William J. Gallagher, a 68-year-old career criminal who had just been released from prison after a 20-year sentence, recently robbed a Wisconsin bank, with the sole purpose of getting arrested and sent back to prison.
Six months after finishing his 20-year prison sentence at a penitentiary in New Jersey for attempted homicide, Gallagher took an Amtrak train to Chicago, then another one to Milwaukee, in Winsconsin, where he headed straight to a Chase bank with the intention to rob it. But this wasn’t your usual bank robbery. Instead of getting as much money as possible and trying to escape before the police arrived, Gallagher demanded some $100 bills, then casually asked the bank teller to call the police, and simply waited for them to arrive and arrest him. His goal was never to escape with the money, but to get sent back to prison for his crime.
The New York native had spent so much time behind bars that he simply couldn’t adjust to life on the outside, and after remembering that a fellow inmate had once told him that prisons in Wisconsin were the best in the United States, he decided to travel there and commit a crime so he could go back to his old life.
“About 48 years ago, I’m sitting with a 72-year-old con, and he had been in just about every prison in the country and he did two bids in Wisconsin,” William J. Gallagher said, according to a plea hearing transcript. “And he said it was the best food, commissary, this, that, everything.”
Another incentive for Gallagher to get imprisoned in Wisconsin was the great healthcare inmates here receive, which reportedly rivals the care offered through the US Department of Veterans Affairs. VA doctors had recently removed cancerous growths off of his back and had found three other lymph nodes in his stomach and a nodule on his lung. He figured they could be taken care of in prison.
But it wasn’t just the superior amenities and healthcare of Wisconsin prisons that made this Vietnam veteran go to such extreme lengths to get locked up again. He had been institutionalized for so long that he simply couldn’t adjust to life on the outside, and he didn’t want to be a burden for his children either, so he did what he felt he had to do.
“I’m not crazy, your honor,” Gallagher told Judge David Hansher during his hearing. “I’m 68. I just got out. Every day I’m looking at my watch. Oh, they’re in the yard now. … Instead of leaving, trying to lead a life out here, I’m thinking about what’s going on where I just left.”
Bewildered by the 68-year-old’s explanation, the judge asked him if he had seen the 1994 movie “Shawshank Redemption”, referring specifically to the character Brooks Hatlen, a longtime inmate and prison librarian, who took his own life after being released, because he couldn’t adjust.
“That’s me. The librarian guy,” Gallagher answered. “Institutionalized, couldn’t adjust, everything fell apart, he hung himself. I’m not hanging myself but, you know, that’s it.”
Even the assistant district attorney prosecuting Gallagher in this bizarre case, James Griffin, was shocked by the man’s explanation.
“I’ve never heard anyone rob a bank so they can get to prison so they could get health care,” Griffin said. “It’s a sad comment on the situation of health care in America. … That a guy’s got to rob a bank to get health care is unfortunate, to say the least.”
William J. Gallagher asked for a 10-year prison sentence, but Judge Hansher decided not to sentence him just yet. Instead, he asked for a presentence investigation to be conducted, and scheduled a sentencing hearing for February 13.
Gallagher’s request to go to prison for at least a decade puts Charles Roozen, his attorney, in a difficult and strange position. Lawyers usually try to get their clients off the hook or at least get reduced sentences for them, but at the same time they have to abide by the clients’ wishes too.
“This is the complete opposite role that I’m used to or want to be in,” Roozen said.
This bizarre case reminds me of another surreal story we reported a few years back, about a man who robbed a bank and simply waited for the police to arrest him, just so he could go to prison and escape his nagging wife.