Upon release from prison, you might think most ex-convicts will try to lay low, work hard to reintegrate themselves into society and keep a fairly low profile.
While some will help others with their rehabilitation, as well as working on their own, some will work to forget their past and move on with their lives.
Clay Tumey, however, is not your typical ‘ex-con’.
At 26, struggling to find satisfaction at home and work, Clay turned to a life of crime after conducting months of research into bank robberies. Never violent or aggressive, Clay would rob banks using nothing more than an envelope with instructions written on it for the bank tellers.
Throughout 2006, Clay conducted a series of bank robberies. During the first one, he walked into a bank outside Dallas, Texas, handed the teller an envelope which read ‘Put all $50s and $100s in this envelope’. He carried no weapon, and was worried when he saw the teller’s hand hit a panic button. Despite this, Clay walked out of the bank with around $3,000 in the envelope, telling the receptionist to have a great day as he did.
A few months after his last heist, and a few close calls later, Tumey turned himself in to authorities. He had just had a son, and didn’t want the mounting threat of imprisonment hanging over him as his son grew up.
Clay pleaded guilty to three robberies, and served around three years in prison.
Since leaving, Tumey has turned his life around by lecturing about robbing banks and his past experiences, he has written a book, called The Blue Chip Store, and says he wants others to learn from his mistakes.
I stopped tweeting to write a book. pic.twitter.com/twxXO3N3rv
— Clay (@helloiamclay) October 10, 2015
Not just wanting to discourage others, Tumey also regularly participates in Q&A sessions and ‘Ask Me Anything’s (AMAs) on Reddit, and doesn’t hold much back.
For example, when asked who makes the best and worst inmates in prison, he simply replied: ‘Worst = sex offenders. Best = everybody else.’
Expanding on his relationship with others while in prison, Clay added:
There’s a weird level of respect that the guys inside have for bank robbers. I don’t know why, but that’s just the way it is. They’re fascinated with it just like anyone else.
He’s got a point. If you think about Hollywood’s various depictions of criminals over the years, there is a certain reverence for bank robbers. From Jesse James to John Dillinger, Baby Face Nelson to Bonnie and Clyde, their stories have become more like heroic (but doomed) tales, rather than cautionary true stories.
However, answering a question about what films typically get wrong about bank robberies, Clay simply said: ‘How much money you get.’ Adding: ‘I don’t think any of them are very realistic. Hollywood doesn’t really do realism all too well… If I had to pick, I’d say Office Space is probably the most realistic.’
However, there is one part of prison the movies never depict, as Clay posted:
There’s really nobody to talk to when you have a bad day or get bad news. In prison, everyone is having the worst day of their life. Nobody gives a shit about yours.
When asked about his ‘rules’ for robbing a bank, Clay replied:
Just walked in and acted as a regular customer. When it was my turn, I handed the teller a note saying to give me their $50s and $100s. I typically clarified that I didn’t have a weapon or any intention of hurting them.
Speaking about what did go through his mind when robbing banks, he said:
It felt a bit like riding a roller coaster. There’s a sense of danger, but ultimately, it was safe enough to check out. It’s obviously riskier than riding a roller coaster, but that’s the best analogy I can make.
It was crazy, and it was scary. But to some, that’s what makes life fun.
Though he’s become a successful writer and lecturer, there was also a time when Clay couldn’t find work as an ex-con, despite his best efforts.
Talking about the process of trying to get a job at Amazon, he said:
Got through to orientation and all that stuff. They called a few days before my first day and basically said never mind.
The most annoying part was that I spoke openly at every step (from the recruiter to the person who interviewed me and then the person who led orientation) about my criminal history and asked if I was wasting my time.
Amazon will still sell my book. I just can’t work at the place that ships it to you.
When asked how much he made during his ‘career’ as a bank robber, Clay replied: ‘Not very much. Probably like five figures.’
Writing about the close call he experienced on his very last heist, Clay said:
The lady/teller kinda freaked out and started screaming to lock the doors. It was a tad stressful to say the least, but I managed to just turn around and walk out as though nothing were happening.
They did lock the doors, but it was just after I’d walked out. I don’t think the intent was to trap me there, so it’s not like I “barely got away” in that sense. But it was still way too close for comfort.
That was the end of it for me.
While it may seem like he has a few tips on how to rob banks, Clay is certainly not advocating doing anything of the sort. As he told the Washington Post: ‘I strongly discourage anyone from robbing a bank. If you want a thrill, go sky diving.’
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Charlie Cocksedge is a journalist at UNILAD. He graduated from the University of Manchester with an MA in Creative Writing, where he learnt how to write in the third person, before getting his NCTJ. His work has also appeared in such places as The Guardian, PN Review and the bin.