June 16, 2011 5:18 PM
James Richard Verone woke up June 9 with a sense of anticipation.
He took a shower.
Ironed his shirt.
Hailed a cab.
Then robbed a bank.
He wasn’t especially nervous. If anything, Verone said he was excited to finally execute his plan to gain access to free medical care.
“I prepared myself for this,” Verone said from behind a thick glass window in the Gaston County Jail Thursday morning.
Verone spoke calmly about the road that led him to a jail cell he shares with a young man arrested for stealing computers.
The 59-year-old man apologized for squinting. He hadn’t gotten his eyeglasses returned to him since being arrested a week ago.
He smiled from the other side of the glass, sometimes gesturing with his hands. A plastic, red bracelet with his mug shot clung to his left wrist.
Until last week Verone had never been in trouble with the law.
Now he hopes to be booked as a felon and held in prison where he can be treated for several physical afflictions.
Verone worked for Coca-Cola for 17 years. He prided himself on keeping his nose to the grindstone. Don’t make enemies. Sell the product. Make your deliveries and stick to your schedule.
When his career as a cola delivery man ended some three years ago, Verone was knocked out of his comfort zone.
He hopped back in the saddle driving a truck. But that employment didn’t have near the longevity, and Verone found himself jobless.
He lived off of savings and sought a part-time job.
Not his first choice, Verone became a convenience store clerk. But the bending, standing and lifting were too much for him. The Gastonia man’s back ached; problems with his left foot caused him to limp. His knuckles swelled from arthritis, and carpal tunnel syndrome made daily tasks difficult.
Then he noticed a protrusion on his chest.
Strapped for cash, Verone looked into filing for disability. He applied for early Social Security.
The only thing Verone qualified for was food stamps. The extra money helped, but he felt desperate. He needed to get medical attention, and he refused to be a burden on his sister and brothers.
“The pain was beyond the tolerance that I could accept,” he said. “I kind of hit a brick wall with everything.”
A couple of months ago Verone started weighing his options.
He considered turning to a homeless shelter and seeking medical help through charitable organizations.
Then he had another idea: commit a crime and get set up with a place to stay, food and doctors.
He started planning.
As his bank account depleted and the day of execution got closer, Verone sold and donated his furniture. He paid his last month’s rent and gave his notice.
He moved into the Hampton Inn for the last couple of days. Then on June 9 he followed his typical morning routine of getting ready for the day.
He took a cab down New Hope Road and picked a bank at random — RBC Bank.
Verone didn’t want to scare anyone. He executed the robbery the most passive way he knew how.
He handed the teller a note demanding one dollar, and medical attention.
“I didn’t have any fears,” said Verone. “I told the teller that I would sit over here and wait for police.”
The teller, however, did have some fears even though Verone never showed a weapon.
Her blood pressure shot up and once Verone was handcuffed by police, the teller was taken to Gaston Memorial Hospital to be checked out.
Verone said he was sorry for causing the woman any pain.
Verone says he’s not a political man.
But he has a lot to say on the subject of socialized medical care. He suspects he wouldn’t be talking to a reporter through a metal screen wearing an orange jumpsuit if such an option were available in the U.S.
“If you don’t have your health you don’t have anything,” said Verone.
The man has high hopes with his recent incarceration.
He has seen several nurses and has an appointment with a doctor Friday.
The ideal scenario would include back and foot surgery and a diagnosis and treatment of the protrusion on his chest, he said. He would serve a few years in prison and get out in time to collect Social Security and move to the beach.
Crime and punishment
Verone expected to be charged with bank robbery.
Because he only demanded $1, he was charged with larceny from a person. Still a felony, the count doesn’t carry as much jail time as bank robbery.
The bearded, gray-haired man plans to represent himself in court. He’s trying not to get too confident about his knowledge of the legal system. He just wants to prepare a statement for the judge and then take whatever active sentence he is given.
Verone is considering an ultimatum if the penalty isn’t great enough, he said.
The crime will happen again.
On the record
The day Verone set out to commit his first felony, he mailed a letter to The Gazette.
He listed the return address as the Gaston County Jail.
“When you receive this a bank robbery will have been committed by me. This robbery is being committed by me for one dollar,” he wrote. “I am of sound mind but not so much sound body.”
Verone wanted to talk to a reporter to make sure people knew why he turned to crime. He figured he had nothing to lose.
“I knew that a felony would not hurt me. I cannot work anymore,” he said. “That felony is going to hurt my reputation.”
Verone has been in jail for a week.
His $100,000 bond has been reduced to $2,000.
He doesn’t intend to pay it. His residence is now the Gaston County Jail.
He goes to breakfast and lunch each day but skips dinner. Dinner means nearly four hours in the general jail population, and Verone said he likes to minimize contact with other inmates.
“I stay very quiet,” he said.
Verone said he hears the other men talk about the revolving door that jail has become for them.
He hopes he doesn’t join the ranks of the repeat offender.
But today, he has no regrets about the robbery or where it landed him.
“If I had not exercised all the alternatives I would be sitting here saying, ‘Man I feel bad about it,’” he said.
But Verone said he thinks he made the right choice for his situation.
“I picked jail.”
Bank robber planned crime and punishment | bank, richard, hailed – Gaston Gazette