Review of Bank Notes: The True Story of the Boonie Hat Bandit written by Keith and Caroline Giammanco
I have written extensively about the criminal justice system on this site. Most of the time I am writing about wrongful convictions. This story is unlike any of the others that I have covered. That’s because Keith Giammanco is not innocent. He admits as much. He robbed twelve banks. Bank Notes is a story about our flawed criminal justice system from the perspective of a convicted felon.
I was living in the St. Louis metropolitan area when this story first broke. I followed the case from the first bank robbery to Keith’s capture. As details about Keith and his possible motivations for what he did began to emerge, I found myself fascinated by the story that unfolded. The string of bank robberies occurred in 2008 at the beginning of the last recession. Keith wasn’t some ruthless criminal; he was a single father of two teenage twin daughters. He had no criminal history. What circumstances would make an individual take such drastic measures? What would happen to his daughters? What sentence would he receive? How would he deal with the repercussions of his crime? I was so interested in the answers to those questions that I contacted Keith Giammanco and offered him money for the rights to his story. When I told my wife that I was thinking about writing a book about the Boonie Hat Bandit, she thought I was crazy.
As it turns out, Keith never responded, and I eventually found another story to write. My book Scapegoat tells the story of a wrongful conviction of a different sort. Wanting to get reviews and advance orders for my upcoming book before its release, I advertised in some different publications marketed towards the book industry. While reviewing my ad in one of those publications, I spotted a book with the title Bank Notes: The True Story of the Boonie Hat Bandit. I purchased the Kindle version that day (just $2.99).
Keith’s ultimate sentence far outweighs the crime. He didn’t use a weapon. He never threatened a teller. He was a first time offender. His lawyers wanted him to agree to a twenty-year sentence after he had already received a six-year sentence in the federal court system. The whole mess was so confusing that I can’t tell you how many years he received. But I believe that it’s at least twenty-five years. Child molesters get less time. Convicted murderers get less time.
While incarcerated, Keith meets Caroline, a teacher who teaches at the prison. They eventually form a relationship, and the story takes a turn. Along the way, Keith and Caroline cover numerous topics such as prison overcrowding, mass incarceration, mandatory sentencing, rehabilitation or the lack of it, the importance of hope, prison relationships between inmates and staff, and the warped politics behind many of these issues.
At no time does Keith blame others for the poor decisions that led to his incarceration. He takes full responsibility. He has paid greatly for those mistakes. His daughters have paid greatly. This book is an unflinching look at why we need reforms in the criminal justice system. Caroline is working tirelessly at getting legislation passed to reduce the time inmates must serve of their sentence – currently 85%. Some will say that she is doing this for selfish reasons. Some will argue that this book was written for financial gain and that Keith deserves his sentence and should not benefit in any way. I am on Keith’s side in this battle. He has exposed the ugly truth.