An O. Henry Story Comes To Life

James Verone, a.k.a. " the Rosa Parks of health care," a.k.a. "Soapy"

The media thoroughly disgraced itself by hyping the stupid story of James Verone, an out-of-work 59-year-old man with health problems who robbed a bank in Gastonia, N.C., for $1,  and then  waited patiently for the cops to arrest him.“When you receive this a bank robbery will have been committed by me. This robbery is being committed by me for one dollar. I am of sound mind but not so much sound body,”read the note that Verone handed the bank clerk.

Verone grabbed his 15 minutes of fame with gusto, telling the local TV station that he became a thief out of sheer desperation. He needed health care, he said, and had no other way to get it than through the free care provided in jail. The problem with this is that he had plenty of better options than turning to intentionally unsuccessful crime. A hospital in Gastonia, Gaston Memorial Hospital, offers discounts up to 100% to low-income patients. There is also a free health clinic five miles from the bank Verone robbed, and more in nearby Charlotte. Or Verone could have received treatment from of the state-of-the-art medical facilities at the University of North Carolina, whose mandate is to provide “medically necessary health care to the citizens of North Carolina, regardless of their ability to pay.”

Naturally, few of the media reports, calculated to use this idiot’s stunt to shill for government-financed health care, bothered to report any of this. Instead, they wrote sentimental, grandstanding prose like The Miami Herald’s Leonard Pitts, who wrote about how a “desperate man” “evaluated his options,” —somehow managing to miss the options of free clinics—and took a bold course.  “If healthcare were socialized, a law-abiding working man would not have felt driven to this extreme,” thundered Pitts. “A great nation has a moral obligation to provide a safety net, to care for the most broken and vulnerable of its people.”

Except that this great nation does; it’s just too inefficient and expensive. Still, nobody has to rob a bank; certainly Verone didn’t have to. But tell that to silly Kathryn Higgins, who writes a column for “The Faster Times.” She actually called Verone “the Rosa parks of health care.” What an insult to Rosa Parks! And what atrocious journalism…though her sentiments was more or less echoed by all the major newspapers and news websites. A foolish man, devoid of legitimate initiative and with better options, chose a dangerous stunt to attract attention and maybe spark a hand-out, and reporters acted as if it was something significant and even noble. Few of these news outlets choosing to hype the story for political objectives bothered to mention, for example, the report from Rad Berky of NBC affiliate WCNC that Verone was seeking free housing, too.

“He is hoping for a three-year sentence,” Berky reported. “He would then be able to collect Social Security when he got out and said he would head for the beach.’I’ve already looked at a condominium. I’ve spoken to a realtor on Myrtle Beach,’ Verone said.” Our hero!

Verone isn’t like Rosa Parks. He’s like Soapy, the New York park bench-sleeping vagrant in O.Henry’s classic story, “The Cop and the Anthem.”  Soapy spends the short tale desperately trying to get arrested so that he can spend the winter in a warm cell with three meals a day. Then he hears a soaring organ solo from a neighborhood church, and he resolves that he has been wrong….

“He viewed with swift horror the pit into which he had tumbled, the degraded days, unworthy desires, dead hopes, wrecked faculties and base motives that made up his existence. And also in a moment his heart responded thrillingly to this novel mood. An instantaneous and strong impulse moved him to battle with his desperate fate. He would pull himself out of the mire; he would make a man of himself again; he would conquer the evil that had taken possession of him. There was time; he was comparatively young yet; he would resurrect his old eager ambitions and pursue them without faltering. Those solemn but sweet organ notes had set up a revolution in him. To-morrow he would go into the roaring downtown district and find work. A fur importer had once offered him a place as driver. He would find him to-morrow and ask for the position. He would be somebody in the world…”

Well, I won’t spoil the ending; you can read the whole story here. At least Soapy has the right idea.

I have always had sympathy for Soapy, and I have sympathy for Verone. Stupid, irresponsible conduct, however, should not be represented as heroic and rational for political expediency. I am happy to report that Verone’s plan failed: he was only charged with minor larceny, and won’t be staying long in prison after all. Now maybe he will avail himself of the excellent free medical care in North Carolina, as he should have to begin with.

2 thoughts on “An O. Henry Story Comes To Life

  1. “The Rosa Parks of Health Care?” That about says it all, doesn’t it?

    And I hate to disabuse Mr. Verone of his misguided notion: Health care in prison is hardly the Mayo Clinic.

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