Christian Living


books 08/14/09

A Serial Bank Robber's Road to Redemption


Q/A with Held Hostage Author Ken Cooper

I recently had the chance to talk with former serial bank robber Ken Cooper about his new book, Held Hostage. The memoir details the life and crimes of this felon as he switched between his two lives -- loving family man and thief.

Who is the “hostage” in Held Hostage?

I was held hostage by an adrenaline drug addiction. I was held hostage by the evil in my heart in a Florida prison called “The Rock”. To my shame, bank tellers were held hostage during some of the bank robberies.

Was greed the primary cause of your criminal behavior?

No, fear (the adrenaline trigger), anger, and hatred were the predisposing causes of my crimes. From the remarks a psychiatrist made to me in prison, I concluded that my suffering from starvation as a child created a desperate animal within me that shaped my perspective of and approach to life.

What exactly is an adrenaline rush, and what part did it play in your crimes?

Putting myself in a life-threatening situation discharged a drug from the adrenal gland into my blood that created an aura of super-human mental and physical strength. The greater the risk, the greater the rush and resulting impression of power and invincibility. Caught up in those zones—moments out of time—the experience was extremely exhilarating and addicting. The craving to repeat and enhance the adrenaline events became uncontrollable.

Was alcohol consumption involved in your deviant behavior?

Yes and no. In the young adult years, alcohol was used to bolster my courage to act out my anger. In later years, once the adrenaline addiction controlled me, I was careful to not be “under the influence” when planning or committing a holdup. 

Did the victims of the robberies ever have any emotional effect on you?

Yes. Early on, two victims had a profound impact on me and shaped the way I conducted the robberies. One of them, an elderly grocery story owner, showed no fear whatsoever of me or the gun in my hand and chased me out her business with one question, “Does your Mama know what you are doing?” Several times I was impressed by the courage and coolness under duress of the bank tellers, but one of them stopped me in my tracks. She handed over the loot cheerfully, like it was hers to give away, and then begged me to take her with me when I left the robbery scene. 

Did you live a double life?

Yes. It shames me that the man people respected as a caring husband, father, son, and neighbor was, in reality, nothing more than a self-centered hypocrite. When cravings for the “superman moment” became stronger than the desire to live a normal life, I reverted to the monster mode, identified my next mark, planned the robbery, and did it.

How were you apprehended?

A police office shot me as I left a North Tampa bank with a heavy bag of money in one hand and a gun in the other. 

When did you decide to stop robbing banks?

On the way to the hospital following the shooting, I said, “It’s over.” I wasn’t talking about dying; I was talking about the end of my robbing banks.

How did you come to repentance and turn from your ways in prison?

Syd Barrett, a devoted Christian, came to the jail weekly while I was awaiting trial. He shared the unconditional love of God with me. Through a non-judgmental attitude and love, more than through words, he convinced me I could be forgiven for my sins and empowered to receive Christ into my life.

How were you released from prison in less than four years on a 99-year sentence?

To assure the public I would “never walk the streets of America again,” the sentencing judge retained his jurisdiction over me for one third of the ninety-nine year sentence. Through faith a Christian couple approached the judge with a Christian attorney, who asked him to sign a motion releasing his jurisdiction. They came into the judge’s chamber praying the judge would sign the motion in a daze, in a stupor not knowing what he was doing. To the state, his signature meant the judge had changed his mind about the life sentence. With the aggressive support and intervention of a minister named Raymond Duncan and a newspaper man named James Whyte, the parole board released me to work release in three and one-half years.

Do you think it is fair or just that you would be released from prison in less than four years on a 99-year sentence?

No, I believe justice would have been better served if I had lived out the life sentence and died as a prisoner of the state. I believe God released me at His chosen time, however, so I could fulfill His plan for my life. To express my deep gratitude and devotion, I am serving a life sentence as a prisoner of Jesus Christ. 

Tell us about the work you do in prisons now.

A hundred times a year, my wife and I conduct worship services and discipleship classes in prisons where we share the good news that God will save and deliver “a wretch like me” through Jesus Christ. Accompanying us are ministry teams composed of a daughter, son, two grandchildren, other ex-offenders, and singers. Since most crimes are addiction-related this effort includes weekly Christ-based addictions recovery education classes. 

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