He caught the public’s imagination two years ago, dangling from his 17th-floor downtown prison cell by a “rope” jerry-rigged out of bed sheets and dental floss.
But serial bank robber and jail-breaker Joseph “Jose” Banks came crashing back to earth Wednesday afternoon, when a federal judge gave him another three and half decades to try to repeat his daring feat.
Calling Banks a “threat and a menace” to society who had subjected bank tellers to a “hideous, hurtful” ordeal, U.S. District Judge Rebecca Pallmeyer handed the 39-year-old a 36 year sentence.
The hefty prison term means Banks won’t be eligible for release until he’s at least 64, and it likely spells an end to one of the wilder criminal careers in recent Chicago history.
But Banks — an eccentric, failed fashion designer who earned the nickname of “Second Hand Bandit” by making more than $500,000 sticking up banks in thrift-store disguises — staged a dramatic final act in court Wednesday.
During a rambling, pretentious, 20-minute long self-pitying stream-of-consciousness rant to the judge that verged on performance art, Banks apologized to his family and claimed to be a “humble”and “divinely protected” anti-gun activist with a newfound interest in recycling.
“I feel like I was pushed out into a world that was not ready for me . . . and I was not ready for it,” he said in one of his more coherent moments.
Pallmeyer was unimpressed. Calling his speech “narcissistic,” she rejected his claims that he had been forced to escape from the Metropolitan Correctional Center in December 2012 by his cellmate, Kenneth Conley.
The judge noted that Banks had used his skills as a seamstress to fashion the makeshift 170-foot rope that he and Conley used to escape from their cell onto the roof of a South Loop garage.
“He made havoc in this case,” the judge said.
Banks spent just two days on the run before he was caught near where he grew up in Lincoln Park — far less than Conley, who eluded capture for nearly three weeks.
Banks’ attorney Beau Brindley argued that was evidence that Banks was not an “arch criminal” but a “desperate guy who didn’t know what to do after he escaped.”
Calling Banks an “extraordinarily talented artist,” Brindley added that Banks’ own mother had escaped from a mental health institution, stabbed Banks’ brother and kidnapped Banks when he was young.
Banks’ awful childhood meant he never had a chance to express his creativity, he said, arguing for a sentence of 15 years or less.
Prosecutors only wanted a stiffer sentence of 45 years because “the Bureau of Prisons was embarrassed by his escape,” Brindley said.
But Assistant U.S. Attorney Renato Mariotti suggested 45 years was appropriate. Banks had boasted in a letter to the Chicago Sun-Times last year about the escape, Mariotti said.
And Banks deliberately set out to “terrorize” bank staff, some of whom quit their jobs and needed counseling after Banks held a gun to their heads, he added.
Pallmeyer agreed that the staff would “carry these scars for a long time,” and said that Banks’ escape was “part of a larger pattern of rejection of ‘the system,’ ” that included Banks firing his attorney before his trial and claiming to be a “sovereign citizen,” exempt from federal law.
Those arguments were “utter nonsense,” she said.
Turning to Banks’ friend Chevon Coleman, who had made a passionate and slightly unhinged 20-minute speech comparing Banks to Nelson Mandela and demanding his release, Pallmeyer scowled.
“He isn’t the next, the last, or any kind of future Nelson Mandela,” the judge said.
Banks waved to a dozen supporters as he was led back to his cell.
He’s being held in solitary confinement and may die behind bars, his lawyer said.