The Cop and the Anthem

June 20th, 2011

O. Henry wrote a very interesting short story in 1904, titled the Cop and the Anthem. In the story, a hobo wants to get arrested so he can avoid the cold winter by spending it in jail, rather than on the streets. The hobo tries to commit all of these crimes, but fails to get arrested. After these failures, he stands in front of a church, hears the organ music, and decides to clean up his life. In an ironic twist, a police officer arrests him for loitering.

I saw an article in the Times that made me think of this story. James Verone, who possesses several health ailments, sought out to get arrested so the state would pay his healthcare bills while he is in prison.

James Verone, an unemployed 59-year-old with a bad back, a sore foot and an undiagnosed growth on his chest, limped into a bank in Gastonia, N.C., this month and handed the teller a note, explaining that this was an unarmed robbery, but she’d better turn over $1 and call the cops. That, he figured, would be enough to get himself arrested and sent to prison for a few years, where he could take advantage of the free medical care.

He claims he is a logical person.

In a television interview last week with a local news station, WCNC, Mr. Verone explained that he was hoping for a three-year sentence, which would give him a place to live and free health care until he was old enough to collect a Social Security check and buy a condo on the beach. “I’m sort of a logical person and that was my logic, what I came up with,” he said.

And like an O. Henry story, there is, of course, the twist:

According to Diane Turbyfill, a Gazette journalist who also interviewed Mr. Verone, there was one flaw in his cunning plan. “Because he only demanded $1, he was charged with larceny from a person,” not bank robbery, Ms. Turbyfill wrote. “Still a felony, the count doesn’t carry as much jail time as bank robbery.”

I wonder if he will be in prison long enough to receive all of the treatment he sought–and, I hope that serving in prison doesn’t result in any negative consequence (imagine that!). Specifically, under some state and federal laws, a person who commits a felony is not eligible for certain forms of public assistance, such as Social Security, food stamps, and even public housing. I also hope that a bank is willing to give a convicted bank robber a loan to purchase a condo on the beach (I doubt they will care much for his rationale). Finally, if he is wealthy enough to buy a condo on a beach, dare I say it, may he be able to afford his own health care? Then again, someone willing to rob a bank to go to jail to get free health care does not strike me as the sharpest knife in the drawer.

H/T Militza