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Tilting at Windmills

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October 13, 2006
By: Jacob Hacker

I'm going to be writing about what can be done to counter the growing economic insecurity of American families later today. But I just discovered an idea I hadn't thought of -- on p. 18 of today's Times.

Just Asking to Be Caught, Thief Solves Joblessness

THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
October 13, 2006

COLUMBUS, Ohio, Oct. 12 (AP) A man who could not find steady work came up with a plan to make it through the next few years until he could collect Social Security: He robbed a bank, handed the money to a guard and waited for the police.

On Wednesday, the man, Timothy J. Bowers, told a judge that a three-year prison sentence would suit him, and the judge obliged.

At my age, the jobs available to me are minimum-wage jobs, Mr. Bowers, who will turn 63 in a few weeks, told the judge, Angela White. There is age discrimination out there.

Judge White told him: Its unfortunate you feel this is the only way to deal with the situation.

Mr. Bowers said he had been able to find only odd jobs after the drug wholesaler for which he made deliveries closed in 2003. He walked to a bank and handed a teller a note demanding cash in an envelope. The teller gave him four $20 bills and pushed a silent alarm.

Mr. Bowers handed the money to a security guard standing in the lobby and told him it was his day to be a hero.

He pleaded guilty to robbery, and a court-ordered psychological exam found him competent.

The Columbus Dispatch reported that before the robbery, Mr. Bowers had handed his landlady the keys to his apartment, his mailbox and the laundry room and told her he would probably not be back.

Its a pretty sad story when someone feels thats their only alternative, said Jeremy W. Dodgion, a defense lawyer, who described Mr. Bowers as a charming old man.

Prosecutors had considered arguing against putting Mr. Bowers in prison at taxpayer expense, but they worried he would do something more reckless to be put behind bars.

Its not the financial plan I would choose, but its a financial plan, the prosecutor, Dan Cable, said.

Jacob Hacker 10:08 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (56)

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Comments

Just Asking to Be Caught, Thief Solves Joblessness

Interesting story Jacob, but I think the real problem is that the criminal was just lazy. There are a lot of good jobs out there for people looking for work. Walmart would be a great choice because they hire almost everyone. When one starts at a new job, one can't expect to get the highest pay at the beginning. He should have worked hard at his new job at Walmart and then try to get a promotion which would get him paid more. Instead he chose the easy way out by living a life of crime. This is sad and unfortunate but imprisoning him is necessary to defend the rule of law.

Posted by: Al on October 13, 2006 at 10:24 AM | PERMALINK

Huh. I can't say I would enjoy working as a greeter at the wal-mart or working with a bunch of 16-year olds at McDonalds, but I have to say either would probably beat a 3-year stint at the state pen. If this guy doesn't have a complete set of dentures yet, he probably will by the time he makes it to retirement age...

Posted by: mjk on October 13, 2006 at 10:26 AM | PERMALINK

This situation is so very reminiscent of O. Henry's "The Cop and the Anthem" that I can scarcely believe that this isn't a set-up.

Yet, have we regressed so far in our social thought in this country so that nature is now imitating the art of the turn of the last century?

Posted by: Dave Alway on October 13, 2006 at 10:36 AM | PERMALINK

He's just trying to make a point, but I wonder if he's really thought it all the way through. Prision life can be very tough - a pretty poor option.

The judge may have had options too. Maybe put him to work for the county or state to pay his debt, community service or something like that -- instead of "rewarding" him by giving him the sentence he wanted.

The prosecutor's argument that he might "do something more reckless" to be jailed seems like just a ploy. The man was found fully competent.

Posted by: wishIwuz2 on October 13, 2006 at 10:42 AM | PERMALINK

Al what species are you?I don"t think its human.I guess you've never been in a desperate situation.Compassion isn't part of your makeup.Trite heartless platitudes are though.

Posted by: gandalf on October 13, 2006 at 10:48 AM | PERMALINK

There are a lot of good jobs out there for people looking for work.

Like posting rightard spin on liberla websites, Al? Maybe you could get him a job at the RNC. Good bennies, I'm sure.

Posted by: MeLoseBrain? on October 13, 2006 at 10:48 AM | PERMALINK

Al: "the criminal was just lazy..."

There are many potential ways of understanding or explaining one man's belief that prison is preferable to minimum wage, and Al's is the laziest.

Al, if you don't care why someone has different opinions, ideas, beliefs, preferences than you, then just say so. He did the crime, he'll do the time. Motivation's aren't important to you. Fine.

But if you're going to start assigning bio-psychological motivations to him, then you're going to have to do better than "he's lazy."

Posted by: backatcha on October 13, 2006 at 10:50 AM | PERMALINK
Huh. I can't say I would enjoy working as a greeter at the wal-mart or working with a bunch of 16-year olds at McDonalds, but I have to say either would probably beat a 3-year stint at the state pen.

In prison, you get a guarantee of food, clothing, and shelter—a single person working a minimum wage job in America isn't all that guaranteed to be able to provide those. Sure, in prison, you aren't guaranteed safety from violent crime, but then that's not true outside, least of all in the places you might be able to afford to live on a minimum wage paycheck while trying to pay for food and other necessities, as well.

There seems to be this subtle, implicit perception that anyone with any job no matter how poor the pay is can meet all the basic needs of life easily, and the only difference is in the quantity of luxuries. That is certainly not the case.

America has, as I recall, the greatest proportion of its population imprisoned of any nation on Earth, and yet pouring money into more prisons and new ways to through people into them is ever popular. Perhaps if we spent that money on making life better for people outside of prison, we wouldn't have people choosing to go to prison so much: either directly in extreme cases like this, or, more commonly, indirectly through actions which discount the risk of imprisonment on the view that prison wouldn't be much worse than what is experienced outside.

Posted by: cmdicely on October 13, 2006 at 10:53 AM | PERMALINK

If you can get a copy of this book (Bank Robbers by C. Clark Criscuolo) anywhere, go out and buy it immediately. A group of old ladies try robbing a bank. They are hoping to escape the clutches of family members who are trying to manage their lives. Unfortunately they succeed.

It's a book full of humor and humanity and sympathy for the people who have been left behind by society.


http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/customer-reviews/1575660881/ref=cm_cr_dp_pt/104-2367999-8099162?ie=UTF8&n=283155&s=books

Posted by: Gary on October 13, 2006 at 10:58 AM | PERMALINK

He must like butt-fucking.

Posted by: American Hawk on October 13, 2006 at 11:08 AM | PERMALINK

Maybe this helps explain the tidal wave of crime and corruption by Republicans lately: they're just asking to be caught, poor things, and we just haven't obliged them.

Posted by: Stefan on October 13, 2006 at 11:08 AM | PERMALINK

Al 10:24 is probably a parody.

Posted by: humble blogger on October 13, 2006 at 11:13 AM | PERMALINK

Are there not poorhouses and debtors prisons?

Posted by: Scrooge on October 13, 2006 at 11:14 AM | PERMALINK

If I can play Bill Frist and diagnose from afar, I would guess that this man is suffering from clinical depression.

Posted by: JR on October 13, 2006 at 11:21 AM | PERMALINK

Posted by: cmdicely on October 13, 2006 at 10:53 AM

Thank you.

Posted by: Otolaryx on October 13, 2006 at 11:23 AM | PERMALINK

If I can play Bill Frist and diagnose from afar, I would guess that this man is suffering from clinical depression.

Certainly sounds like it, given the combination of despair, apathy and disordered thinking that probably produced this behavior.

Posted by: Stefan on October 13, 2006 at 11:31 AM | PERMALINK

He should have worked hard at his new job at Walmart and then try to get a promotion which would get him paid more. Instead he chose the easy way out by living a life of crime. This is sad and unfortunate but imprisoning him is necessary to defend the rule of law.

...says Al, whose apparent 24/7 job consists of fighting terror from his keyboard in his parent's basement.

Posted by: Pennypacker on October 13, 2006 at 11:31 AM | PERMALINK

More than likely everyone who responded to this including the "compassionate conservative" is no more than forty something. Age discrimination is very alive and well in this country and no one is really concerned. We are throwing away our older workers because they are expensive or cost too much in insurance or because they do not want to work 12 hours a day 7 days a week or ....... Then to top it off the bushies are making sure the Social Security Trust Fund is empty.

Posted by: Don on October 13, 2006 at 11:37 AM | PERMALINK

cmdicely -- I didn't mean to imply that it would be easy to get by working at a low-wage job. But there have to be better alternatives than prison. If I was in his truly desperate situation, I'd probably apply for all the credit cards I could, and rack up a ton of debt. I'd work at the Wal-Mart so I could make my minimum monthly payments. Then, when I'm eligible for SS and Medicare, I'd declare bankruptcy. This method would allow me to both screw credit card companies AND keep my anal cherry.

Posted by: mjk on October 13, 2006 at 11:43 AM | PERMALINK

Certainly sounds like it, given the combination of despair, apathy and disordered thinking that probably produced this behavior.

Did you mean the man in the story, or Bill Frist?

Posted by: craigie on October 13, 2006 at 11:46 AM | PERMALINK

Ney Pled Guilty.

Republican Culture of Corruption.

Happy Friday.

Posted by: Osama_Been_Forgotten on October 13, 2006 at 12:02 PM | PERMALINK

Usually the military is considered to be the welfare program of last resort, but it has been so disgraced by the invasion and occupation of Iraq, that the losers in our economy would rather choose incarceration.

Posted by: Hostile on October 13, 2006 at 12:05 PM | PERMALINK

He must like butt-fucking.

Then he should have gotten a job in the White House.

Posted by: Hostile on October 13, 2006 at 12:08 PM | PERMALINK


GOP: There's NO shortage of jobs. See your army recruiter for details.

Posted by: rnc on October 13, 2006 at 12:09 PM | PERMALINK

Soma! Soma! Soma!

Posted by: cazart on October 13, 2006 at 12:10 PM | PERMALINK

He already can retire. You can retire at 62 he is 63. The problem is that he can't afford to live on his social insecurity. When will the democrats realize we need to fix social security?

Posted by: TruthPolitik on October 13, 2006 at 12:10 PM | PERMALINK


AH: He must like butt-fucking.


that's why i became a republican...

Posted by: Jeff Gannon on October 13, 2006 at 12:10 PM | PERMALINK

As soon as I get out of rehab, he can come work for me.
So...you're getting horny? Good.

Posted by: Mark Foley on October 13, 2006 at 12:12 PM | PERMALINK

I don't think we shold jokes about anal rape in prison. We senr people to prison to be rehabilitated (or occassionally to be sequested from decent people). we son't send them there to be raped. It constitutes cruel and unusal punishment.

It's been suggested above that this story is a hoax and it may well be because the man is 63. Isn't he legible to claim early retirement from Social security at age 62? Or has that changed?

Posted by: beb on October 13, 2006 at 12:24 PM | PERMALINK
senr people to prison to be rehabilitated (or occassionally to be sequested from decent people).

I think you have that backwards: very little of the prison system is designed around rehabilitation, and very much of it is designed around simply warehousing undesirables. So I think we're deluding ourselves if we tell ourselves the primary reason we are sending people to prison is rehabilitation (even in the broad sense where that includes specific deterrence.)

Posted by: cmdicely on October 13, 2006 at 12:27 PM | PERMALINK
cmdicely -- I didn't mean to imply that it would be easy to get by working at a low-wage job. But there have to be better alternatives than prison.

There ought to be, certainly, but the world isn't always the way we'd prefer it to be.

If I was in his truly desperate situation, I'd probably apply for all the credit cards I could, and rack up a ton of debt.

Without already having a job, good credit, or being in college, you might not get all that many credit cards (and the ones you do get may have miniscule credit limits, require substantial up-front fees, etc.). And do we know that he doesn't already have substantial credit card or other debt?

I'd work at the Wal-Mart so I could make my minimum monthly payments.

That's a nice thought, but not everyone who applies for a job at Wal-Mart or a similar place gets it.

Then, when I'm eligible for SS and Medicare, I'd declare bankruptcy. This method would allow me to both screw credit card companies AND keep my anal cherry.

It might, if you were lucky on the credit card and job front, make it more likely that you could "afford" the basic necessities of life on a minimum wage salary. It might not, either.

Posted by: cmdicely on October 13, 2006 at 12:34 PM | PERMALINK

I have long maintained that the 21st century seems to be the 19th redone. Those who forget the past are condemmed to repeat it.

Posted by: la on October 13, 2006 at 12:41 PM | PERMALINK

Actually this story is not so unusual. Lots of folks decide to check into prison because it is easier than living on the street. The unusual thing about this case is the man's past history and age.

A number of years ago, in the name of mainstreaming but primarily to cut costs, we (the collective we) released a number of essentially harmless people with mental illnesses from our public mental hospitals. Over the years I have encountered several who have committed petty crimes in such a sloppy manner they knew they would be caught. They happily went to prison. Their families were equally happy to see them go.

I have often wondered what percentage of our prison population consists of people who just can't succeed in our society as opposed to those who are truly criminals.

Posted by: Ron Byers on October 13, 2006 at 12:46 PM | PERMALINK

Not a bad plan. A 3 year sentence will keep him in a minimum security facility. 3 hots and a cot and no worries of violent crime or rape. Those problems occur in medium and higher security prisons.

Posted by: jg on October 13, 2006 at 12:50 PM | PERMALINK

Did you mean the man in the story, or Bill Frist?
Posted by: craigie on October 13, 2006 at 11:46 AM | PERMALINK

That was funny.

Posted by: E. Henry Thripshaw on October 13, 2006 at 12:52 PM | PERMALINK

I heard two homeless teenage girls on the bus last night talking about how if they couldn't get into either of two shelters they were heading for they could go to a local clinic and make vague headache complaints which would give them a warm place to sit and sleep until morning.

Posted by: jefff on October 13, 2006 at 1:09 PM | PERMALINK

There was a movie about 20 yrs ago- Going in Style. George Burns, Art Carney, and Lee Strasburg played 3 old guys who decided to rob a bank because they couldn't survive on their fixed incomes. Then one of them dies; the other 2 go to Vegas and win even more money. Alas, it gets complicated. Check it out. Great acting by George Burns and Art Carney. It's a comedy- but very sad.

Posted by: wollyjon on October 13, 2006 at 1:09 PM | PERMALINK

Comedian Red Skelton used to do a similar skit. "Freddy the Freeloader" had no place to stay on a snowy Christmas Eve. He tried every which way to get arrested, but to no avail. Then, a kindly bystander invited him to her home, whereupon he was immediately arrested.

On a more serious note, does this event mean that prison isn't unpleasant enough to deter crime?

Posted by: ex-liberal on October 13, 2006 at 1:45 PM | PERMALINK
On a more serious note, does this event mean that prison isn't unpleasant enough to deter crime?

No, it means that the plight of the law-abiding unemployed is too unpleasant for prison to deter crime.

Posted by: cmdicely on October 13, 2006 at 1:53 PM | PERMALINK

I've considered the same sort of retirement plan, and I wonder how many other boomers have done so, too. You see, companies pretty much don't offer pensions. We put money into 401(k)s and the market wipes out the savings periodically -- my last 401(k) just recovered from the last Bush Bust -- it has taken almost a year to get back to where it started before the last market slide.

Getting money put aside is extremely difficult. And getting re-employed is an uphill battle. I feel like I amy never hold another job, and I have 3 years to go before I even hit early retirement.

Well, there's worse plans than robbing a bank... like living under a brige abutment.

Posted by: Scorpio on October 13, 2006 at 1:54 PM | PERMALINK

does this event mean that prison isn't unpleasant enough to deter crime

I would just like to say Fuck You! to all American Sadists who enjoy punishing anti-social human beings as a deterrent to future crime. Punsishment does not prevent crime, but it does make the anti-social violent, which then justifies more sadistic punsishment.

American Sadists have made our society so undesirable and inhospitable to economic losers, that even the horrors of incarceration have been made desirable.

Posted by: Hostile on October 13, 2006 at 2:07 PM | PERMALINK

"He already can retire. You can retire at 62 he is 63. The problem is that he can't afford to live on his social insecurity. When will the democrats realize we need to fix social security?"

Wait. We need to fix SS to make it pay MORE? That, my friend, is the thread-jacking of the YEAR!

Posted by: diddy on October 13, 2006 at 2:09 PM | PERMALINK

I believe he quoted 'age discrimination'.

Basically, he's not old enough for 'old people jobs' and too old for 'young people jobs' at these service industries.

He was probably looking at actually losing his apartment, having no food, and being on the street.

Being in jail is like on the street, except your bed and food don't get stolen and you're less stinky and cold. You still get beat up regularly.

Posted by: Crissa on October 13, 2006 at 2:24 PM | PERMALINK

When I was in graduate school about ten years ago we actually discussed this scenario pretty thoroughly in a criminology class. It actually makes a hell of a lot of sense for poor people economically, and I'm suprised more people do not try it.

Consider that someone who works eight hours a day, five days a week, fifty weeks a year (i.e. full-time) and earns $6/hour will earn a measly $12,000 per year. In many cities, that will barely cover rent and food, and in many cities will not even cover rent.

On the other hand, in a minimum-security prison, the person gets full room and board and a reasonable quality of life (i.e. access to books, a computer, TV, basic health care, etc.)completely free of charge. The only thing the person has to sacrifice is mobility, which in the case of someone earning only $12,000 a year is going to be very limited anyway and therefore will not constitute much of a sacrifice.

Therefore from an economic perspective, it is actually a highly logical decision.

Posted by: mfw13 on October 13, 2006 at 2:33 PM | PERMALINK
On the other hand, in a minimum-security prison, the person gets full room and board and a reasonable quality of life (i.e. access to books, a computer, TV, basic health care, etc.)completely free of charge. The only thing the person has to sacrifice is mobility, which in the case of someone earning only $12,000 a year is going to be very limited anyway and therefore will not constitute much of a sacrifice.

Well, there are other things sacrificed, too, like the franchise and privacy: all of your communications are monitored by the government, for instance. At least, privacy used to be a sacrifice compared to life outside of prison.

Posted by: cmdicely on October 13, 2006 at 2:48 PM | PERMALINK

In the Viking age, if a man was unable to support himself, he could submit himself to a Jarl (equivalent to an Earl - or better) as a Thrall (slave). The Jarl was responsible for feeding and housing the Thrall, and the Thrall had to do whatever the Jarl asked, and could not leave the Jarl's service until the Jarl "freed" the Thrall.

Considering how criminals basically become the private property of the corporate masters of the privatized prison system once incarcerated, it looks like this guy was trying to return to the grand old traditions.

Posted by: Osama_Been_Forgotten on October 13, 2006 at 2:48 PM | PERMALINK

He's too young for Medicare. Early Retirement SS from a low wage job is less than minimum wage. I "retired" as soon as I legally could after being "let go" from the university that employed me for 10 years as an Adjunct Instructor. Employed, I'd managed to pay for individual health insurance: no way could I do so on early Social Security. Between 62 and 65 I lived in constant fear that I would be knocked off my bicycle or run into by a careless SUV and ambulanced off to perpetual impoverishment.

Posted by: G.L.Horton on October 13, 2006 at 3:45 PM | PERMALINK

It's called Medicaid and it is available to anyone below age 65 with low or very low incomes, depending on the state of residence. So don't come running to us when you think the government has to change SS to make health care affordable, because, if you are poor enough, it IS affordable.

Posted by: know your rights on October 13, 2006 at 6:33 PM | PERMALINK

Medicaid rules, UNLIKE Social Security rules, vary state-by-state. In some states it is just about impossible to get on Medicaid unless you are 65 OR a young mother with dependent children. Maybe the poor SOB lives in one of *those* states.

Posted by: Izzatso on October 13, 2006 at 9:31 PM | PERMALINK

Walmart doesn't want 63-year-old employees--they might consume benefits at a higher rate. As shown by a memo written by their personnel manager and recently leaked to the press, they are now actively trying to get RID of their older, long-term employees because they cost more.

Posted by: Nancy Irving on October 14, 2006 at 1:43 AM | PERMALINK

AL:

If Wally-World is so great, instead of flapping your jaws here, bloviating and orally flatuating while eating up bandwidth, if you're that bored, why don't YOU go work at Wally-World a few extra hours a week as a greeter?

Just tell me when and where you work, and what you look like. I'll be sure to drive up there at that time, make sure you properly greet me with a pasted-on smile, and then get in your face and tell you to STFU, knowing you have to grin and bear it because the customer is always right.

Posted by: SocraticGadfly on October 14, 2006 at 1:57 AM | PERMALINK

In California an adult with no minor children must be blind or disabled to get Medicaid.

Posted by: Nancy Irving on October 14, 2006 at 2:35 AM | PERMALINK

Gahh, what a sad, depressing thread. Yeah, it's like classic short stories and criminology class scenarios -- but it's also real.

Take the case several years ago (maybe more than that) in NYC of the Serial Diner ...

This was a fairly big guy, non-violent, minority, product of the crappy bottom-tier NYC school system. Couldn't hold a job for long for whatever reason -- but it's damn tough to exist in Manhattan on an unskilled job unless it's unionized. But he'd work occasionally, odd jobs, scrape by.

Thing was -- he hated homeless shelters. NYC homeless shelters are notoriously chaotic and also disease-ridden. Plus, it's hard to secure a bed.

So whenever the winter would start rolling in, he had a routine. He'd shower, dress up in his very best clothes and order a sumptuous meal at a mid-tier resturaunt. He'd enjoy it thoroughly. And right when dessert was done and he had finished his coffee, he'd calmly walk over to the maitre d' and tell him he was flat broke.

They'd call the cops and take him in and hold him for a month. And after his release, he'd do the same thing for the duration of the winter.

Given the guy's circumstances, there's a certain tremendously sad (nay, doubtless clinically depressed) rationality to that behavior ...

Bob

Posted by: rmck1 on October 14, 2006 at 6:22 AM | PERMALINK


What's really sad/funny is that so many liberals have such a negative stereotype of conservatives that they don't see that Al is one of their own doing parody.

Posted by: David Tomlin on October 14, 2006 at 6:27 AM | PERMALINK

Isn't it ironic, how few serious thoughts there are here? We're all going to get old, folks. Denial and avoidance won't make it go away. The more corporate thinking takes over our nation, the more us 'old folks' face this sort of choice. Try 'living' on $14k a year in this world. When I was a young man, that was a LOT of money. Now, it doesn't make it to the end of the month. You might want to give it some serious thought BEFORE you get there. Once you're here, it's far too late.

Posted by: Otolaryx on October 14, 2006 at 6:49 AM | PERMALINK

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Posted by: ppstream on October 15, 2006 at 10:25 AM | PERMALINK




 

 

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