Back in 2007, Seattle area residents started hearing about this boy named Colton Harris-Moore, a small-town teenager from Camano Island. But why was he in the news? Well, it’s because he went from being a mischievous kid to going on a seemingly never-ending crime spree that eventually caught the country’s attention. Dubbed “The Barefoot Bandit,” Colton eventually became a legend, but at the price of being an internationally known criminal.
Colton began started his crime spree by breaking into homes and cabins on Puget Sound’s Camano Island. He then raised the stakes by not just stealing and driving boats, but also stealing and flying airplanes! Yes, he was only a teenager at the time. Colton’s proclivity for these high-risk endeavors had the media marveling at his abilities (despite the fact that he never really figured out how to land properly).
Colton’s Uncanny Abilities
Many of us would find ourselves confused in the maze of San Juan Island’s waterways, even if we were armed with charts, guidebooks, and GPS. Yet Colton Harris-Moore was somehow able to steal several boats and get from island to island without being either detected or caught. And these escapades would happen in the dead of night, too.
Even the most experienced boaters don’t attempt to make nighttime crossings through such waters. Bob Friel, the author of The Barefoot Bandit: The True Tale of Colton Harris-Moore, New American Outlaw, was in awe of Colton’s ability to navigate the area. “When I moved here, it meant a steep learning curve to safely navigate these rocky and sometimes tricky waters.”
The Right Place
“To see Colton, again and again, jump into unfamiliar boats,” Friel added, “always in the dark of night… back and forth from Island County, then across the Columbia River, and then to follow his midnight maritime exploits in the Bahamas, and see him survive, was remarkable.”
The San Juan Islands were (and still are) a smuggler’s paradise. Their cold, dark waters and miles of unwatched shorelines make for a pretty easy place to get lost if someone really wants to. Colton wanted to stay hidden, so he chose the right place. And a large part of his success was taking advantage of the boat owners’ well-known (and naïve) trust of others.
Beyond Easy Access
Especially in the summer, boaters in the area tend to leave their hatches unlocked and open. Many of the boats have the same ridiculous codes for their padlocks, according to Friel, who noted that his rhymes with “hero, hero, hero, hero.” Aside from the easy access to boats, Colton must clearly have had a natural sense for navigation and piloting.
Colton started stealing dinghies on Camano Island when he was young. As Friel tells it, the boy’s fascination with water led him to boost tenders in front of beach houses, swapping engines with nearby boats to essentially create his own perfect cruising combination. He would then zip around in his makeshift craft until he ran out of fuel… or the engine died.
A Mischievous Boy
There was at least one occasion when he used the wrong fuel in a two-stroke engine. And, more often than not, Colton would leave the temporarily stolen boat where he took it. Colton grew up on an island with endless access to the beach and no supervision to watch over his mischievous adventures. From an early age, Colton knew that real freedom was on the water and in the air.
Friel followed the “Barefoot Bandit” case closely as it was happening, but his book details the young man’s life (Colton is now 29) and exploits. “Of course, what Colton did was wrong, and he spent a big chunk of his prime young years in prison because of it,” Friel stated.
How He Got the Nickname
In 2012, Colton Harris-Moore was sentenced to seven years in prison for a series of crimes that he committed barefoot, which all started after escaping from a juvenile halfway house in 2008. Colton became known as the “Barefoot Bandit” because he would commit some of his crimes barefoot. In fact, he once left behind 39 chalk footprints and the word “c’ya!”
But despite the nickname, officials said that Colton, more often than not, wore shoes. The teen was ultimately captured after he crash-landed a plane that he had stolen in Indiana and flown to the Bahamas. In the end, the law caught up with the mischievous teenager after five plane thefts and escapes on foot.
A Large Online Following
Before he was arrested, the “Barefoot Bandit” developed a large online following, with supporters tracking him on social media. After becoming a notorious celebrity criminal in 2010, when he was apprehended in the Bahamas, his fans were upset. More than 60,000 of his Facebook followers posted disappointing messages.
Others wore T-shirts and tote bags with the words “Free Colton!” and “Let Colton Fly!” One follower, Ruthie Key, said, “I feel like it would have been good if he got away because he never hurt anybody, but then he was running from the law.” Key owns a market on Great Abaco Island and even let Colton use her Internet connection in July of 2010.
A “Mind-Numbing Absence of Hope”
“He seemed very innocent when I spoke with him at the store. I don’t think he’d hurt anybody,” Key said of her encounter with Colton. The teen was a skilled outdoorsman who honed his abilities from years spent in nature. His mother, Pamela Kohler, said that her son had a troubled childhood. His first conviction was at the age of 12 for possession of the stolen property.
Within a few months of turning 13, Colton had three more convictions under his belt. By the time he got to doing bigger crimes, like stealing planes, he had crashed one outside of Granite Falls… and walked away. He evaded capture for some time after that.
A Troubled Childhood
Eventually, he began stealing cars to drive across the country. He would commit petty theft crimes along the way until he stole another airplane in Indiana and flew over to the Bahamas. This was the last time, though, as he was ultimately arrested after a wild boat chase. In 2011, Colton was ultimately sentenced to seven years in prison.
Judge Vickie Churchill said, “This case is a tragedy in many ways, but it’s a triumph of the human spirit in other ways.” She described the boy’s upbringing as a “mind-numbing absence of hope.” She also stated that she believed Colton was genuinely remorseful and apologetic. Colton wrote a statement to Churchill, noting that his childhood was one that he would never wish on his “darkest enemies.”
Something Was Off
Colton was born in Mount Vernon, Washington, and lived with this mother in Camano Island. Neighbors confirmed that they made several calls to Child Protective Services because they believed that he was neglected or abused. His father, Gordon Moore, was known for using drugs and was in prison when Colton was a toddler.
When Colton was 12 years old, his father walked out after a family barbecue. According to his mother, his stepfather died when he was seven years old. She also said that ever since he was in the first grade, there was “something off about him,” a “sort of disconnection.” He wouldn’t listen to his teachers and started fights at school.
Living in the Wild
Colton would also deliberately break things around the house, his mother, Pam, said. After being submitted to a court-ordered psychiatric evaluation, Colton revealed that when his mother drank, she would become mean and break his possessions. He also said that by the age of seven, he was “living in the wild.” He would break into vacation homes, stealing blankets, food and water before heading into the forest for days.
In his early teens, he was diagnosed with depression, ADD, and intermittent explosive disorder. With each conviction came a 10-day stay in a detention center and/or community service. His mother said, “Every time he had anything good, everyone thought he stole it. What does that do to a kid?”
Claiming his childhood was horrible doesn’t mean that he’s not taking responsibility. Colton said he takes full responsibility for the crimes he committed. Once in prison, Colton was moved out of his initial solitary confinement and into the general inmate population in Washington State. He spent three weeks in “intensive management” at the Walla Walla State Penitentiary, with inmates facing the death penalty.
According to the Washington Department of Corrections spokesman Chad Lewis, it was for his own protection as a high-profile convict. Lewis explained: “Somebody might want to make a name for himself by saying, ‘I took down the Barefoot Bandit.’” During his time in solitary confinement, Colton was only allowed out of his cell five times per week, for an hour at a time.
Fly Colt Fly
In 2014, his story was told in a documentary called Fly Colt Fly: Legend of the Barefoot Bandit. Colton had actually sold the movie rights to his personal story in an attempt to raise enough money to pay back the $1.3 million in restitution to his victims. 20th Century Fox paid more than $1 million in exchange for his story.
By 2016, after six and a half years behind bars, the 6’5” prisoner made a plea to get out of his necessary probation. His attorney, John Henry Browne, spoke to the Seattle Times, describing how he and his client agreed that Colton would work part-time at his firm while looking for a full-time job. The job at hand was to answer phones and do clerical work, according to the Browne.
Making a Case for Himself
The long-term goal was for him to make his way to school. Browne also said he had sympathy for his client. “He might have a touch of Asperger’s, a little bit because he can focus on something and master it,” Browne spoke of Colton’s remarkable ability to learn how to fly airplanes by just reading the manuals. “He’d never even flown in a commercial plane.”
Browne also claimed that Colton’s delinquency began out of necessity, not evil. Colton pleaded with a judge to end his probation a little early so he could pursue a career in public and motivational speaking. His three-year restrictions effectively keep him limited to Western Washington, which would mean having to turn down numerous speaking opportunities in other states and even other countries.
A New Man
Colton also estimated that he had already lost about $600,000 in potential earnings over this probationary period, which, by the way, is money that could be spent paying back his victims. It was all detailed in his three-page heartfelt letter to Judge Richard A. Jones. Colton tried to make a case for himself, claiming that he turned over a new leaf and hadn’t displayed “any form of recidivistic behavior” in the past 10 years.
“I am very proud of the progress that has been made, that I have made strides in my personal and professional life in recent years, that my restitution is on track to be paid off completely within the next two years, and that the past nearly 10 years has turned out nearly as well as anyone could have hoped for – including myself,” Colton wrote in his plea.
Not a Single Crime
He also stated that he doesn’t drink, use drugs, or associate with any criminals and that he hasn’t committed a single crime since 2010. He also mentioned that he feels that he could be an inspirational model for people, “not because of an arrogant sense of anything, but rather, because I have been to hell and back, still standing, still inspired, still making progress, still seeing the future, still alive and full of energy.”
His point was that now he can show people that, even if they have a criminal record or are in debt, they can still make it out. Colton said that his debt to his victims has been paid down to under $100,000. The rest is on track to be paid off within the next couple of years.
The Plea Bargain of a Lifetime
With his letter were eight other letters from people who know him, supporting his early release. It was what his lawyer called the “plea bargain of a lifetime.” Browne explained how Colton had started down the path of criminality “literally to eat.” When he was younger, Colton’s mother did not take care of him, and he had to resort to using food stamps “for beer and things.”
His mother ended up passing away that summer. As strange as it may sound, Colton said that he wanted to cryogenically freeze his mother. Why? Because he hopes that medical advances would allow her to eventually be revived and treat her lung cancer. He also said that he wasn’t able to raise enough money for such a procedure.
The Judge’s Response
After making his plea to continue the last five months on supervised release, Judge Jones just wasn’t convinced, and ultimately denied Colton’s request in the U.S. District Court in Seattle. In his written decision, the judge wrote that Colton never asked his probation officer if he could travel. Instead, as he wrote, Colton tried to avoid the process by going to the court.
But, Browne denied the claim, saying that Colton had talked to his probation officer multiple times about traveling. Either way, Judge Jones congratulated Colton on meeting the terms of his supervision but rejected the notion that the only way he can act as a role model is by traveling and conducting business without restriction.
A Celebrity of Sorts
Colton now has a Twitter account (big surprise!) where he describes himself as a “Pilot/Entrepreneur/Boyfriend/fmr. international fugitive.” In his Twitter bio, he has written, “The past is done; the future is unwritten. Life is what you MAKE IT!” Colton is clearly on his own new mission now – one that doesn’t involve criminal activity.
Whether he should be treated as a criminal or a cult hero is really left up to you to decide. Friel’s book doesn’t push you to make a choice. If you ever do read the book, you’ll see that, by the end of the nearly 400-pages narrative, you’re left with a portrait of a smart yet troubled young man who went down the wrong path and didn’t see a way to turn around.
By the time he was caught and arrested in the Bahamas, he seemed like a tired, broken human being who managed to pull off one of the more impressive crime sprees in modern history. But Colton has left the “Barefoot Bandit” nickname in his prison cell and has been on the right path since his release. “I don’t consider my past necessarily as a waste of time, but it led to consequences that took a tremendous amount of time, which I never anticipated,” Colton commented.
“You only have one life,” he added. “You only have so many years, and you can only afford to spend so many months not doing anything.” What the past 10 to 15 years ingrained in him, he says, is a “keen appreciation and obsession for not wasting time and moving forward.”
Colton Harris-Moore served seven years and came out a changed man, or so he says. Well, there’s another man that spent years behind bars and also came out a different person. So much so that he became a lawyer to fight the system that wrongfully convicted him. Check out his story…
ABC has a new show called ‘For Life,’ and it’s not your average legal drama. The lawyer at the heart of the show is a character named Aaron Wallace, who was incarcerated for a crime he didn’t even commit and is serving a life sentence. Meanwhile, he’s trying to help his fellow prisoners earn their freedom. The show may be a work of fiction, but it’s inspired by a real man, and that man is Isaac Wright Jr.
Wright Jr. was wrongfully convicted of being a drug kingpin. While in prison, he spent his time educating himself on law and served as his own attorney during his appeal process. Following his eventual release, he came back to legally pursue those who railroaded him. Amazingly, Isaac went from being a prisoner with a life sentence to becoming a lawyer.
Walking Into a Grand Conspiracy
When Isaac Wright Jr. was handcuffed and pushed into the back of a cop car, he didn’t worry all too much. He knew very well that he didn’t commit the crime the police were accusing him of. In fact, he didn’t commit any crime. He knew that he was going to be a free man sooner or later.
But that was wishful thinking. As soon as Isaac set foot in the courtroom, he learned that he was not facing a fair trial. What he walked into was what he would realize was actually a grand conspiracy. If he wanted to see his family ever again, the truth needed to come out. He was going to need to expose the web of lies, and it wasn’t going to be easy.
His Three Loves
Isaac Wright Jr. centered his life around the three things he loved the most: his then five-year-old daughter, his wife Sunshine, and music. Music for Isaac (as well as for many people on this planet) was a deep passion that kept him going. He even helped his wife kick off a music career of her own in a band he co-created named the Cover Girls.
After some discussions with Sunshine, the couple planned their move to New Jersey. It was close enough to New York City — a place they wanted to take a stab at making it in. So, in 1989, they gave it a shot; they were headed for the Big Apple. And since Isaac had previously lived in NYC, he had a lot of connections.
Wrong Place at the Wrong Time
“Everything was really, really, really good,” Wright Jr. said. “And sometime after it started going really well for us, we decided to move to New Jersey.” Naturally, Isaac went to see some old friends of his right as soon as he landed in New Jersey. He was happy to rekindle some old friendships. It was the late 1980s.
But this “honeymoon” phase upon landing in NJ was short-lived. Not before long, disaster struck. At the time, police were investigating a drug ring all around his friends’ neighborhood. Isaac recalled, “A group of police officers took down certain license plate numbers. That’s how I came to be on the police’s radar.” Authorities saw Isaac hanging around the wrong places. It was a classic case of being in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Making His Own Case
Isaac, who just wanted to hang out with old friends, was arrested for associating with members of a supposed drug ring. Now that he was going to be sent away, and he was certain of his own innocence, he wanted to make his case. And he decided to go at it alone and represent himself in court. But this didn’t go over well.
Although he only had a high school diploma, he initially represented himself at trial. Which was a move he admits was “insane.” In his eyes, “I wasn’t going to pay somebody to send me to prison… I might as well strap up the boots and put on the gloves and get into the fight myself.” But the system was way darker and more sinister than he thought.
The Lawman, Nicholas Bissell
New Jersey in the late ‘80s was home to a chief county prosecutor by the name of Nicholas Bissell, who held himself up as a lawman who tackled drug dealers at the height of the ‘80s crack epidemic. Ironically, he acted much like a crime lord himself. Later, he was accused of trying to frame a judge who charged him for drunk driving.
He skimmed thousands of dollars from businesses in which he invested in. And the president of a gasoline distributor that Nicholas Bissell co-owned accused the prosecutor of threatening to place cocaine in his car. According to Wright, “This wasn’t just a rogue cop. This was the chief law enforcement officer threatening to plant cocaine.”
Air of Criminality
“So there was just this air of criminality going on in the prosecutor’s office before I even moved to New Jersey. And then I ultimately got snared up in that,” Isaac explained. Several witnesses that he never even met labeled him as a drug kingpin. Thus, he was found guilty for his supposed “involvement” in a drug ring.
Isaac, perhaps a bit naive, was in shock. He had to spend his life behind bars for something he didn’t do? After his 1991 conviction, he was sent to a maximum-security New Jersey State Prison in Trenton. Although he was initially sentenced to life in prison, after serving seven years, it came to light that his prosecutor, Bissell, was facing charges of his own.
A Change in His Case?
Bissell was being charged with mail fraud, tax evasion, and abuse of power. The FBI and IRS were able to nab Bissell and indict him on 30 federal charges. But what did the man do? Bissell, unable to face the shame, fled across the country and shot himself in a hotel room – all to evade inevitable arrest. So Isaac wondered: could this mean a change in his case?
While Isaac was in prison, he started working as a paralegal on other prisoners’ cases. Despite the fact that he was facing a life sentence with the possibility of parole only after 30 years, he still felt that he could fight against the despicable criminal justice system by advocating for his fellow inmates.
A Hard Pill to Swallow
“I got over 20 people out of prison, some with life sentences and others based on getting their sentences reduced,” Wright said. But Wright also admitted that he never really had faith during his own trial that the truth would come out and the system would clear his name.
“I knew early on that I was going to prison for the rest of my life and that there was nothing that no one was going to be able to do to help me,” he said. He described how when he was on stand at trial, there were people who he never even met, pointing the finger at him saying he was their boss. The frustration and disappointment was a hard pill to swallow.
Fighting Against the System
“The act of representing these other prisoners who were also wronged was a part of me fighting them back and getting them back for what they had done to me,” Wright explained. “And so all of those victories, they represented something really, really, really important to me.” And another really important thing was his own case.
In the aftermath of Bissell’s indictment and suicide, in the mid-‘90s, the court held an evidentiary hearing in which Isaac would cross-examine anyone who was involved with the case. Detective James Dugan was one of those involved in the case who took the stand, and the information he divulged in that courtroom made everyone there gasp.
A Shocking Revelation
Detective Dugan admitted in court that there was a whole ring of corruption occurring within the very precinct that arrested Isaac Wright Jr. It was revealed that secret deals between prosecutor Bissell and other defense attorneys at the time pinned blame on Wright, an innocent man. He explained that drugs and listening devices were also illegally planted.
This admission of information was groundbreaking. Isaac already knew he was innocent, and now the truth was finally coming out. As a result, the case against Wright crumbled before his eyes, but the judge set Isaac’s bail at $250,000. Sadly, Isaac was forced to go back to jail. But it doesn’t end there…
Seven and a Half Years Gone
State Superior Court Judge Leonard Arnold had ordered a new trial, but in 1998, The Somerset County Prosecutor’s Office announced they would not be resuming their criminal case against him. Isaac’s friends and family posted his $250,000 bail and he was finally released from prison. But after losing seven and a half years, he didn’t know if, or how, he could make the time up.
But he started thinking about how he didn’t want to continue on with an ordinary life. He had suffered the consequences of an unfair trial. He wondered if he could do more to make sure that another innocent person never suffered the same fate as him. And with his paralegal experience in prison, he knew what his next steps were.
Becoming a Better Part of the System
Isaac went to St. Thomas University of Law in Florida to obtain a law degree. “It was an incredible feeling and a sickening feeling. I went through that system,” he described. “But I’m a better part of that system.” His journey started in 1989, and by 2008, when he was finally about to take the New Jersey bar exam, he was faced with the opportunity to turn his life around.
But, there was one hurdle he needed to overcome. With the bar exam came an internal character review, which Isaac feared the most. He knew he had the smarts to pass the exam, but he was worried that his prison life would conflict with the whole exam.
Welcome to the World of Law
It took nine years after he passed the exam, but Isaac was finally welcomed with open arms into the world of law. To say that he was elated would be an understatement. He simply couldn’t believe that luck was finally on his side. His case obviously made headlines and became a real underdog story that we all just love to learn about.
Isaac’s story even caught the attention of a man named Curtis Jackson – but you probably know him better as rapper 50 Cent. Jackson heard about the trial and his becoming a lawyer to fight the system and wanted to become a part of it. He then came to Isaac Wright Jr. with an offer he couldn’t refuse.
Taking His Journey to the Small Screen
After 50 Cent learned about the details of Isaac’s life, he was compelled to turn his journey in and out of the prison system into a television series. He wanted everyone to know of and experience Isaac’s emotional tale. And before long, ABC picked up the idea. Isaac came on as executive producer, and Nicholas Pinnock was the actor who portrayed him.
“Through this process,” Isaac said, “I’ve never really had the chance to reflect on my own pain. It brought back experiences that were very emotional for me.” With the recent ‘For Life’ debut, the story of Isaac’s conviction is getting more attention than ever before. “I think one of the things that happens with, especially in the criminal justice system, is that the prosecutor is able to control the narrative from the very, very beginning,” Wright said.
Taking Back Control
“The moment an arrest is made, they put out a press release to the media and the media follows that narrative. They do that to control the destiny of the person that they’re going to be prosecuting.” What’s a better way to take back control than to help make a TV show inspired by your own life?
But more importantly, Wright takes back control as a lawyer. “I went to law school for one reason and one reason only… To slay giants for a price. And if the giant is big enough and the cause is important enough, I’ll do it for free, especially when it involves helping those who cannot help themselves,” he said.
He’s Not the Only One
Isaac Wright Jr. was a victim of police corruption, but unfortunately, he’s not the only one. Isaac is just one of the many who are confronted with it. Take the case of Lawrence Bartley, for one, who also found himself in prison, but chose to turn his time inside into something greater. He grew up during a dangerous period in New York City’s history. Unfortunately, the environment was too toxic and began to destroy his personal life, sending him down a path of ruin.
“It was a community wrought with the typical symbols of urban ghettos,” Lawrence said, speaking about his home in Jamaica, Queens. You know the deal: “Sneakers strung on telephone lines, drug paraphernalia-littered streets, and barely kept apartment buildings.” For these folks, it was a reality and not something you only see in movies or on TV.
One Fateful Day
As a teenager, Lawrence started hustling, doing whatever he could to get by, regardless of whether or not it was legal. But those efforts caught up with him in a way that would turn his life around. One day, when he was sitting near the intersection of 150th and 89th, a motorcycle pulled up to the corner. The passenger of the car pulled out a gun and shot Lawrence four times.
After some time in the hospital, he thankfully recovered and tried to go back to his normal life. But that drive-by shooting affected his mental state; the teenager was now living in fear. The streets were clearly unsafe and anyone could be lurking around any corner.
An Eventful Night at the Movies
Lawrence felt the need to take matters into his own hands. He bought a gun and began carrying it with him regularly. This way, he would be ready if his assailant ever came back. One day, Lawrence and his buddies went to the movies. But this innocent outing among teenagers at Sunrise Cinemas quickly took a turn for the worst.
After the movie started, another group entered the theater. Several people told them to be quiet and, before long, their tempers started flaring. One guy lunged towards Lawrence and his friends. A gun was pulled out and shots were fired. In the heat of the moment, Lawrence pulled out his gun and fired a shot into the darkness. He then escaped and ran home.
Just Like That
That evening, Lawrence turned on the news to learn that four people were shot in the theater. His one bullet that he shot into the dark had struck Tremain Hall, who died a mere number of hours later. Lawrence, as he stared at the TV screen, had just realized that he was now a murderer. Just like that.
Two days later, 17-year-old Lawrence was arrested and charged. The judge sentenced him to 27 years to life in prison. The notorious Sing Sing Correctional Facility was now his new home. As you can imagine, the transition was tough. But Lawrence adjusted to his new life of life behind bars, with its strict rules and constant supervision.
Making Use of His Time Inside
But Lawrence, like Isaac Wright Jr., also found a way to make good use of his time inside. The young man didn’t want to waste the rest of his life there. So he dedicated his time to self-improvement. He took advantage of the prison education system and completed both a bachelor’s and master’s degree. He also spent countless hours doing community service.
Lawrence hoped that his efforts would help him regain his freedom. The parole board, though, disagreed. No matter how much he improved himself and was on his best behavior, he was still “the man who shot an innocent bystander in the movie theater.” He would never be able to shed that title, and so Lawrence was crushed.
After 30 Years Behind Bars
Getting rejected by the parole board hurt, but he wasn’t deterred. Lawrence appealed the board’s decision. By April 2018, after 30 years of life in prison, Lawrence was finally granted parole. The rest of his life was waiting for him outside those prison gates. And life on the outside was exciting, but it was also intimidating.
After years of isolation and routine, the “free world” is a very different landscape. Lawrence was now the captain of his own ship, if you will, and he now needed to decide what his next steps would be. Just as he did as a teenager, Lawrence hustled, taking every opportunity that came his way. Only this time, he chose to make a positive impact on the world.
Creating News Inside
Before long, Lawrence got a job with The Marshall Project, which is a nonprofit news organization that focuses on criminal justice issues. He used his new role to help current inmates in a concrete way. Like Wright Jr., he also planned to turn his prison experience into something positive.
Lawrence then created News Inside, which is a publication covering criminal justice news that gets distributed inside prisons. As a former inmate, he understood what a simple magazine can do for someone locked up. “If I could let the guys read this and the girls and the children on the inside, I knew it would change their life because I know what they care about,” Lawrence explained.
Your Past Doesn’t Define Your Future
But the project is also a lot more personal for Lawrence. It’s his way of proving to people that second chances really do exist. That your past, no matter what happened, doesn’t define your future. A powerful message indeed. “Now that part of my life is over, and now it’s my turn to do something that is that is positive. I can rebound from where I came from and other people can rebound.”
Lawrence Bartley wasn’t the only prisoner who was trying to rebound from a difficult sentence. One southern man, in particular, understands the lives of both Wright Jr. and Bartley. A man name Alvin Kennard spent decades in prison after committing one small crime in an act of desperation.
An Act of Desperation
On January 24, 1983, when Kennard was 22 years old, he made a terrible decision. He stepped into the Highlands Bakery in his hometown of Bessemer, Alabama. But he didn’t go there to buy anything. Instead, he brought a weapon and threatened to hurt the cashier if she didn’t give him all the money in the drawer.
The cashier followed orders and luckily no one got hurt, but the police almost immediately nabbed Alvin. He was arrested on the spot and taken to the local courthouse for sentencing. At 22, Alvin wasn’t a hardened criminal. He was a young man who found himself in real trouble for making a stupid decision – one that was driven by desperation.
The Worst Punishment
And the amount he stole was a pathetic amount at that – a measly 50 bucks. Was it worth it? No way. But here Alvin was, in a situation that he couldn’t get out of. Robbery is no petty crime, but a court should technically give someone a sentence that fits the infraction. Unluckily for Alvin, he received the worst punishment imaginable.
Alvin stared in disbelief when the judge sentenced him to life in prison without parole. For stealing $50. But there was a bigger reason for the judge’s decision. At the time when Alvin committed the crime, Alabama was operating under the Habitual Felony Offender Act. It meant that individuals who committed more than three crimes were then to be sentenced to life.
Fourth Time’s a Charm
Alvin’s robbery that day was his fourth. To make things even worse, the Habitual Felony Offender Act was abolished just a few years after his arrest. He committed a crime and got arrested at the worst possible time in the state of Alabama. And so for 36 long years, Alvin sat behind bars, unable to fully take in the direction that his life took him in.
Alvin’s case made its rounds through courthouses until it eventually landed on the desk of Judge David Carpenter. Carpenter was the first judge in over three decades to question the harshness of Alvin’s sentence. He asked Alvin’s attorney, a woman named Carla Crowder, to take a deep dive into Alvin’s case.
Righting a Wrong
Carla did the research and she, too, realized that Alvin was serving a sentence under an act that was simply no longer active. Now it was time for her to get to work and right a wrong. She argued that his sentence was handed to him during a time when the Habitual Felony Offender Act was active, and now that it wasn’t, there was no reason for him to be locked up.
Makes sense, right? Alvin also spoke out. He told the courtroom: “I just want to say I’m sorry for what I did. I take responsibility for what I did in the past. I want the opportunity to get it right.” It was clear to everyone that this was a man who felt remorse.
Alvin’s legal team also spoke of his exemplary behavior while he was incarcerated. A guard at the prison vouched for Alvin, saying, “That’s one that you could let him out and he wouldn’t cause any more trouble.” Alvin sat nervously as his team pleaded his case to the judge. After Judge Carpenter heard all the facts, he gave Alvin and his family the greatest news of their lives.
Alvin Kennard could go free. His family had waited for this verdict for too many years, feeling as though it would never come. Several years into his sentence, Alvin began a relationship with God. In a place like prison, it’s easy to give up hope since negativity is pretty much everywhere.
If you’re looking for one of the most interesting fugitive stories, the next one is likely to blow your mind. This is the story of Bobby Love…
A woman named Cheryl Love woke up one morning and made her usual morning tea in her kitchen when she heard a knock at her door. It was the FBI. “It was like I was in a movie,” Love said. “They went straight back to the bedroom and walked up to Bobby. I heard them ask: ‘What’s your name?’ And he said, ‘Bobby Love.’ Then they said, ‘No. What’s your real name?’ And I heard him say something really low. And they responded: ‘You’ve had a long run.’ That’s when I tried to get into the room.”
Cheryl watched in shock as her husband, Bobby, was being put in handcuffs. None of it made any sense to her. She had never known him to have run-ins with the law. So what was going on? Did the Feds have the wrong guy? Or did Cheryl Love not know who her husband really was?
This is the incredible true story of a man named Bobby Love (at least for the last 37 years)…
Trouble From an Early Age
No, Bobby Love isn’t this man’s real name. His real name is Walter Miller, and he grew up in North Carolina. It was the 60s, and Miller was growing up and living what he would later describe as a “pretty normal childhood.” His family, however, was poor, and his mother struggled with the costs of raising not one – not two – but eight children.
It didn’t take long for Miller to start slipping through the cracks. It began when Miller went to a Sam Cooke concert in 1964. “The crowd was really moving because it was dance music. And Sam Cooke didn’t like that. He kept telling people to sit down. And after only two songs, he walked off the stage,” Miller recalled. Miller got arrested that night for yelling profanity at the stage.
More Trouble with the Law
Things went downhill pretty quickly after that concert. Walter already found himself with a record at a young age. That arrest was going to be his first of many. Things began to snowball, and Miller was getting into “all sorts of trouble.” He stole frequently. “I lifted purses from unlocked cars, I was stealing government checks out of mailboxes, I got bolder and bolder,” Walter said.
His misdemeanors got landed him in a juvenile detention center. One day, Miller got caught stealing from the band room at his school. And so after years of petty crimes, Miller had to face the tough consequences. After he got caught stealing again, he was sent to a nearby juvenile detention center. But, he didn’t stay there for long…
Living in Juvenile Detention
Walter’s life quickly changed, as living in jail can do that to a person. He went from having the freedom to do as he pleased to the strict code of juvenile detention. It’s not easy for a person to adjust, and Miller wasn’t having it. “I hated everything about that place,” Walter said. He hated the food, but he especially despised the violence.
Walter described his fellow inmates at the center as violent. “I still have scars from all the times I got beat up,” he said. Miller also described how at night, he would fall asleep listening to the trains rush by on the tracks nearby. The whistles of the train had become a nightly reminder of the freedom that Walter was so desperately missing.
Making a Run For it
“I always wanted to know where that train was going.” By that point, everything in juvenile detention was a trial of his patience, as he awaited an opportunity. He knew he needed to get out. He just had to figure out how. His chance came one night when the guard by the doors turned his back to look at the time.
It was just the window of opportunity Walter had been waiting for. He made a dash for the exit doors. “I ran out the back door toward the sound of that whistle. And that was the first place I ever escaped from,” Miller said. But we already know that it wouldn’t be his last, either.
Old Habits Die Hard
Walter ran right to the railroad tracks and did what he longed to do for months. He followed the tracks to see where they led. He journeyed north along the tracks, starting from North Carolina and ending in Washington, D.C. Miller had a brother who was living in Washington at the time, and so he would crash with him in his apartment.
At first, it seemed like Miller might be turning his life around, heading for a responsible crime-free future. He enrolled himself in a new high school, actually attended his classes, and played basketball with his new friends. But old habits die hard, and he again fell in with the wrong crowd. Once again, Walter found himself hanging out with “the wrong group of kids.”
The Wrong Crowd
Walter’s new group of friends was not going to brighten his future – quite the opposite. By this point, petty crime that Walter was used to committing was a thing of the past – for little kids. His new friends were into much worse crimes. He quickly learned that his buddies were robbing banks. But how were they getting away with it?
He saw how they managed to get away after their robberies because they carried them out in North Carolina, where the security there was known to be more relaxed. It didn’t take long for Walter to join his criminal friends. And at first, they continued to get away with the bank robbing. But nothing lasts, and their bank-robbing days were going to come to an end.
“After every score, we’d hand out on the strip at 14th and T, and act like big timers. We felt like gangsters.” Walter admitted: “I have nobody to blame but myself. I just enjoyed the feeling of having money.” His luck was about to run out, though. One day in August in 1971, the operation would come crumbling down.
Unbeknownst to the gang, one of the banks that Walter was in charge of robbing was equipped with a silent alarm. One of the bank tellers used it to call the police and inform them that a burglary was in progress. By the time Walter walked out of the bank, the police were already in the parking lot waiting for him.
Once he saw the cop cars and the police officers waiting to arrest him, he tried to make a run for it. “I tried to get away, ducking and weaving, running through cars,” Miller said. But his attempt to escape only got him shot. A police officer shot at him, and that was it – he was going to jail. To the hospital, no doubt, but then to jail.
Walter wasn’t only charged for that particular bank robbery, but he was also found guilty for committing another. After his trial, he was sentenced to 25 to 30 years in a maximum-security prison. No more juvenile detention centers – this was the real deal. And just as he was in the midst of his sentencing, he got some horrible news.
He Made His Bed
Walter received the devastating news that his mother had passed away. Heartbroken, he vowed that he was going to turn his life around. Miller went through the legal process of trying to make appeals, but none of them were successful. I mean, he robbed banks and tried to escape the cops. It’s not surprising that his appeals were denied.
He had made his bed, and he was going to have to lay in it. Now that he was in prison, he seemed to get the hang of it. He got used to prison and later said that he worked hard at being the “perfect inmate” for years. But it got to the point that things were getting to be unbearable for him.
Minimum Security Prison
Harassment from a prison captain got to be too much for Miller and decided that the only way to make his life slightly better would be to request a transfer from maximum security to a minimum-security prison, which happened to be just down the hill. His hard work of being a good inmate worked in his favor.
His good behavior earned himself a transfer to a minimum-security facility. And the new prison felt “more like a camp” to Miller. The place still had the looming gun towers and the high wired fences, but it also came with a wider sense of freedom. The inmates were even allowed to walk outside and talk on the phone with their families.
A Downward Spiral
Believe it or not, you can host a radio show in prison. Walter was allowed to host his own radio show during his time in the minimum security prison. Walter was enjoying his role as a radio host. He said that he felt “relaxed” for the first time in years. In a prison of all places! At first, since life there wasn’t as awful as he thought, he didn’t have any plans of trying to escape.
But then everything changed. When a prisoner yelled profanity at one of the wardens, everything went downhill fast. The warden mistakenly thought that Miller was the inmate who yelled, and he just had it out for Walter ever since. The warden started picking on him.
Picking on Him
Walter remembered how the warden would taunt him. He would write him up for infractions regularly, whether legitimate or not. “The negative reports kept piling up until I was one mark away from being sent back up the hill,” Miller said. Walter couldn’t imagine having to go back there and start from ground zero, especially after all this time being on good behavior.
He knew it was high time to find a way to escape. Thanks to his buildup of negative reports, Walter was given one of the worst jobs around in prison. He, along with a handful of prisoners, were forced to clean up the roads. The job required Miller to wake up before the rest of the prisoners, get into a bus, and drive to Raleigh to pick up trash.
The Boiling Point
“It was awful,” he said of that degrading job. “People would be throwing hamburgers and milkshakes at you. And it was almost winter, so it was starting to get cold.” Despite the bad conditions, Miller was starting to see an opportunity with this new garbage-picking task. “That’s when I started planning and plotting,” Miller said.
And so he started to save his money. “I memorized the bus route. I noticed that we always stopped at a certain intersection, right next to a wooded area. And I figured I could make that distance in no time at all. I also noticed that the guard who worked on Tuesday never searched the prisoners as they boarded the bus.” And then it came to the boiling point.
His Great Escape
On one Monday night, while they were watching the Colts game on TV, Miller made his decision and was going for it. “That was going to be my last night in prison.” As Miller was serving a 30-year sentence for robbery, he escaped Raleigh’s now-shuttered Triangle Correctional Center. How did he do it? Surprisingly, it wasn’t that hard…
In 1977, Miller escaped prison by cracking open the rear exit of a transport bus. Miller said how he waited for the “careless” guard stationed at his gate. He purposely didn’t leave anything behind that could be traced to him. Love also took the only pair of civilian clothing he was given when he worked at the prison’s radio station.
Hitting the Road
He sat in the last row of the bus and literally hopped out when they got to the wooded area that he had been waiting to arrive at. He ran and just didn’t look back. He later said that he knew he looked suspicious, so he avoided any “white neighborhoods.” But whenever he saw a Black man, he would ask him where the Greyhound Station was.
When he finally arrived at the Greyhound station, he convinced someone to buy him a one-way ticket to New York, which cost $10 in those days. He waited until the last minute to hop on the bus, right before the driver was going to close the door. A woman sat next to him and asked what his name was…
Becoming Bobby Love
Bobby Love hit the open road, heading for Manhattan. As any fugitive would, Miller knew that if he was going to succeed in his plan, he would need to make some changes. At the end of that bus ride, Miller found a new life. And a new name for that matter. Walter Miller re-named himself as Bobby Love. He took the name from the late son of an old friend of his named Ulysses.
He made it to New York with $100 in small bills, a single pair of clothes. He lived in a “fleabag” motel for a couple of weeks and basically survived on “hotdogs and marijuana.” His money, of course, ran out, and he resorted to sleeping on the train.
A New Identity
The first official document he got was a social security card after he explained to the authorities that he lost everything. Then, he found his original birth certificate. He scratched out his name and put “Bobby Love” on the line. He photocopied it, “so many times that it didn’t look fake anymore.” He later found someone who put a notary stamp on his birth certificate.
Love even “found a brother at the DMV who pretended not to notice. And that’s how I got my driver’s license.” He slipped right into the identity of Bobby Love. His new name and identity didn’t erase his old family ties, though. He called his sister Jean Miller-Levette on her wedding day (May 19, 1979), and he told her about his escape, just not mentioning too many details.
Meeting His Future Wife
He used his new documentation to get a job at the cafeteria of the Baptist Medical Center. And that’s where he met his future wife, Cheryl. They met in the 80s when they were both working at the church. Their first dates included the Prince film “Purple Rain” and a concert by Gladys Knight and the Pips.
With his newfound relationship, Bobby turned his life around. The two got married on March 30, 1985. He was 34, and Cheryl was 21 and pregnant with their first child, Jasmine. Love invited his siblings to the wedding in Brooklyn at the community center at the Pink Houses housing project. Their marriage license identified him as Bobby Allan Love, born November 6, 1950.
Their daughter Jessica followed two years later, and twins Justin and Jordan came around 11 years down the road. In the end, the couple had four kids, and Love even became a deacon at his church. He was living a completely different life, and no one could ever know about his past. He never told his wife anything.
At times, Love, who newly found God, thought about telling Cheryl about his past, but he worried about what her response would be. “My thoughts were that Cheryl would probably tell me to turn myself in,” he told the Daily News. He kept his secret but asked his sister Jean to come clean and tell his wife if he were to pass away.
An Introvert of Sorts
Bobby had to work two jobs to support his family, and times got particularly hard for the family. The devoted dad, often surviving on just one hour’s sleep, always told his wife that they would make it through. “I’m not going anywhere,” he would think to himself, “unless somebody takes me.” He was living a new and better life and wasn’t planning on falling back on old times.
Relatives and friends of Love’s said that while he was somewhat of an introvert, he was never paranoid or too concerned about his past derailing his present. He wasn’t only active in the church; he also did charity work and attended community meetings – meetings in which the captain of the local police precinct appeared.
A Big Ol’ Check
All the while, Love kept his cool and was making a name for himself as a respected man in his community. No one, not even his family, would believe his criminal past. Then, in 2004, Love appeared at the state lottery offices in Manhattan to collect a $50,000 Pick 5 prize that he won. “They gave me a big ol’ check,” Love recalled.
“I just wasn’t worried that anything bad was going to happen to me,” he said. “It felt good with my life, my family. I get up every day, and I thank God I’m alive.” Those words were said by a man who managed to spend 37 years as a fugitive, a man who felt all too confident with his new way of life. But that would all soon change.
Something Was Different
He seemed to be very much a family man, but he rarely spoke with strangers, hardly ever socialized with friends, and seemed a little nervous when people would stop him on the street to ask for directions. As time went by, the careful Love became bolder with his actions. He brought his family back to his home town in North Carolina for a vacation.
“There was a piece missing,” Cheryl later said about her marriage to Bobby. “Something was different.” Bobby’s wife and his friends were starting to notice little oddities. For instance, Bobby didn’t like to be in pictures. He was wary of speaking to strangers and kept to himself most of the time. Something was off as if he was hiding something.
The End of the Road
As the years went by, Bobby was feeling a bit more comfortable. He attended funerals for two of his nine siblings; one was in North Carolina and the other in Washington, D.C. Authorities aren’t confirming it, but Love thinks that someone at one of those funerals – maybe even a relative in law enforcement – ratted him out.
But Cheryl was far from comfortable. Bobby would close himself off during his arguments with Cheryl. “I remember during Christmas of 2014, I was on my knees in church, saying ‘Lord, please, I can’t do this anymore,’” Cheryl admitted. “That was a few weeks before everything went down.” Shortly after, the FBI was in his bedroom, strapping him into handcuffs. It was the end of Bobby Love… for now.
A Regular Morning
The day Cheryl Love found out about her husband’s past was when the FBI came to their door in January of 2015. Cheryl woke up and began her morning routine like she usually did, making herself a cup of tea. Meanwhile, Bobby was asleep in their bedroom when she heard a knock at the door. “I opened it slowly and saw the police standing there.”
“At first, I wasn’t worried,” she admitted. The married couple lived next to a “crazy lady” for years, and the cops were known to come and check in on her from time to time. Cheryl figured that they must have knocked on the wrong door. “But the moment I opened the door, twelve officers came barging past me.”
He Had a Long Run
Cheryl didn’t know it yet, but this day marked a moment in her world would that would completely shake her to her core. The officers that rushed by Cheryl and into her house had the unmistakable letters “FBI” on their jackets. Cheryl didn’t know what was happening, but she knew it was bad. So she followed the officers into her home.
“They went straight back to the bedroom, and walked up to Bobby,” she recalled of that moment. She heard the officers ask Bobby, “What’s your name?” his response: “Bobby Love.” They asked again: “No, what’s your real name?” and that’s when Cheryl heard her husband mumble something under his breath. “You’ve had a long run,” the officers told him.
More Disappointed Than Embarrassed
Suddenly, the Feds were putting Bobby in handcuffs. Cheryl stood there in shock and pleaded with them, asking them what was happening. “This goes way back, Cheryl. Back before I met you,” Bobby told her as he was pushed out the door. “My world came crashing down,” said Cheryl. She also said that her disappointment trumped her embarrassment.
“Bobby had deceived me for all those years. There was no truth in our house.” Cheryl remarked that the moment was “like I was in a movie; a Lifetime movie.” But despite the intense wave of emotions, she felt that she needed to do something. Despite all of the lies and deception, Cheryl decided to stay with her husband of nearly 40 years.
Let’s face it, a fugitive who was on the run for 37 years was clearly going to face grim circumstances. He was being held in New York’s infamous Rikers Island while he awaited extradition to North Carolina. There, he would face the prospects of having to serve the final ten years of his original sentence. Not to mention the added time for his escape.
Cheryl went to visit her husband at Rikers and saw exactly how serious the circumstances were. “When I first visited him in prison, he broke down crying. His head was in his hands, and he told me: ‘I know, you’re going to leave me.’” But Cheryl made up her mind already, and leaving him wasn’t an option.
For Better or For Worse
Cheryl told her husband behind bars: “No Bobby Love, I married you for better or for worse. And right now, this is the worst.” Cheryl started a mission of her own. She did everything she could think of to try to get her husband home again – where she felt he belonged. She would write letters to the governor, and she even sent one to President Obama himself.
She got her children and everyone in Bobby’s life to write testimonials. “I didn’t know a thing about Walter Miller. But I told them all about Bobby Love.” After gathering every piece of character defense she could get her hands on, Cheryl brought everything with her to Bobby’s parole board.
While it seemed like an impossible task, Cheryl’s hard work paid off. After a year in prison, the parole board agreed to let Bobby return to his freedom. He was thus released in 2016, about a year after the FBI stormed his home. The 69-year-old has legally changed his name to Bobby Love and has since focused on rebuilding his marriage.
“The day after he was set free, I sat him down and asked: ‘What is it? Are we the Loves? Or are we the Millers?’” Bobby said: “We Love. We Love.” Cheryl, who stood by her husband’s side through the whole thing, in the end, forgave the man who disguised himself and deceived her for so many years.
Cheryl ultimately forgave Bobby, and their marriage grew to be better than it had been before Bobby’s secret was revealed. His persona shifted, and he was no longer jumpy. He engaged more with people and was open and attentive to his wife. The two were connected like never before. “I feel like a big burden has been lifted off my shoulders,” Miller told the Daily News.
“I’m trying to put my life back together.” As for Cheryl, she confessed that she still has her resentments. “I used to walk on eggshells. I used to just go along. But I told him one thing. I said: ‘Bobby, I’ll take you back. But I’m not taking a backseat to you no more.’”
No More Secrets
For many couples, prison and being on the run usually ruins lives and marriages. But for Cheryl and Bobby, it only made their marriage better in the end. Cheryl said how she’s glad to see that there are no longer any secrets in the family. “He doesn’t have to hide anymore,” she said. She was finally in the marriage she always wanted.
As for their daughter’s perspective. “I’m not ashamed of my father or what he did,” Jessica, 27, said. “Shocked, surprised, yes. My father was determined to change his life, and for 40 years or so, he did just that.” according to attorney Rita Mavunda, to ignore all that he had done and put him behind bars would be the real miscarriage of justice.