Excerpt of The Art of The Steal by Frank W. Abagnale
(Page 3 of 4)
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Another guy from New York had never done anything wrong, either, but one day,
badly in need of money, he decided to rob a bank. Almost randomly, he selected a
branch on Lexington Avenue. He went up to a teller and made his demands. She
said, "You better turn around." Everyone behind him had a gun trained
on him. The branch was beneath what was then the New York City headquarters of
the FBI, and all the customers were agents cashing their paychecks.
When the others learned why I was there--for passing $2.5 million of bum
checks--they were practically drooling. At least I was put away for being
But I didn't make any friends in prison. I felt no connection to the other
inmates. No one I met felt like a defeated soul, a loser, but merely a winner
waiting out a temporary setback. They were in a dangerous state of denial. Of
all the inmates I met, none was remorseful about the crimes he had committed,
and that genuinely bothered me. No one ever said to me, "Gee, I really
screwed up my life. I'm going to set things straight." It was very
demoralizing to me that in all the time I was in prison, not one of the six
hundred inmates ever said that he was going to change. Instead, everyone was
planning the next scam. And they were all trying to learn from me. Among
inmates, con men are always looked up to as the upper echelon of criminals.
Fellow inmates were always pressing me for applicable tips on getting fake IDs
and ways to counterfeit checks.
LETTING TIME SERVE ME
I wasn't thinking that way anymore. I had crossed a crucial threshold. Crime no
longer seemed romantic or noble, or in any way appealing to me. I had lived a
life of incredible intensity. I knew I had made tragic mistakes and I wanted to
make amends. So I'd refuse to offer them any advice that would merely perpetuate
the treadmill they were on. I'd just brush them off by saying, "Do you just
want to come back to the joint again? You know you'll get caught."
Don't misunderstand me, I don't believe prison rehabilitated me, or in any way
fostered my moral and spiritual reform. A bright light didn't appear and God
didn't speak to me. I simply grew up. I was a teenager when I was forging
checks. As I got older, my conscience began to bother me. When I went into a
bank at sixteen and wrote a bad check, I'd think, they've got millions of
dollars, they won't miss a few hundred or a few thousand. A couple of years
later, I would worry that the teller might lose her job. I started to look at
things more rationally and as a more mature person. I had tired of a life where
everyone you meet believes you to be someone you're not. It's pretty hard to
have a serious relationship with a woman when you're lying and using a phony
And so, with my changed outlook, I never sat around thinking of my next scam. I
had no idea what I would do when I got out, but whether I ended up roping cattle
or selling kitchen appliances, the one thing I was certain about was that I
would never pull another scam.
There's this whole thing about going to prison and serving time, or going to
prison and have time serve you. I wanted time to serve me. I managed to get my
GED, and I took some college courses to advance my limited education. Above all
else, I dearly wanted to get out and rejoin society while I still had the time
to construct a new life. I didn't know what that new life could be, but I was
itching to start it.
As a con man, though, I was always given a hard time. My father died, and like
all inmates, I expected to be allowed a funeral visit home. But I was denied
this routine privilege, because the Bureau of Prisons was afraid that I would
escape and embarrass it. All these murderers and violent criminals were allowed
funeral visits, but not me.
With my parole rejections, I began to believe that I was going to have to serve
every last day of my sentence. I was disturbed and baffled, but in prison you
have no rights. Finally, on my third try, after having served three years of my
sentence, I was granted parole. When I was asked what city I would like to be
paroled in, I said that I didn't really care. I only asked that it not be New
York. My mother and brothers were there, and I didn't think that I could handle
the family situation just yet. I also thought New York offered far too many
enticements for someone just embarking on a legitimate life.
Excerpted from The Art of
the Steal by Frank W. AbagnaleCopyright 2001 by Frank W. Abaganale . Excerpted by
permission of Broadway, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved.
No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in
writing from the publisher.