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COURTESY OF THE AUTHOR
Keith Giammanco, left, and his wife Caroline. The two met during Keith Giammanco's time in prison.
Like most people, I never worried about prison or the criminal justice system until it ended up on my own doorstep.
I grew up with a deputy sheriff father and a loving stay-at-home mother. I earned good grades, went to college and became a teacher.
In 2011, I took a job teaching in the Missouri Department of Corrections where I met my husband, Keith Giammanco. We certainly didn’t expect to fall for each other in prison, but love doesn’t use a GPS.
Long before we met, Keith was a middle-class, single dad supporting his teenage twin daughters as an independent stockbroker. After his difficult divorce, the economy began its descent toward the 2008 recession.
He panicked. Keith was teetering on the edge of bankruptcy as he tried to keep his house, feed his daughters, Elise and Marissa, and pay for their parochial high school education. He didn’t want to disrupt their lives any more after the divorce.
Many people say they’d do anything for their kids, and we admit that Keith took that sentiment too far as became known as the “Boonie Hat Bandit” for robbing several banks in the St. Louis area. He used the proceeds from these unarmed heists to keep his family’s life afloat.
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COURTESY OF THE AUTHOR
Keith Giammanco and his daughters during happier times.
When people are afraid, they don’t use good judgment, and we’d never say his crimes were okay.
Keith took responsibility for his actions, pleading guilty in 2009 to all twelve bank robberies. Even the federal judge said his apology was the sincerest she had encountered.
He was sentenced to six years and four months in federal court. Bank robbery is a federal offense, and his prosecution should have been finished.
However, St. Louis County Prosecuting Attorney Bob McCulloch decided to use Keith’s guilty plea in federal court as evidence against him in state court for another conviction. McCulloch’s choice to prosecute him twice for the same crimes resulted in a sentence of twenty years—three times as much prison time as the federal sentence. Instead of release in 2014, Keith can’t come home until 2025, at the earliest. If he only served his federal sentence, he would’ve seen his daughters when they were 24. They will be 38 when Keith is released.
The difference between six years and 20 years can be a lifetime. Births happen, deaths happen, medical emergencies arise, and all the big and little things that we treasure in life pass us by.
In the time since Keith’s federal sentence ended and he was still imprisoned, Elise and Marissa’s mother died. The girls have faced terrible personal crises and losses without their father.
Life has been difficult for me, too. I have undergone four CT scans, two biopsies, two different cancer scares, and two reconstructive surgeries without my husband by my side. Keith has faced medical issues of his own, and we hope that by the time the second conviction is over we are here to spend our remaining time together.
Some of you may not care about our personal struggles.
You should, however, care about the cost to you as taxpayers. Missouri will pay for every bit of Keith’s decades of incarceration. At more than $22,000 a year to house an inmate, you should be asking why one prosecutor volunteered your tax dollars for a situation already under federal jurisdiction. Using the Vera Institute’s estimates, Keith’s additional fourteen years of incarceration will cost Missourians at least $310,618.
Prosecutors can use their discretion to continue prosecution when the federal government gives out a sentence like this or they can decide that justice was served. Bob McCulloch could have allowed my husband to come home after six years but instead he added additional penalties.
That is why the upcoming St. Louis County prosecuting attorney race is so important. We need reform-minded prosecutors committed to prioritizing alternatives more effective at preventing future crime.
Imprisonment hurts families and communities. It should be the last option, not the first.
Your vote in the August 7 primary has the power to shape a prosecuting office that works towards justice, not punishment.
Caroline Giammanco is a public school teacher, author, and criminal justice reform advocate. You can connect with her on Facebook at Caroline Giammanco Author and on Twitter @GiammancoBook. The
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