In a scene that was like something out of a movie, a North Carolina man walked into a bank in Gaston, NC and robbed one dollar, in order to get sent to jail. His reason for his odd behavior? He has several health problems, no insurance, and no hope. So he decided to go to jail, where his health care would be provided free of charge.
James Richard Verone is 59 years old, and he was once a driver for Coca Cola. He worked for them for seventeen years, making deliveries, but when the economy took a turn for the worse, he lost his job. He found another post as a truck driver, but lost that shortly thereafter. He finally managed to find another job as a convenience store clerk, but the frequent bending and lifting caused problems in his back and foot, and aggravated his carpal tunnel syndrome and arthritis. He has no form of health care.
Then, one day Mr. Verone noticed a strange protrusion from his chest, and he began to experience excruciating pain. “The pain was beyond the tolerance that I could accept,” Mr. Verone commented to the Gaston Gazette. “I kind of hit a brick wall with everything.”
Without insurance and without sufficient cash to get a private doctor to see him, he was out of options. He is too young for Medicare, makes too much for Medicaid, and his conditions don’t qualify as emergencies, so he can’t go to an emergency room for health care treatment without being turned away. He has family, a brother and sister, but he didn’t want to be a burden on them. He applied for food stamps, but it was not enough. He felt like he was drowning in his situation, and began to feel, according to his own words, hopeless.
So, earlier this month, on June 9, Mr. Verone woke up, ironed his clothing, took a shower, and dropped a letter to the Gaston Gazette newspaper explaining the actions he was getting ready to take. The letter’s return address was the Gaston County Jail. Then, he calmly walked into the local RBC Bank branch, handed the cashier a note, and waited.
The note said he was demanding $1, and that he needed medical attention. “When you receive this a bank robbery will have been committed by me,” Verone wrote to the newspaper in his letter. “This robbery is being committed by me for one dollar. I am of sound mind but not so much sound body.”
The cashier, unsure what was going on, was so alarmed that she had to be taken to the hospital to be checked out. While waiting for the police to arrive, Mr. Verone took a seat on a bench in the lobby.
“I didn’t have any fears,” said Mr. Verone, calmly. “I told the teller that I would sit over here and wait for police.”
Once they arrived, Mr. Verone was handcuffed and taken to jail, where he still is today.
The teller was so frightened that she had to be taken to the hospital to be checked out. Verone, meanwhile, was taken to jail, just as he’d planned it.
Due to the way the law evaluates the value of stolen items, Mr. Verone was only charged with larceny, not bank robbery, which would have carried a much heavier penalty. Since he has no prior criminal record, Mr. Verone’s bail was lowered from $100,000 to $2,000, but he refuses to even consider paying it. In fact, he says that if the judge does not penalize him severely enough (as in release him with a slap on the wrist), he will threaten to do the same thing.
However you agree with his methods, James Verone is exactly where he wanted to go, without having to resort to violence. He has an appointment with a doctor to have his chest assessed this coming week.
He is a model prisoner, who tends to skip meals like dinner so he does not come in contact with the jail’s other inmates. He has the health care he wanted: he has been seen by nurses, and he says he believes he will get the back surgery and foot surgery he needs. He will likely spend a few years in jail and emerge just in time to begin collecting social security, at which point, he says, he wants to try to move to the beach.
In Mr. Verone’s view, if the US had a better health care system with more government support for those in situations like his, he would not have done what he did. He feels he made the best of a collection of bad choices available to him.
“If you don’t have your health you don’t have anything,” he said.