Peter Barry Lawrence pointed a BB gun at a bank teller and was surprised at the amount of bravado that surged through him. He threatened to shoot anyone who followed him out.
“I felt like Clint Eastwood or Charles Bronson,” he said. “There was a sudden rush of adrenaline.”
Lawrence, 71, made his getaway in his wheelchair, with $2,000 in cash on his lap. He was headed back to his rented room at the nearby San Diego Downtown Lodge, but he took a meandering route down Seventh Avenue until the police caught up with him five minutes later.
And just like that, the rush was over. But that was all part of the plan.
The way Lawrence tells it, Monday’s robbery of a Chase Bank was just a desperate ploy to get back behind bars, where he believes he will receive better medical care than he has been able to obtain on his own.
“In my opinion, freedom isn’t any good if you can’t sustain yourself on the outside,” Lawrence said during a jailhouse interview Friday.
By the way, if Lawrence goes to jail in California, he actually won’t get any better care on the inside. California’s prison medical system is so notoriously bad it’s in the hands of a federal receiver, having needlessly allowed dozens if not hundreds to die on its watch, violating the Constitutional provision banning cruel and unusual punishment.
Nevertheless, it’s jarring that the federal government has to step in if prisoners aren’t getting the medical care they need, but not individuals.
Lawrence has diabetes, colon cancer, Parkinson’s disease, gout, heart disease and glaucoma, and must manage all that, along with his other expenses, on $949 a month in Social Security and other disability benefits. In fact, the financial meltdown and subsequent Great Recession is about to make this crisis for the elderly, caught without any retirement security, much more commonplace:
Aside from stagnant wages, soaring unemployment and plummeting home values, the major tragedy of this recession is the havoc it has wreaked on the retirement incomes of millions of Americans who have planned and saved their entire lives, only to watch that money drain out of their accounts much sooner than they anticipated.
Retirement statistics are grim. The percentage of American workers who said they have less than $10,000 in savings grew to 43 percent in 2010, according to a recent survey by the Employee Benefit Research Institute. Nearly a quarter of the workforce said they have postponed their planned retirement in the past year and a CareerBuilder.com survey reports that 61 percent of workers say they are now living paycheck to paycheck, as compared to 43 percent in 2007.
With rapidly dwindling savings and fewer opportunities for jobs than their younger counterparts, many older Americans are facing a very uncertain economic future.
“This is the undiscussed explosive bomb in all this, is all the pension benefits, all the 401(k) money that’s been drained out by workers trying to stay afloat until they find a job,” Rep. Jim McDermott (D-Wash.) told HuffPost. “There are a lot of people who, when this is over, are going to have nothing. They will have lost their house, they will have used all their pension money.”
Lawrence, in particular, hasn’t worked in 14 years because of his physical infirmities. The class of workers aged 55-64 who were pushed out of their jobs in the recession and have almost no hope of getting a new one are basically having a disability imposed on them, and the impact on retirement is grave. Add in the fact that the elderly are at the front lines of the foreclosure crisis, because so many of them have major equity in their homes, and so many homeowners are massively underwater, and you have the makings of a generational disaster.
It’s in this context that members of the cat food commission are talking about raising the retirement age.