Book of Words: “Bank Notes: The True Story of the Boonie Hat Bandit” by Caroline Giammanco

This blog offers a different type of book review­—one that’s combined with vocabulary building. Included here, following a short synopsis, are a few interesting words I found in Bank Notes. The selected words are not necessarily unknown, but worth noting. The definitions are followed by a quote from the book using the chosen word.

banknotesBank Notes is a nonfiction in-depth look at a choice one man made to commit bank robbery in an attempt to pay off debt that threatened his family’s lifestyle, the prison life he was forced into, and the court system he struggled with. It’s mostly told from his point of view, but several chapters come from the point of view of the author, the woman who fell in love with him while working as a teacher in the prison system. Donald Keith Giammanco robbed 12 banks before he was arrested. The nickname “Boonie Hat Bandit” came from Giammanco’s casual hat he wore as he robbed the banks. He remains in prison today and has plans upon release to marry the author, who assumed his name for publication of Bank Notes. I found the book to be an interesting look at the Missouri court system and the emotional turmoil faced by the criminal who is apprehended and convicted.

Words from Bank Notes:

Penance: n. voluntary self-punishment inflicted as an outward expression of repentance for having done wrong. Separation from society and their loved ones is the penance, not the arbitrary vengeance of fellow inmates or staff.”

Recidivist: n. a convicted criminal who reoffends, esp. repeatedly, or denoting such a person. (derivative: recidivism) Concerns about recidivism (re-offense) were among the top issues for the legislators.”

Variant: n. a form or version of something that differs in some respect from other forms of the same thing or from a standard. Publicity surrounded my crime spree and it followed me after my arrest. Immediately after settling into the St. Louis County Jail, I received a variant of contact from media corporations, reporters and others interested in getting a story.”

Insidious: adj. proceeding in a gradual subtle way, but with harmful effects; treacherous, crafty. “Old jealousies and unresolved issues within the family made this more insidious than the bystanders seeking attention.”

Altruistic: adj. showing a disinterested and selfless concern for the well-being of others; unselfish. “Finally, there was one more, altruistic, reason. I took this case to trial for all Americans and Missourians, not just for me.”

Definitions are typically from The New Oxford American Dictionary through Kindle or Wikipedia.

“The difference between the almost right word and the right word is… the difference between the lightning bug and the lightning.” — Mark Twain

What interesting words have you taken note of lately?


No Name, No Glory

In light of this week’s shooting on the campus of Umpqua Community College in Oregon, I have to say I totally agree with Sheriff John Hanlin’s stance against naming the gunman. “I don’t want to glorify the shooter, I don’t want to glorify his name, I don’t want to glorify his cause,” he’s quoted as stating.



I wrote about this very issue last year on this blog, and feel even more strongly that naming these shooters feeds the sickness and their drive to become famous by killing scores of innocent at once.

It’s hard to fathom from a journalist’s point of view the notion of not providing all the pertinent information for any news story. However, I’ve come to believe we should never know the names or see the photos of accused shooters or mass murderers, particularly those who wreak their havoc in our schools.

We so often fulfill their goal when their name becomes immortalized, when we forever remember the monsters of the world. This seems to be especially true of school shooters who strike at the most innocent of victims.

The gunman who entered an Atlanta, Georgia school last year is now famous. We’re inundated with photos and information about Thursday’s killer as well. Their motives were likely the same as countless others who were successful in the sick plan. They are so often seeking notoriety through mass executions in some warped sense of self. Sure, we can say that mental illness is to blame, but I still feel their goal should not be fulfilled.

Sometimes they claim to be striking out after being bullied, which is an issue schools seem to be dealing with more frequently and more fervently. But the desire still comes down to an “I’ll show them and make myself famous doing it” attitude.

We should know these shooters as a number only. Take away that privilege of hearing the accused’s name on the television, knowing that their mug is now familiar to everyone within earshot of a television, and let’s see if the tragedies don’t slow down.

Withholding of personal information on the shooter should have started with the Columbine massacre in April 1999. If we knew them simply as 99-01 and 99-02, maybe we wouldn’t have had many follow in their footsteps.

It’s just a thought from a heart that worries for the next group of children hovering in the corner of a classroom and listening to gunshots, a wish for us to end the suffering of families like those who lost so many young lives this week. My daughter just graduated from law school, passed the bar and found a job. We’re thankful, proud and happy to see her transitioning into the successful adult she has worked so hard to become, but the parents that lost the college students to this week’s senseless killing will not feel that joy and thankfulness. My heart aches for them.

As a mystery writer I read stories of murder and mayhem looking for inspiration, but these school shootings spark little more than sadness.

Do you agree that assigning these senseless monsters a number is better for the public good than knowing who they are and seeing their faces plastered on the television screen?

A Dead Bug and a Motorcycle for Sale

I could tell some whopping story of a kickboxing stunt gone awry or a fight to defend my honor that ended with tragic consequences, but it was simply a bug that had flown in late at night that brought my husband down.
A few months ago in the heat of a summer night, we let the dogs out. A nasty red flying cockroach took advantage of the open sliding glass door. It landed high on the soffit that sticks out above the couch. It had to go. No ifs, ands, or buts about that!
Lloyd grabbed a couple of tissues. His plan-capture the enemy and squash it or toss it back outdoors.
Lloyd was not happy getting his cast.

Lloyd was not happy getting his cast.

I thought he would climb up on the couch and tossed a blanket throw across it to keep him from stepping directly on the furniture.
He jumped instead.
As he came down, the rug in front of the couch slid back, his foot slipped out of his shoe, and he fell forward. He landed on the couch, tissues still in hand.
“My foot.” He looked up at me. “Did you hear that snap?”
I hadn’t heard the noise. He may have felt it more than heard it, or maybe it echoed from his foot to his brain.
“I got it,” he said holding up the tissues for me to see the dead bug from his sort of crouched position on the front of the couch.
A few minutes later, we were on our way to the emergency room. He’d broken the fifth metatarsal, the long bone along the outside of your foot, and broken it severely. It was two months of doctor visits, cast on, cast off, and ending up at a foot and ankle specialist who put him in a boot and it finally healed. In the end, we had spent hundreds on a variety of men’s shoes in different sizes that don’t really fit anymore now that it has healed.
Funny thing, it was a pair of Crocs he wore the night his foot slipped and broke, and now he keeps a pair of rubber ones next to the bed to slip on when he gets up. There’s no going to the bathroom barefoot in the middle of the night, he might hit the foot on something and cause more damage.
In addition, that motorcycle he’d bought a couple of years ago and rarely rides anyway, is now for sale. He never wants to “go through that again,” never wants another broken bone.
Knowing Lloyd, it’s not the thought of the pain; it’s the worry of being vulnerable. It’s the idea of having me take care of things that are his territory. I mowed the lawn, replaced some plumbing with him looking on and instructing me, and even changed out a light fixture in the bathroom per his step-by-step instructions. I was proud to be able to handle those things, but in his manly mind, it wasn’t the way things are supposed to happen.
The last ride before the bug, the cast, and the decision to sell it.

The last ride before the bug, the cast, and the decision to sell it. It’s a Yamaha V Star.

Lloyd is absolutely the bravest man I know. There’s nothing he wouldn’t do to protect me from any size of menace. He’ll still handle the bugs, and he’s mowing the lawn now. Yet, who knows when he’ll ever go barefoot in the middle of the night again, there’ll be no riding a motorcycle, and there will certainly be no jumping up to kill a bug, no matter how big or nasty it may be.

For Bailey, Our Sweet Boy

I wrote this post some time ago. Since then, we’ve lost Riley to old age and Bailey is now sick with tick disease. 

The boss hollers at me, but I ignore him. He thinks that if he provides a few benefits, which I more than deserve, I should trot my ass right on over when he yells.

He calls again. I turn my head and glance over my shoulder. He’s not even looking my way but appears to be scanning the sky, checking out the clouds. I’ll stay right here where I please, enjoying the breeze and watching a squirrel run up and down the big tree just beyond the fence.

I’ve about had it with his demands. I should just walk out and see what other opportunities there are for a guy like me. I know how to contribute. I’m good at security patrol in a place like this. I’m big and can push my weight around if I want something.

The boss mistakenly thinks he’s got me under his thumb. What a joke. He doesn’t even seem to know how much I’ve helped myself to around here. If it’s something I want and it’s within reach, I take it. Screw the rules. They aren’t for me and never have been.

I do have to give my boss some credit. He comes to my defense with this new cook he’s hired. She can sure put some good grub on the table. But damn, she’s bossy, doesn’t like me in the kitchen, and won’t let me have any of the leftovers I used to get. On top of that, she bitches all the time about the messes I make.

I have my rights. I know where I rank in this organization. Granted, my standing was much more stable before she came on board, but I still have seniority.

Even the old man that works with me, knows deep down that I was here first. He doesn’t always act like it and treats me like he’s my supervisor just because he’s older. I try to remind him now and then that I was here long before him.

The boss thought I needed some help, so he brought him in. That hasn’t worked out so well though. He’s not much of an assistant, and they all go easy on him because of his age. Just recently they gave him an official uniform. Of course, he was injured on the job and the uniform keeps him from hurting himself. But still, I didn’t get one.

Yeah, things might be a little better down the road a ways. I’ll keep stewing on that, but I doubt I make a move any time soon. I kind of like the boss, even if he doesn’t always give me the credit I deserve. It’s still nice working for such a pushover. I doubt I could ever get away with as much as I do here. He sometimes talks big and hollers at me, yet rarely does much of anything when I don’t comply.


Bailey, our 120-pound Golden Retriever is now down to a tiny 100 pounds. His buddy, Riley, is lying in the background. Taken when Riley was sick, you might be able to see he’s wearing a padded cut-off tee shirt I made him to keep him from scratching his stitches.

There’s a delicious aroma coming from the kitchen, and the boss is hollering at me again. I guess I better quit barking at the darn squirrel and go inside to see if that bitchy cook might have a pork chop I can steal.

Mothers With Regrets and Mothers With None

As I look at the world today, I know there are many mothers out there who are suffering, many who suffer with regrets over things they should have done differently. I feel for those moms, but not for the ones who know how their children suffer and take no action.

Years ago as a reporter, I met a mom who made my own heart ache for the regrets she had. Her son had been abused, abused by a man she was led to believe would help him. Her boy was struggling when a co-worker began telling her about his experience in counseling boys. She didn’t know he had served a term in prison after being a counselor for a boy’s camp. She didn’t know that he had just been released from the Arkansas 309 prison program for abusing young boys. She knew he’d been in the program but was told it was for hot check violations.

Her son was raped. Her pain and guilt over the trust she’d bestowed in this man were heart wrenching.

Featured Image -- 245I used this mother’s story as a basis for Amy in my mystery novel A Lovely County. This mom was shocked at what she’d done. She regretted trusting this man.

Yet, there seem to be plenty of mothers who know how their children suffer but take no steps to protect them, plenty of mothers who only consider their own needs and consequences while their children are abused.

Sure, I could talk about parents in general here, but today is a day for moms.

Why are some so unable to take a stand and protect the children they birthed? Why not get up and leave if they feel their child could be in danger from the man they love? I know there’s nothing that would stop me from doing all I can to protect my own. But others don’t seem to have the strength or drive.

In northwest Arkansas, a mother sits in jail along with her husband after their six-year-old son died from horrific abuse. She claims it was all her husband’s doing. Even if the mother had nothing to do with it, she had to know. She should have acted long before. The signs of abuse had to be obvious on this poor child. News stories have detailed the state of their home and a camper that was used by the family in the days prior to his death and signs of abuse were apparently obvious there as well.

This is a different world than decades ago when there may not have been much help for victims of abuse. There are shelters and agencies ready to help at any time. There are churches even that will reach out to provide assistance.

Mothers cannot turn a blind eye, deny when horrible things are happening in their own home. They must take a stand and do all they can to protect their children, care for them, and set them up for the best possible future.

I can’t imagine doing anything less than that.

Driving Under the Influence IS Attempted Murder

There should be no second chance for driving under the influence. It’s an attempted murder the first time, but okay, people make mistakes. Learn from it, though, and don’t expect a second chance. If you’re charged with DUI more than once, it should be an attempted murder charge.

Photo by Lori Ericson
Photo by Lori Ericson

Northwest Arkansas residents have witnessed repeated news videos recently of a local woman stumbling around after being pulled over driving under the influence. This is the same woman that ran over three men and killed one while driving intoxicated on excessive prescription drugs a few years ago. Over the past few months she has been arrested three times for operating a vehicle in a similar state. The judge has finally set a high enough bond to keep her sitting behind bars until she goes to court.

In 2011 she pleaded guilty to negligent homicide and two counts of third-degree battery, but had her driving under the influence charge dropped as part of the plea deal. Too bad, and too bad she wasn’t charge for child endangerment since her 12-year-old daughter sat in the passenger seat witnessing the horror of her mother’s plow through the construction site that sent bodies flying.

I think anyone can make a mistake, and I feel for those who suffer from an addiction so bad they lack the ability to make the decision to keep themselves from operating a vehicle. However, this woman is a perfect example of the fact that one mistake like this can kill.
There’s too much risk in letting drunk drivers get a slap on the wrist time and time again.
In some states, authorities never confiscate the driver’s vehicle and continue to let them off with the same consequences of a suspended license for a few months and a fine. Many don’t even require alcohol or drug counseling after an arrest.

Arkansas courts can require counseling, fines and suspension of license. But it takes four arrests within a five-year period to make it a felony with serious consequences of up to six years in jail and a $5,000 fine.

To be charged with attempted murder a person has to “deliberately, intentionally or recklessly with extreme disregard for human life” attempt to kill someone. Isn’t that what happens when you get behind the wheel drunk or under the influence?

I think there should be no exceptions, and no waiver after five years. The second time a person is found behind the wheel impaired to the degree they are endangering others, they should be charged with attempted murder.

I’m all for programs that pick up those who’ve been drinking and offer safe rides home. The cemetery I managed years ago had an advertising ploy that pulled double duty in shedding some light on the loss drunken driving can cause. It was an offer for a free burial space on New Year’s Eve to anyone killed by a drunk driver.

Thankfully, I have no personal experience of tragic loss of a close friend or family member, no vengeance I’m trying to exact, just a long held belief that the danger is there and the consequences can be deadly. I have had family and friends in my life with drug and/or alcohol issues, and would support this stance even if any of them faced such a charge. The punishment for risking the lives of others should be the same if you’d taken a gun out and aimed.

The storyline in my first novel out in December has a mystery based a real prison program in Arkansas that helps relieve overcrowding in the state prison system. Overcrowding is a big issue, but I think we need to make room for those who risk the lives of others by driving under the influence repeatedly.

Am I being too harsh?

Amazon Warriors and Mothers

In the early 1990s a group of U.S.-Russian archaeologists found a 2,000-year-old burial mound near the Kazakhstan border that included the graves of warrior women buried with their weapons. According to the April issue of Smithsonian, the women were unnaturally tall for their time. The graves are believed to be evidence of the Amazon warrior women in so many stories carried down since mid-sixth century B.C.

Today’s mother isn’t an Amazon warrior, but the ones who are able to truly raise good kids in this crazy world are no less heroic.

Celebrating my youngest daughter's 21st birthday!

My two girls and I celebrating my youngest daughter’s 21st birthday!

The U.S. Census Bureau released some statistics this week in honor of the Mother’s Day holiday. Some of those statistics included the following:

  • 62.1 percent of women 16 to 50 who gave birth in the past year and are part of the labor force
  • 29.5 percent of mothers who gave birth in the past 12 months have a bachelor’s degree or higher.
  • 84.6 percent have at least a high school diploma
  • 10 million single mothers were living with children younger than 18 in 2013, up from 3.4 million in 1970
  • 5.6 million is the number of custodial mothers who were due child support in 2011
  • 24 percent of married-couple households with kids under 15 have stay-at-home mothers, up from 21 percent in 2000

I’m no Amazon warrior, but sometimes felt like a negotiator, taxi driver, maid and cook as a mom. Yet, of all the things I’ve done in my life, I am with no doubt more proud of being a mother than anything. I have two wonderful daughters that continue to amaze me daily.

Crotch Machine to City Planning

I’ve been known to say I’m on my third career, but there have been many jobs before and between. Those before and between jobs include waitress, carhop, bookkeeper and the toughest job of all, being a mother. Although running the crotch machine at a local pantyhose factory is fun to reflect on, my first official job was definitely the strangest.

photo-27I was a telemarketer back when most people had a home phone. I didn’t offer magazine subscriptions or carpet cleaning. Instead, the offer was a free burial space to anyone who’d listen to a sales pitch on pre-need planning for cemetery services. My father set me up doing it when I was just 17. I lasted less than a year. It was a tough sales pitch with many a strange reaction and plenty hang ups.

My dad became ill during my senior year of college, and I ended up back in that cemetery office dealing with grieving families, selling headstones and all that’s involved in making a cemetery run.

I eventually moved on to my second career and used my journalism/English degree as newspaper reporter for nearly twenty years. My third career started when a job came up for a city planning position on a beat I was covering as a reporter. I’d been writing about city and county planning for a long time and knew enough to take it on. I’ve spent the last seven years as a city planner, a job I never dreamed of, yet enjoy… most days.

My absolute dream job, fiction writer, is one I’ve worked at in my spare time for years. I’ve had a few short stories published and hope to eventually call myself a novelist. I’ll eventually retire from city hall and writing will be all I do, but I’m not sure I could ever call it “work.”

What’s the strangest job you’ve ever had? What’s your dream job?

Photo by Lori Ericson

Banksy’s Welcome in Walmartland

The British graffiti master Banksy has been in New York for the past month, and Mayor Bloomberg has labeled him a vandal. How can he be a vandal when his art raises the value of the buildings, the building owners post guards to protect it or they’re able to remove the door or piece of wall and memorialize it? Bansky art has gone for $1 million-plus in recent auctions.

2-CROPPED-man-with-flowers-01-WEB-privateI want him to come to Northwest Arkansas! After all, we have the Crystal Bridges Art Museum here. Can you imagine a Bansky stenciled piece on the outside wall of this great museum? It could draw even more visitors to our area.

Of course, this masked artist would likely use that piece to take a jab at commercialism at the Walmartland museum. But Banksy pieces are often thought provoking.

In 2005, when he was just becoming an international star, Banksy painted images on West Bank’s concrete wall in Israel. The stenciled pieces included two children with bucket and shovel, dreaming of the beach; a girl holding balloons floating to the top of the wall; and a boy with a ladder.

In New York throughout October, he was putting out an art piece daily under the theme “Better In Than Out,” but that apparently stopped last week. His website said the project was canceled due to police activity. If Bloomberg won’t welcome him, I’d urge Rogers Mayor Greg Hines to offer an invitation. A Banksy mural would be much better than the retro Coca-Cola ad we have on the side of a building. I bet Hines would stop his code enforcement graffiti team from wiping away a valuable Banksy installation.

While in New York, he produced a fantastic stenciled piece of a man leaning against the wall holding flowers outside the Hustler Club. His tour has also included a replica of the Great Sphinx of Gaza made from smashed cinder blocks, and a mural of a small boy spray painting with a butler standing next to him holding out a tray of spray paint cans.172365_10150095802588564_566923563_6475478_6003835_o

Banksy’s unique art piece “The Crayola Shooter” is probably my favorite. It was done in Los Angeles in 2011 and shows a child aiming a machine gun and using crayons for bullets.

So come on Banksy, let’s see what you can do in these Ozark hills!