Prison or Bust: A Cost-Benefit Analysis

Edward Averill was alone, and broke, and unwell. So he deliberately, non-violently robbed a bank to get sent to jail; at least there, people would have to take care of him and he’d get the help he needed. At The Atavist, Ciara O’Rourke tells his story with deep wells of compassion. It’s an emotional rollercoaster of profound loneliness, desperation, thwarted plans, revived hope, and an uncertain future — a man who slipped through every crack there was to slip through and tried to work a system that wasn’t working for him.

It wasn’t unheard of for people to commit crimes to get health care—a North Carolina man with arthritis and slipped discs robbed a bank of $1 in 2011, and two years later an Oregon man did the same thing for the same amount. Still, Brewer didn’t think anyone had ever done it in Austin. He asked if Averill was having a mental health crisis. “Nope,” Averill said. “I know exactly what I’m doing.” He described the robbery in meticulous detail. He said he wanted to be found guilty and go to prison as soon as possible.

When Brewer walked out of the room, he turned to his partner. “This is not one I’m going to brag about,” he said.

Brewer went to the municipal court to get a magistrate judge’s signature on Averill’s arrest affidavit. Judge Stephen Vigorito stared at Brewer after he read the document. “Are you kidding me?” Vigorito asked. After several minutes, the judge set a bond of $10,000, the lowest Brewer had ever seen for this particular crime—bonds in bank-robbery cases are usually several times that.

As the detective walked down the courthouse hallway to file the paperwork with the county clerk, he heard Vigorito running behind him. “Give it back, give it back,” the judge said, reaching for the affidavit when he caught up to Brewer. Vigorito wrote a new bond amount— $7,500—pressing hard with his pen so the numbers would be legible over the original figure.

Read the story