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Held Hostage: A Serial Bank Robber's Road to Redemption

Held Hostage: A Serial Bank Robber's Road to Redemption

4.5 2
by Ken Cooper

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While Ken Cooper lived with his wife and two children and worked as publicity director for a Christian college, he was leading a double life--as a felon.

With a vivid, you-are-there style, this former gentleman bank robber takes readers on a journey through years of armed robberies, the dramatic shooting that ended his career, the horrors of prison, and a soul


While Ken Cooper lived with his wife and two children and worked as publicity director for a Christian college, he was leading a double life--as a felon.

With a vivid, you-are-there style, this former gentleman bank robber takes readers on a journey through years of armed robberies, the dramatic shooting that ended his career, the horrors of prison, and a soul ultimately finding peace. Without fear or embellishment, Cooper openly shares the darkest moments in his life. Yet in these moments he finally meets God and ends up becoming a bright light in a horrendous prison system. From adrenaline-pumping true-life crime to an experience of God's gentle love, readers won't be able to put down this gripping memoir of transformation and God's grace.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly

Convicted serial bank robber Cooper steals the show in the road to redemption genre for 2009 with this gripping narrative about his slide from petty theft to hostage-taking bank heists. Shot down mid-robbery, captured and sentenced in 1982 to 99 years, the author takes readers into the prison with grotesque scenes of predators and brutality. In prison, Cooper reflects on the double life that led to his incarceration; he worked for a Christian college, but also robbed banks to medicate the loss of his wife. Finding freedom, even in lock down, and forgiveness for his crimes, including his disregard for God and his stepson, becomes a quest that will have readers hanging on till the end of this surprisingly well-narrated book. The power of God's love and of prayer for enemies leads to the transformation of an entire cell block from heinous rape and sex games to a place of peace and love of neighbor. This new voice will be a runaway favorite for fans of the redemption narrative. (Aug.)

Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Ken Cooper can tell a story. He weaves in and out like a well-honed loom. He does an amazing job of drawing the reader into his thought process. You become immersed in his woes and his highs. You hold your breath with him as is cellblock is chosen for him by Mrs. Joseph. You mourn with him the loss of his family and his seperation from loved ones. You cheer him when he realizes how Jesus cleanses the most vile and pulls those from the deepest mire.... This is a smooth read. It is not for the fainthearted, but is worthy of some late nights. I recommend it.
—Gina Burgess

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Baker Publishing Group
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Chosen Books

Copyright © 2009 Ken Cooper
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-8007-9456-9

Chapter One

On a steamy Florida morning in July, I was in grave danger.

Grave danger. Those were Jim's words in our latest phone conversation, and they gnawed at me. My brother warned me plenty about living in the fast lane. But he'd never said it like that before.

As I walked toward the Carrollwood Exchange Bank in North Tampa, Florida, perspiration trickled down my sides, but maybe I was sweating more from the relentless hammering words in my brain.

I defy death each time I rob a bank. Why is today any different?

Jim doesn't know how dark my dark side really is, yet he tends to call just as I am getting ready to pull a bank job. He doesn't know that today for the first time I'm working with a partner. Today Jonathan is watching my back.

The bank came into view-North Del Mabry Boulevard branch. It was like others I'd robbed through the years. Ten minutes from the nearest police precinct, a safe distance. Two minutes from the apartment complex where I'd left my car.

Typical deep-South Spanish design, beige stucco with red brick veneer, surrounded by southern oaks. Four steps from the door to the first teller gives easy access. Easy escape routes through front or back doors to parking lots.

It's a simple mark, but my hands are clammy. It's time to be cool, to shift into automatic drive and leave this hovering doom behind.

I touched my leather watchband and saw that my hand was trembling. How disgusting. It's 9:25. We're right on schedule, and there's no need to be shaky, but I am. Now in the parking lot and still no good stuff, no rush to thrust me into superman mode. What's wrong with me? Where's the juice? It can't be the plan. The plan will work. It always does.

Jonathan appeared in the rear parking lot and eased toward the building. He took his position in the shadow of the bank.

Jonathan and I are playing cops and robbers, just like when we were kids together.

Stop! Turn back! Run! How can I involve Jon in my felonious lifestyle? He's like a kid brother to me. Stop it now while there's time. No, I can't turn back. It's too late.

Jonathan will stand by the front door until I send a hostage to him. That will buy us the time we need. He'll take her to the getaway car and wait the extra thirty seconds required for me to grab the money and get to the car.

It's a good plan. We've rehearsed it a dozen times.

Now is the time to swallow my emotions, take a deep breath and force myself to shift into high gear. My reflection in the dark glass of the front door doesn't look like me. Where is the suit and long-sleeved white shirt with cuff links, like a gentleman on his way to the office? This casual dude with his shirttail hanging out and his eyes masked with dark glasses doesn't fit. He looks like a beach bum.

It's not too late to flee.

My hand touched the shirttail covering the .9mm handgun tucked under my belt. I am cool. I am in control. I am invincible.

Dismissing the reflection in the glass, I pushed through the double doors into the lobby.

The young lady at the courtesy desk looked up and smiled. After two months of casing the bank, this woman was marked to be the hostage.

"Good morning."

"Good morning," I said, forcing a pleasant expression. A quick scan of the lobby showed that everything was normal. No crowd of people, no kids, no one in a wheelchair, no guards. It was the perfect setup.

With a sigh, I stepped to her desk. The young woman's smile broadened. "How may I help you, sir?"

I nodded and pulled my shirttail back to show her the butt of the gun. "Don't say a word. Just stand up and step around here."

My tone was gentle and my words soft. As she moved around the desk, I checked the fear in her eyes. A hostage could panic and go haywire. Her glazed pupils showed that she was in shock but would cooperate.

I'm in control. My hands are not tingling, though the A-rush is rapid. Finally, I'm in the zone.

"I won't hurt you if you do what I say."

All continued to be normal in the row of tellers, the customers. The woman was trembling, so I touched her arm for reassurance. She drew back, swallowed and licked her lips but didn't speak or cry for help. The bank has trained her well. She will cooperate.

Holding her upper arm with my left hand, I pulled the pistol from my belt and held it high.

"This is a holdup!"

Every person in the bank turned to look at me, but no one seemed to grasp the words. No one fainted. They stared at me with their mouths agape. The door to the manager's office swung open, and he stepped out.

That's a surprise; it's his day off.

I glared at him, turned and held the weapon above my head. I let go of the girl's arm. Clutching the firearm in one hand, I released the cartridge with the other. The metal case holding the bullets dropped into my hand. When I rammed it back into the cartridge chamber, the clanking sound of metal against metal shattered the silence.

In all of my holdups, I've never done that.

The manager turned pale and immediately obeyed the demand to go into his office and shut the door.

My heart jumped into my throat and pounded so hard it throbbed.

I've lost control again; this job has gone haywire. I am in grave danger, and my body knows it.

I knew the choking in my throat was an adrenal blockage that had prevented adrenaline from reaching my brain.

Despite all that, my mind must regain control and press my body into action.

I gripped the gun, waved it in the air and repeated, "This is a holdup! Put your hands above your head and don't move." A few scowled; some smiled as though they still couldn't believe what was happening. Others were frozen in place.

These are the usual reactions. Ah, this is better. I'm back in control.

My body relaxed.

"Cooperate and nobody gets hurt! Put your hands down and go back to your business."

There was a titter of nervous laughter and some customers actually turned back to the bank officers who were helping them.

I love it. Things are going as planned.

The adrenaline flow resumed, and my senses became razor sharp. Taking charge of the first teller, who was five steps away, I shouted, "I want the money in your top drawer. Just large bills." After pulling a cloth drawstring bag from my belt, I pushed it into my hostage's hand and said, "Take this to her and come right back." The trembling young lady followed my instructions. She handed the bag to the teller and returned to my side.

I glanced at my watch. Only thirty-four seconds have passed.

"C'mon! Hurry up!"

It takes the teller less than a minute to fill the bag.

That gave me the time to direct the hostage toward the door. Turning to her, I nearly whispered, "See the man in the blue shirt waiting out there? Go with him, and nobody will get hurt." Watching her go through the glass doors, I again noted how different this was from my past robberies.

I always have my hostage with me. Can I still control the bank lobby?

Without her at my side, I feel naked and alone. And what is the bank manager doing behind that office door?

I refocused on the teller. The bag was full, but people were getting fidgety.

"Bring it here." With faltering steps she obeyed.

"Just hold steady," I instructed everyone. "I don't want your money! You just go back to business." They laughed. I grabbed the loot and checked my watch. Sixty seconds. Time to go!

With the bag of money in one hand and my weapon in the other, I hurried across the lobby. Two sets of plate-glass doors stood between me and the getaway car. There also was a strange man outside. He stood with feet apart in a solid stance. His weapon was pointed at me.

The hair on the back of my neck bristled.

What's he doing here? No cop could have gotten here that fast.

Should I stop? He's taken the stance of a trained shooter. No problem. He'll fold when I rush him.

Lunging through the first set of doors, I noticed that Jonathan was taking off in the getaway car.

I'm stuck!

Goose bumps popped up on my arms and hair all over my body stood up in static electricity as a supercharged jolt of energy prepared me to face death. The ogre inside me took over and sneered at the man through the glass. In that moment, it seemed that I disconnected from the monster in me.

As if in slow motion, fire flashed from the shooter's pistol. The plate glass exploded into fragments, coming at me like glistening darts. A slug slammed into my chest, knocking me backward. Shards of glass pierced and sliced my skin. Fire burned in my chest. Someone screamed, the sound bouncing around in my mind like an echo. Everything faded to black.

* * *

I awoke to feel the thrust of a heavy knee in the middle of my back.

"Don't move," he snarled. No question about moving with all that weight flattening my face against the glossy marble floor.

Slivers of glass dug into my cheek and neck. I tasted blood.

Gasping for breath brought a whiff of gunpowder. The cold steel barrel of the pistol pressed hard against the back of my neck. Wonder what happened to my gun?

The weight shifted to between my shoulder blades.

"Move a muscle and I'll blow your brains out!" came a growled warning.

Move? Wouldn't dream of it. Mister, my life is in your hands.

The senses remained heightened. Surreal. Horrifying. Cuffs rattled. Both wrists were pulled together at my back, grinding my shoulder and face into the glass slivers. I clenched my fists.

Obviously, the shooter is a plainclothes cop.

Through the shock, and the descending fog, I heard the hum of voices as customers rushed to the inner door to see me facedown. Humiliation drowned me in despair as the adrenal drug wore off and I slipped from the A-zone back to earth.

An invincible man has been shot down. My breathing is labored, heavy, my gut wrenching.

I was hurt badly and suffocating under the weight of the officer's knee.

"You move just one muscle!" he dared once more.

Things were becoming fuzzy. Out of focus. The pain in my chest was excruciating, but something was warming my gut. I winced. Blood was pooling under me. My mind ran through pictures of my life. I smiled. I'm not in the A-zone, but this must not be hell.

It was a crazy thought, but at that moment my life seemed totally insane.

With rough jerks the policeman snapped the final cuff into place and called for backup. It seemed that only seconds later, Tampa's uniformed policemen arrived, along with an ambulance. I was still lying in my blood on the floor of the entryway. I was groggy with shock but still aware of the paramedic cutting off my shirt to examine the wound.

"Look at the size of that hole!" he exclaimed. "He's a goner."

A female attendant's voice answered, "The slug must've missed his heart by an inch. When we turned him over to see where the bullet went, there was no hole, no blood on his back, but he sure is bleeding a lot."

She's wearing nice perfume. It reminds me of my first-grade teacher.

They carried me out of the bank on a stretcher. "Blood's dripping through the canvas," observed a woman in the crowd. A deep voice said with finality, "He's dead." I raised my head to show that this was not the case. People gasped. I noticed a man with a television camera, capturing the moment of infamy. I turned my face away from its lens as they loaded me into the ambulance. Someone in the crowd shouted, "The hostage is back; she's safe; she's okay."

The people cheered.

I'm glad the hostage is okay, but I'm worried about Jonathan.

On the way to the hospital, the fog in my head cleared a bit, enough to hear a man in the front of the ambulance talking. "This one's not gonna make it. His vitals are good, but he's losing too much blood."

"It's over," I muttered aloud.

They probably think I mean my life, but I don't. It's the end of a weird way of living. Yeah, the end.

I got another whiff of the attendant's perfume, and Miss Buckley's shrill voice echoed through the corridors of time.


Excerpted from HELD HOSTAGE by KEN COOPER Copyright © 2009 by Ken Cooper. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

Ken Cooper, who served four years of a 99-year sentence, later worked with four others to found Prisoners of Christ, a faith-based reentry ministry for the transition of inmates plagued with addictions. Now he heads up Ken Cooper Prison Ministries, involved in prison ministry organization development, consulting work, and education on overcoming addictions. Ken and his wife, June, live in Jacksonville, Florida.
Ken Cooper, who served four years of a 99-year sentence, later worked with four others to found Prisoners of Christ, a faith-based reentry ministry for the transition of inmates plagued with addictions. Now he heads up Ken Cooper Prison Ministries, involved in prison ministry organization development, consulting work, and education on overcoming addictions. Ken has been featured in numerous media outlets including Time, The Christian Science Monitor, Atlanta Journal-Constitution, and the Associated Press.Ken and his wife, June, live in Jacksonville, Florida.

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Held Hostage 4.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 2 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
It was a good read
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
My husband and I both found this book by Ken Cooper to be a real page turner. We read this book in one day. Ken Cooper took us thru the Fla jail system. I felt his pain, fear, loss and joy. Would recommend this book to anyone that enjoys a true book that does inspire and enlightens.