Old man robs bank to return to jail
South Carolina native Walter Unbehaun was released from prison in 2011 after serving a 10-year sentence for a bank robbery. Multiple other felonies on his record had also caused him to spend most of his adult life in prison. Disappointed with his newfound freedom, the ex-con wanted nothing more than to return to the place he felt most comfortable: a jail cell.
“He wanted to do something that would guarantee that he would spend the rest of his life in prison, and he knew that robbing a bank with a loaded gun would accomplish that,” said a federal complaint describing his post-arrest interrogation.
In hopes of getting caught, Unbehaun walked undisguised into a suburban Chicago bank and demanded that the teller hand over the money.
“This is a hold up. I have nothing to lose,” the man said as he walked in the door.
Leaning on his cane, the balding old man showed her a silver revolver that was hidden underneath his jacket, the Chicago Tribune reports.
“I only have six months to live and have nothing to lose,” he allegedly told the teller. “I don’t want to hurt you.”
The teller gave Unbehaun $4,178 in cash, which the man stuffed in his pockets before walking out. Surveillance cameras captured the man exiting the bank and returning to his sedan. After the media disseminated pictures of the suspected bank robber, police received a call from a man who recognized Unbehaun at a restaurant. Shortly thereafter, on Feb. 8, police tracked Unbehaun to the motel he was staying at.
Once authorities stopped the old man outside of his hotel, he threw down his can and surrendered, describes the US District Court of Chicago.
He now faces up to 20 years in prison.
Unbehaun is one of many aging prisoners now destined to spend the rest of his life behind bars. Elderly inmates are the fastest-growing segment of federal and state prisons and are estimated to make up about 33 percent of US prisoners, the Berkeley Daily Planet reports.
A 2012 Human Rights Watch report found that the number of sentenced state and federal prisoners aged 65 or older grew at a rate 94 times greater than that of the overall prison population. Many of these inmates are destined to die behind bars, costing the government millions of dollars to pay for the care of people who often pose no threat to society.
“Increasingly, the cells and dormitories of the United States are filled with old, often sick men and women,” writes Prison Legal News author James Ridgeway. “They hobble around the tiers with walkers or roll in wheelchairs. They fill prison infirmaries, assisted living wings and hospices faster than the state and federal governments can build them – and since many are dying behind bars, they are filling the mortuaries and graveyards as well.”
Ex-cons released at old age or poverty-stricken Americans frequently commit crimes on purpose, in order to receive the free housing and food that US prisons provide. With an unemployment rate of 7.9 percent, the high cost of healthcare, and the difficulty of finding a job as an ex-con, the simple life spent in a prison cell is appealing to some.
A 36-year-old homeless man intentionally threw a brick through the glass doors of a US Post Office last July, claiming that imprisonment is better than homelessness. In 2011, 59-year-old Richard James Verone conducted a $1 bank robbery in order to go back to prison and receive free healthcare. Verone needed surgery on his back and foot, but could not afford to have it done on his own.
For elderly Americans released from prison, the cost of living freely is sometimes too high. Unbehaun will likely spend the rest of his years in a cell – the place that he has called home for most of his life.