July 19, 2016

Youthful Robber Released As Senior Now Helps Other Prisoners

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Larry White is an old man of 81 now, but he remembers growing up in Bedford-Stuyvesant before it was known as the hot gentrifying neighborhood in Brooklyn. As a kid, while other children were playing basketball he used to stick up the A&P supermarkets in his area.

“I didn’t have any plans other than you make money and you hustle,” he said.

JJIE New York Metro Bureau logoHe spent most of his childhood and young adult life like that, hustling. Then, on a Monday, on April 12, 1976, White and some acquaintances, three men and one woman, robbed the New Amsterdam cinema on 42nd Street, just off Times Square. It should have been an easy $80,000 job — that’s $340,000 in today’s dollars — but everything that could go wrong did.

During the botched robbery two security guards were killed by one of White’s accomplices.

The movie on the marquee that day, “The Getaway,” would presage White’s life. Steve McQueen plays a prisoner who, despite being refused parole, manages to regain his freedom thanks to the help of a partner. In return for his help the partner wants support for one last bank heist.

[Related: Revoked and Restored: Anthony Brown’s Life on Parole]

White was arrested for his role in the killings, tried and sentenced to 25 years to life. While still at Rikers Island, he tried to escape, cutting the bars of his cell, but the attempt failed and he went back to prison. He became a model prisoner, working as an editor at the prison newspaper and attending the rehabilitation programs.

It was not enough for three parole boards: Despite his excellent record as an inmate White was denied parole three times and spent additional seven years in prison.

Video: 'Do you think you're ready to go home?'

In 2007, White regained his freedom after getting approved for parole.

Looking at his friends left behind the bars, White made a promise: “I’ll be back.”

Out of prison, he started a new chapter of his life. He began working at Hope Lives for Lifers, a program for people still in prison. He said he wanted his experience behind bars, and his long effort to get out,  to help inspire those still on the inside.

That’s what he does as a consultant for the American Friends Service Committee. White uses his life’s hard lessons to help and educate other people facing long-term sentences who want to turn their lives around.

White drafted a manual during his years in prison as a tool for self-discipline, and now it is used as a guide by inmates across the New York state corrections system.

White kept his promise and went back to the prison where he was incarcerated; but this time it wasn’t as a convict — it was as a coordinator of discussion groups on how to cope within the prison system and prepare for parole board hearings.

(This story originally appeared in Forty Dollars and a Bus Ticket, a special report produced by the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism's NYCity News Service.)

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