Con Heir

Meet a truly dangerous prisoner. Literate. Political. Published. His teacher: the Birdman of Alcatraz.

Carey offers only the vaguest details concerning how and when he began to rob banks. How much of it had to do with politics rather than the simple lure of big wads of cash is anybody's guess. Judging from his book and other comments he's made, Carey seems to have a more elaborate rationale for his actions than the typical bank robber, including a longstanding quarrel with bankers and banks, the Federal Reserve, the American currency system, and every president since Abraham Lincoln.

In the early 1970s Carey spent fifteen months in jail on a charge of auto theft, but investigators were unable to develop sufficient evidence at that time to nail him on suspected bank robbery. For the next decade he moved from place to place: busing tables in San Diego; joining the tourists in San Francisco on the boat to Alcatraz; working as a waiter in the men's grill of a Phoenix country club, where he doled out cocktails to the likes of Barry Goldwater. He called himself George Jay Goodson, and every once in a while he got together with one or two partners, put on a disguise and robbed banks.

"The man who strongly influenced me, as to the technique, was Willie Sutton," Carey says. "I would not rob a K-Mart or a grocery store. You're running against the possibility of pregnant women and children."

Yet bank robbery is hardly a victimless crime. Carey's record indicates he never shot anyone, but he was armed, and he specialized in the most terrifying form of bank heist--the takedown, in which the robbers hold the entire place at gunpoint while rifling every teller station and, if possible, the vault.

Carey claims he was involved in as many as fifteen such robberies, never yielding a take of less than $50,000. He insists the jobs went smoothly: "When you go in and yell, 'This is a stickup! Everybody on the floor!' the American people are so conditioned from television viewing that that's what they end up doing." Still, the risks were formidable, the number of people involved in the operation a virtual guarantee of eventual arrest and conviction.

"I made some blunders," Carey admits. "I'm not a superbrain. The sad part is that there's no college you can go to to take a course in bank robbery. Everything you do, you have to write your own manual."

The percentages caught up with Carey in 1981. That spring he published his prison opus, When the Doors Break!, through a vanity press. A work of mordant wit and unbridled outrage, WTDB offers a through-the-looking-glass tour of a prison system drowning in its own bureaucratic excesses, a place where right is wrong and wrong is right, where contraband drugs and inmate rape are tolerated but having too many books in a cell invites swift retribution.

Like other books by self-taught men, the book is written in an ornate, vocabulary-building prose style. But the breadth of its author's reading--references to Dickens, Solzhenitsyn and Dostoyevsky rub up against quotations from the writings of Carey's arch-nemesis, former BOP director James V. Bennett--is truly impressive, as if Carey had aligned himself with prison critics through the ages. Even the title carries a whiff of menace, of scores yet to settle. "When the doors break," Carey explains, is the threat convicts used to mutter to one another when locked into their cells at night, promising retribution the next day.

"I had to wait until the doors of prison broke open for me for the last time before I felt qualified to attempt the writing of this book," Carey wrote in his preface. "In a radio interview following my release, I publicly vowed that so help me God I will never again surrender to the courts and their imprisonment. Death is my preference to such an existence."

Less than three weeks after the book was published, an unarmed Carey opened the door of his motel room in Phoenix and was shot in the thigh by FBI agents who had come to arrest him. Bleeding profusely, he was rushed to a local hospital.

Thirteen months later, in a courtroom in Cleveland where Carey was on trial for bank robbery, his attorney asked an FBI agent why his team had gone to the motel heavily armed and blasted Carey as soon as he opened the door.

"We did so because of things Mr. Carey wrote in his book," the agent replied.

Sentenced to fifty years on two counts of bank robbery, Carey set about revising his preface in a cell in the federal penitentiary in Lompoc, California. "I have no desire to upbraid my own book," he wrote, "but candor obliges that I issue a caveat that it does not contain anything so slanderous, scurrilous, or salacious as to warrant federal cops to go gunning for its author."

The fact is, unless you (society) are prepared to take certain risks...namely, to set a limited time on the sentence a man must be confined for in these tombs...and offer him realistic opportunities for his self-betterment by offering earlier release as an incentive...then you might as well execute every prisoner who has a sentence over five years. It is a simple matter of economics. Our penal systems have been allowed to serve as spawning areas for a subculture, one which is alien to the standards of our so-called free society.

« Previous Page
Next Page »
My Voice Nation Help
Sort: Newest | Oldest