When she scooped up the cash after allegedly robbing a US Bank branch in Cheyenne, Wyo., Linda Patricia Thompson seemed resigned to the punishment that awaited her.
A 59-year-old transgender woman, Thompson had endured nothing but trouble since arriving in Wyoming weeks before. She had been turned away from a Cheyenne homeless shelter, then was beaten in a park, landing in a hospital where she was treated for facial fractures.
A month before, she had finished up a six-year prison term in Oregon for robbery. She had departed reluctantly, telling officials she wouldn't survive without a cell and free meals, according to court records. She wound up hopping a passing freight train to Wyoming, where she had worked on oil rigs when she was living as a man. But court records show she ended up sleeping in the bushes.
So after snatching the bundles of cash and heading out the bank door, Thompson tossed some of the bills into the air and handed out money to passers-by, bank employees told police. Then she sat on an upside-down 5-gallon bucket with the remaining cash stacked neatly in front of her, and waited for the cops to arrive.
Thompson told police officers, and later a judge, that she longed to be back in prison. She had spent almost a third of her life there — 18 years in all in men's lockups — for assorted theft and holdup convictions.
"Prison is home to me," she said at a federal court hearing this month when she changed her plea from not guilty to guilty. "So I'm just going back home."
She had only one request. "I'd like as much time as possible," she told U.S. District Court Judge Nancy Freudenthal.
"The judge didn't question her when she asked for 'as much time as possible,'" Assistant U.S. Atty. Stuart Healy said this week. "All of that will likely shake out at sentencing. The change-of-plea hearing is pretty much restricted to taking the plea — making sure it's knowing and voluntary. So there wasn't much discussion about Ms. Thompson's life or the decisions she has made."
But her decision to rob a bank was expressly done to return to prison, Healy said.
"She does, certainly, want to go back to jail. She has made that clear," he said. "And it is true that she was assaulted in a park here prior to the bank robbery."
According to FBI Agent Tory Smith, the bank heist was planned right down to the last detail of getting caught.
Armed with only a note, scrawled on a piece of cardboard and stating, "I have a gun. Give me all your money," Thompson walked into the bank shortly after 10 a.m. July 27 and slid the note in front of a teller, Smith recounted in an affidavit.
The teller read it, looked up, and said, "Excuse me?"
Smith wrote that Thompson casually confirmed the message. "Yeah," she said, "this is a robbery."
The teller hastily began stacking cash on the counter. Court records show it was a decent haul: $16,300. Thompson grabbed the stacks and walked out with her arms full, bank employees said.
When the squad cars pulled up, officers said, Thompson was matter-of-fact: "I just robbed the bank. I want to go back to prison."
Thompson's attorney, federal public defender David Weiss, says it's an unusual case to start with, and an exceptional one because of Thompson's desire to spend as much time as possible behind bars.
He told the Associated Press that Thompson was competent, intelligent and an advocate for transgender prison inmates. She was featured a decade ago in a documentary, "Cruel and Unusual," an award-winning film that described the lives of transgender prisoners. In the film, Thompson, born male but living as a woman in later years, discusses how she castrated herself with a razor blade in an Idaho men's prison while she was doing time for theft.
"It was like 100,000 tons of hate and animosity towards myself was all of a sudden just lifted off my shoulders," she recalled in the documentary. "I was happy. For the first time in my life, I loved myself."
She wound up hospitalized, and began to get the hormone treatment the prison had earlier refused to supply, court records show.
Thompson later sued the prison for damages, won a settlement and was sent to a transgender clinic at the California prison system's main medical facility in Vacaville. The settlement ran out after her release and she pulled off her first bank job, winding up in male housing at the state prison in Salem, Ore., court records show.
Because the federal corrections system now considers gender identity in housing inmates, Thompson will probably end up in a federal prison for women once she is sentenced.
But for how long is unclear. She pleaded guilty three weeks ago, but "there is no agreed-upon sentence," said Healy, the prosecutor.
"I can tell you that at her change of plea, Ms. Thompson did ask Judge Freudenthal to give her the maximum sentence allowed by law, which is 20 years."
Her sentencing date is set for Oct. 12. She is currently in federal custody.
Anderson is a special correspondent.