling Stone he was always reading really had these nasty S&.M, enema bag, scatological mags from San Francisco inside it. Turns out he was the “son” of some hard-core gangster from LA, taking it up the butt. And trying to keep it a secret. In a fuckin’ prison.

I got a job in landscaping, cutting the warden’s grass and shit. He had a nice little garden. Fact is, I never had it so good on the outs. But I kept getting in hassles and my security level raised, and I ended up at Lompoc, which is a hard-core pen. I got out, spent about eight months on parole, got revoked for a dirty test, and finished up two years at Englewood, Colorado. I got out and went back to Encinitas to wallow in drugs for a while and think of an interesting line of work.

Spending my late 20s in federal prisons probably didn’t do my social development much good, but I did get to meet some world-class bank robbers. I’ve met hundreds of them. Good ones, bad ones, Brinks guard renegades, you name it. I got funneled into the federal system where all the bank robbers end up. A lot of them were Youth Acts. Most of them, whether it be from Latino, black, or Caucasian backgrounds, are from better families, two-parent families — good guys gone bad. So they’d end up with Youth Act. It was a peer group.

See, crimes make cliques. You hang with guys your own weight and attitude. Your own tastes, you know? Like in the feds, you’ve got your white-collar criminals cliqued up, playing tennis. Even at Lompoc, which is hard core, you’ve got your tennis courts. And you get your so-called elite coke dealers who feel they’ve committed no crime other than hiring incompetent lawyers and aren’t really common crooks like those other cons.

And bank robbers hang together because they’re the only ones who really understand the other guy’s trip. Just like people who do the same kind of drugs. Which is not a bad way to understand it. The money is the bottom line. Having big wads of cash, flying around, doing the lifestyle. But the subliminal thing is the thrill and activity of doing it, of casing it, of preparing your act, the changes in your metabolism and consciousness when you walk in that door. Only other bank robbers really understand. So there’s that clique. And the big topic is “How’d You Get Caught ?" And everybody tells their tale.

Check out Lamont, this black kid I knew from the 40th and University area. Good little dude — football star at Lincoln High School in the Marcus Allen mold, honor-student type, a bright and future star. But he just would get caught up with the wrong people, started gang-banging. Then he and his partner went into a bank down in Southeast San Diego. His pal had the shotgun and spray-painted the camera just like in Dog Day Afternoon. Lamont’s got his 9mm and goes to the counter. They had ski masks on; they had a little bit of couth about them. But some old lady hauls off and slugs Lamont in the back of the head with a fuckin’ handbag. He does the tighten up on the trigger, the shot ricochets off this big pillar and kills his partner. What time is it then? Time for the police to take you off for 25 to life, murder in conjunction with a robbery.

Another favorite topic is dissing people who fucked up jobs or got away with doing them stupid. The robbers all hang out together, and all the “fish,” the new recruits, get scrutinized. It’s shop talk, hut there’s an edge, you know. Take the “A’s Bandit,” for instance. The guy’s a punk. I heard from some good sources at MCC that that “A’s” asshole got stressed for his booty up at the pen. Which means they were going to take his ass because he was such a weak punk — a sniveler and whiner.

Like I said, there’s a code of conduct. You don’t just go to the bank every day wearing the same hat. It’s just like asking to be caught. It’s not done. He had no gun. He was a punk. He was getting the money, but just by the skin of his teeth. It’s a testimony to the way things are these days. Nobody keeps up the standards. If I was a damned bank teller and this guy had already robbed 20 goddammed banks and he walks in with his fuckin’ A’s cap, I'd be scrutinizing his ass. I don’t know how he ever got by.

But now he’s segregated out of the general population and will have to do the rest of his time in protective custody. PC’d out like any other punk for snitching that people were hassling him. And I know the reason he was hassled — because he was a very unprofessional bank robber. The same fuckin’ hat every fuckin’ day, give me a break. I mean, people get pissed off for lots of bullshit reasons in prison, but think about if you were a master of disguise and got caught on your second job, and here’s this asshole pulling off 20 banks with the same fuggin' hat. Would you be pissed?

Of course, there’s a sort of pecking order of cliques and within each clique. Bank robbers tend to look up to the guys who were most successful or the toughest or the hardest to capture. The most radical capture I ever heard was this friend of mine, the funniest guy I ever met in prison, Jim Brock. He went in a bank in Santa Monica, had successfully perpetrated the money, and was coming out when a female bank guard came out of the coffee room and shot him in the back with a .38-caliber revolver. The round exited through his stomach. He fell through the plate glass window in a pile of money, blood, and gunsmoke. He was gathering up the money just in time for the lady to come through the door and shoot him again. He picked up his gun and took a shot at her, and she fled back into the bank.

But there happened to be a Brinks delivery pull up at the time. Both Brinks guards opened up on Brock; he took three more bullets in his stomach and out his back. So he’s taken five rounds by now, through and through his midsection. He’s gutshot, but he’s picking up the money. He returns fire enough to make the Brinks guys take cover and stuffs as much as he can in his coat, runs into Santa Monica Boulevard, where there’s this 1972 black Fleetwood with some skinny little nigger driving it. He snatches the nigger out by his hair through the driver’s window, gets in the car. By that time, every window in the car is shot out because there’s sheriffs and LA PD showing up all over the place, getting into the act. He took off on a high-speed chase for five miles, and he got away.

If he hadn’t been dying, he’d have made it. His whole colon was hanging out, and he had to go to a hospital. The Feds made him wear a colostomy bag for a year, just as a lesson. But it paid off because he ended up sneaking a lot of dope in with that colostomy bag, because there ain’t no guards want to go digging through shit when he comes back from the visiting room. Finally, the Feds were going to fix him, sew him up. But he didn’t want to because he was making too much money. He kept the bag for another five months until they made him take the surgery.

The all-American bank fantasy is pulling down a big score and taking off to Brazil or somewhere, surf New Zealand, retire. But it never happens. Two big reasons why. For one thing, they never make that big a score. Nowadays, most bump-and-run bank robbers are going to get anywhere between 150 and 900 bucks. My biggest score was the first one, $18,500, and that was just because they happened to be coming out with the cart. You’ve got to get inside the vault for retirement-class money.

Most robbers these days are desperate crackheads going in without knowing what to do, and they don’t get any money and they get big time. They don’t give you decent money in a bank anymore. The only place for any real money is in the vault, and I know people who’ve gotten into vaults. Sometimes with inside help. But in order to get in the vault, you’ve got to spend at least three minutes in the bank, and that’s way too much time, unless you know exactly where the cops are.

But the main reason is that once you start robbing banks, you don’t stop until you’re caught. I’m not just talking about the maybe thousand bank robbers I’ve met and talked to. You can look at the FBI statistics. They know what I’m saying. Over 92 percent of bank robberies are solved. Which means, like, over 99 percent of the perpetrators get caught. You always get caught. You just won’t stop until you do.

Good case in point. This middle-class kid from Golden Hill had a pretty good scam going and got away with it, then fucked it up at the last minute. He had the whole bank schedule down, and he strapped some dynamite to his back and went in with a device, a pushbutton in his hand. He picked the time when the bank vice president was opening the bank up and showed him the dynamite and told him not to turn on any alarms.

A lady showed up early for work, and he took her in the vault with him. Almost got a kidnapping rap for that. He cleared out about $450,000 from the vault into a duffel bag and took off. This is a kind of goofy-professor kid who would do something like that, a teen-aged mad-scientist type, big black glasses — big-time Revenge of the Nerds.

He went out and paid cash for a new Corvette, headed for Vegas. Then he ended up turning himself in because he was afraid he’d get killed. Too big a dipshit to split the country or anything. Turns himself in. Real genius. You know, they take dynamite fairly serious. But by turning himself in, he saved them a lot of money and court costs. Probably saved them another half million, the way they saw it. So they only gave him a nickel. Traded half a million for five years getting shit from better bank robbers who never saw that much in their whole career.

I wouldn’t advise anybody to get into robbing banks, not with the 1990s and the anti-crime climate in this country. It was really downplayed in the ’60s and 70s; you’d see Patty Hearst out and on talk shows. But now, in the ’80s and ’90s, it’s looked down upon and they give you big time. If I saw a robber coming out of a bank, I’d try to tackle his ass and be a hero. It’s not really a promising field at all anymore. My recommendation to the young guys breaking in would be to go rob a drug dealer. There’s more money, and chances are you won’t get caught.

It's not really a promising field at all anymore. My recommendation to the young guys breaking in would be to go rob a drug dealer.

It used to be a sort of middle-class, good-guy kind of field. Now there’s street people and stuff getting into it. Like that guy who held up the bank downtown in his wheelchair because he couldn’t afford medication. Not your greatest escape plan. It’d look great in a lineup, though. Or that street guy who did a bank because he said anything was better than living on the street. Then after six months inside, he recanted and said, “I don’t want to be here, the streets would be better than prison.” Sorry, dude. Too little, too late.

That’s all been ten years ago, but I still get respect and recognition for my bank robbing career. People buy me drinks. Nobody ever gets scandalized, like I’d been dealing drugs or pimping or anything — I get admiration. It’s a kind of vicarious identification, I guess.

Look at my own family. Everybody in my family is rebellious by nature, but sometimes I feel like I’ve been the designated rebel. Like, my mother always wanted to split Chicago and come out to the Coast, but she never did. So she would talk to me about California, I’d send her cards and shit; she was, like, living her fantasy through me. Does that make sense?

Each one of my brothers has told me that at some point in their lives, they seriously considered robbing a bank, and they admired my black sheepness, in a way, for going out and doing it. I’ve gotten the same thing in a lot of places from a lot of people — they’ve always wanted to rob a bank. It’s always been the all-American crime. It still is.

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