Bank Robbers, Creme Brulee, and a Bag of Peanuts (MI)

Everyone has, at one point at least, thought about robbing a bank. Whether it was from watching a movie with Clive Owen or Nicholas Cage, walking through a bank lobby and glancing at cameras, or buying new ski masks for the white Colorado ski season; we’ve all let our minds entertain the thought. Well, the story we shot in Grand Rapids was an amazing one. And it had to do with a real bank robber…

A man with a black ski mask runs into an old bank; teller stations with paned glass and small slots for transactions. The man pulls a gun from his pocket. Our robber is nervous, a little scared, but too wrapped up in everything to back out now. He thinks about his family, his duty as a father, and he regrets letting his drug addiction put him here, in the middle of this bank lobby. His thoughts snap back as the cold metal of the gun feels hot under his skin. The masked man points his gun at a teller, tells the scared man to open the drawer and give him “only big bills.” The masked robber tries to hide his Spanish accent as he yells out orders to the teller. A few hand fulls of cash go into a white grocery sack and the masked man flies out the side door and into an old car. Before anyone can really grasp what’s happened, the man is gone. As the robber pulls off his mask and drives off in his car a brave drive-through customer jots down the license plate on a napkin. Three hours later the man is arrested for drug possesion, assault, robbery with a deadly weapon, and a few other misdemeanors. The bank robber is put in jail for a while, then released on bond and told to reappear in court in a few weeks. The man creates a new alias, moves to a new state, and becomes a fugitive from the law. He becomes a Christian while on the run after hearing about the teller he had held up. The teller had publicly asked his church to pray for the robber, and said that he himself had forgiven the man and wished he knew Christ. The fugivitve turns himself in. He spends eight years (with early paroll) in jail witnessing, spreading the gospel, and mentoring inmates. He gets out in 2004 and by coincidence, runs into the same teller that he had waved a gun at nearly nine years before. Now they’re really good friends, both Christians, and spreading their story and the gospel.

We interviewed both men, saw the bank, interviewed the wife of the ex-bank robber, and shot broll of the two men. They joked casually as if they had grown up together as neighbors. They were an example of pure, honest, and limitless forgiveness. It was an honor to meet both men in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

The trip was great. Shot a few other stories, ate some good food, and toured downtown Detroit. We walked around inside GM headquarters, sat in some nice 2010 cars on display, and noticed how empty the hallways felt at times. A banner hung inside the main lobby that said, “100 years of innovation, and we’ve just begun.” Glass hang in ornate display from the ceilings while shiny cars reflected the bright lights of bankruptcy.

Rod, our producer, bought a massive bag of unsalted peanuts on the first day from a health store. We literally ate peanuts the whole trip. A gigantic bag of them. We returned our silver van to Enterprise with peanut dust and carcass scattered all over the floors. It looked like we had watched a Tiger’s game from inside the Ford.

On our last night in Detroit we ate at a really nice Seafood place. We weren’t planning on dropping a ton of cash, but we decided to stay after looking at the menu. Rod and Jeremy, the other two crew members, had never had Creme Brulee before, so I ordered it for them. They hated it: puckered faces, twisted in odd directions. I ended up eating the whole thing. Just between you and me, it wasn’t very good. I’m headed to Rhode Island this next week, so I’ll be sure to snap some pictures. I forgot my camera when we went sightseeing in Detroit, so some of the pictures are taken with my IPhone camera. I’ll be sure to remember my camera when I go sightseeing in Rhode Island.

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About Ryan Johnson

Ryan Johnson is a 25 year old remote disaster and humanitarian photographer and media liaison working for an international non-profit. Ryan has a B.S. in Radio/TV/Film and Religion and an M.A. in International Politics.

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