Man Robs Bank, Demands To Be Sent To Prison

“I’ve never heard anyone rob a bank so they can get to prison so they could get health care,” James Griffin, the assistant district attorney prosecuting Gallagher……………..

Real life ‘Shawshank Redemption’: Ex-con robs bank, hoping to be sent back to prison

Cary Spivak   | Milwaukee Journal Sentinel Updated 21 hours ago

Career criminal William J. Gallagher came to Milwaukee last year with a single goal in mind: get sentenced to one of the Wisconsin prisons he had heard great things about while doing time on the East Coast.

Six months after finishing a 20-year prison stint in New Jersey for attempted homicide, Gallagher in October hopped on an Amtrak train to Chicago, took another train to Milwaukee and went to a Chase Bank “with the sole motivation of going to prison,” Charles Roozen, Gallagher’s public defender, said during a hearing in December when the ex-con and Vietnam War veteran pleaded guilty to attempted robbery of a financial institution.

Gallagher, 68, had heard that health care in Wisconsin prisons was superior to other institutions and better than the care offered through the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

“I’ve never heard anyone rob a bank so they can get to prison so they could get health care,” James Griffin, the assistant district attorney prosecuting Gallagher, said at the plea hearing. “It’s a sad comment on the situation of health care in America. … That a guy’s got to rob a bank to get health care is unfortunate, to say the least.”

During his robbery attempt, Gallagher made it clear that his plan was to get caught.  After informing a teller at the Chase Bank on East Wisconsin Avenue that his name was Bill, Gallagher demanded cash in the form of $100 bills and said he had a bomb, according to a criminal complaint against him.

Then, the robbery took a turn for the weird. Gallagher asked the teller to “please call the police,” the complaint states. The bewildered teller responded, “Bill are you serious” and initially said she didn’t want to call the cops, though she complied with the request. Gallagher sat down until the police arrived and arrested him, the complaint says.

Why would a native of New York’s Hell’s Kitchen neighborhood who has a rap sheet dating back to the 1970s  travel to Milwaukee to get arrested for bank robbery?

“About 48 years ago, I’m sitting with a 72-year-old con,” Gallagher said during the plea hearing, according to a transcript of the hearing. “And he had been in just about every prison in the country and he did two bids in Wisconsin. And he said it was the best food, commissary, this, that everything.”

Gallagher, who asked for a 10-year sentence, told Milwaukee County Circuit Judge David Hansher that he recently talked to fellow inmates at the House of Correction, where he is being held, and learned the old con “was one hundred percent right.”

“You ever seen the movie ‘Shawshank Redemption?’ ” Hansher asked, referring to the 1994 prison movie starring Tim Robbins and Morgan Freeman. In the movie, James Whitmore played Brooks Hatlen, a longtime inmate and prison librarian, who committed suicide after his release because he couldn’t cut it on the outside.

“That’s me. The librarian guy,” Gallagher told Hansher. “Institutionalized, couldn’t adjust, everything fell apart, he hung himself. I’m not hanging myself but, you know, that’s it.”

Gallagher said that in July, VA doctors in Brooklyn “took cancer out of my back” and found three lymph nodes in his stomach and a nodule on his lung.

“Things were going pretty good and then everything just fell apart,” Gallagher said.

‘I’ve never heard of anything like that’

Experts in dealing with criminals and prison issues on a daily basis were dumbfounded when told of Gallagher’s efforts to get back into a Wisconsin prison.

“I’ve never heard of anything like that,” said David Liners, state director of WISDOM, a prison reform group. “There’s an issue with people getting institutionalized because the one thing you learn about living in prison is living in prison. Nobody teaches you what to do when you get out.”

Even Baron Walker, who spent nearly 23 years behind bars and whose case was featured in the 2016 documentary “Milwaukee 53206,” said Gallagher’s situation was unique. Walker was released last year when a judge modified his 60-year sentence on bank robbery charges to time served.

Walker said he had heard of cases where it appeared that longtime prisoners committed crimes in the hope of being sent back to prison.

“I haven’t spoken to anybody who said they actually did it intentionally to get caught,” Walker said.

Release can be scary

Walker said it can be scary for a longtime inmate to be released.

“There is no realistic help given (in prison) to help a person reintegrate into society,” Walker said. “You learn about surviving prison and that’s it. …You’re told in so many words to forget about the outside.”

Walker said when he was released he was ignorant of how to use many of today’s basics, such as the internet and smartphones.

Today, he’s doing fine on the outside, he said, largely because he has a family support system helping him along.

Walker, who said he has discussed the prison system with members of Gov. Tony Evers transition team, said prisoners did not praise the Wisconsin system as being superior to others.

The only plus to doing time in Wisconsin is there is less violence and gang activity compared to other prisons. “You don’t find people dying,” Walker said. He said he never had a violent encounter while behind bars.

Griffin, the prosecutor said during the December hearing, that the defendant will likely be disappointed if he expects to receive top-notch health care in prison here.

“Our health care at our prisons is (as) lousy as everywhere else,” Griffin told Hansher.

‘I’m not crazy, your honor’

But Gallagher said it wasn’t just the health care motivating him. He said he doesn’t want to be a burden to his children. And, he added he misses it.

“I’m not crazy, your honor,” Gallagher told Hansher, “I’m 68. I just got out. Every day I’m looking at my watch. Oh, they’re in the yard now. … Instead of leaving, trying to lead a life out here, I’m thinking about what’s going on where I just left.”

Over Gallagher’s objections, Hansher did not order him to prison. Rather, the judge ordered that a presentence investigation be conducted and scheduled a sentencing hearing for Feb. 13.

Gallagher’s plea for prison time puts Roozen, his lawyer, in a difficult position. While attorneys generally seek less time, or try to beat the rap for clients, they must also abide by their client’s wishes, lawyers say.

“This is the complete opposite role that I’m used to or want to be in,” Roozen said.

Journal Sentinel reporter John Diedrich contributed to this report.