By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
Well-mannered, articulate and extremely likable, Keith doesn't seem the Clyde Barrow stereotype as we converse in a Westside Italian eatery. Once he trusts you, he discusses his illegal pursuits frankly, sometimes flashing a wide grin that somewhat offsets his habit of staring nervously at the floor when pondering a tough question.
Every response is delivered after palpable deliberation, a trait common to ex-cons who reason that their freedom or survival could depend on choosing words carefully.
Born in New York to parents he describes as attentive and loving, Keith picked up his addiction at 20, in his second year in college. He then chucked his classes and went to work - as a bank teller for a while. He moonlighted as a cabby and burglar to augment support for his coke habit.
There wasn't much to tie him down to New York City, so, like many others, he meandered to Los Angeles at age 27, starting a more or less full-time, but unsatisfying, career as a car-stereo booster. "The most you get for a radio or CD player is maybe 10 or 20 bucks," he says. His daily habit cost 10 times that at least. "Gotta break into a lotta cars for that. I've had guns pulled on me, been chased by maniacs with baseball bats, and worse, gotten busted and sent up."
Nine months in Wasco opened his eyes, but not the way authorities intended. "I really admired the takeover and stickup guys up there," he recalls. "The ones who just marched into a bank with shotguns. That took real balls."
Upon release, Keith was not quite ready for the big leagues, preferring to hone his skills on fast-food joints. "Used notes, just like for banks," he says. "But if you didn't hit the shifts just right, they could be cashless in there, and sometimes I'd only get out with 70 or 80 bucks."
Onward and upward. He was finally ready to apply all he had learned. For about a half-dozen bank robberies, everything went as planned. "I had it down to a science at one point," he says with the pride of a professional. But as he became practiced at his trade, he also got brazen. And it didn't help his thought process to be reeling between narcotic highs and lows.
When he entered the Great Western Bank on the corner of Beverly and Vermont, he hadn't done his homework. "First of all, the dumb-bitch teller fumbled the note and fucked up my order," he says, as if she were a waitress at a truck stop. "Way over the 45-second limit. I get the money, and as I run out the door, I realize, 'Damn, I don't know where the phone is.' So I circle the bank outside, and notice a pay phone in the far corner of the bank's parking lot. I strut over to it and call a cab. I turn around, and there are three or four LAPD cruisers all facing me, and the cops are out with their guns drawn. I was history!"
Despite being a mere unarmed note passer, he drew four years in federal prison. "They deeply frown on bank holdups," Keith comments. "You can kill somebody on the street over nothing and get manslaughter, maybe even be out in three."
During this 34-month stretch, he focused on something other than his admiration for bank robbers. Keith actually got clean; it wasn't easy, but he had to consider the alternative. "I hated prison, and for me it was especially hard, because I'm a black man from the East, and I wasn't down with the homies around here . . . I wasn't black enough for them, and they gave me rafts of shit."
Keith also confesses that he rediscovered some of his religious roots while behind bars. Whatever the motivation, the light went on upstairs for the first time in years.
After nearly a year in a halfway house, Keith became semifree. As a parolee, he's obligated to deposit a sample of his finest for drug tests twice monthly at the ungodly hour of 6 a.m. down on La Brea. At one point, an acquaintance volunteered to help him cheat the urine test. But Keith knew better. "If I did that, the next week I'd be robbing banks."
Keith has landed a legit job, in the lower echelons of a professional trade. Yes, it's back to the chump's game, and he's sort of glad to be there. Keith's asked me not to mention his job specifically. His employer could probably put two and two together - and might no longer want him around.
For now, Keith dreams of getting into the legal end of the entertainment business and eventually learning how to produce movies. "If I gotta get the rush from something, it had better be from something that isn't gonna kill me or somebody else."