Tuesday, March 25, 2014

CIFF: “The Cooler Bandits” Breaks Free

It’s been more than 20 years since the four Akron teenagers dubbed, the Cooler Bandits, committed the 17 restaurant robberies that resulted in harsh prison sentences. While Charlie Kelly, Donovan Harris and Richard “Poochie” Roderick have been able to regain freedom, Frankie Porter, the ringleader of the four, will not be up for a parole hearing until 2035. None of them injured anyone so the rough sentencing shocked many, including filmmaker and Cuyahoga Falls native John Lucas, who has known two of the men since they were young. In 2007, Lucas began making his documentary, The Cooler Bandits. It follows the four as they survive prison and deal with re-entering society as branded felons, and will be screening at the Cleveland International Film Festival at Tower City Cinemas at 2 p.m. March 26 and 11:20 a.m. March 28.

Cleveland Magazine: Why did you choose to make this film?
John Lucas: It’s not a prison story for me, and it’s not an unjust story about lengthy prison sentences. It’s really a story about the friendship of the four. …The three of them [Charlie, Donovan and Poochie] were sent to the same prison together and they grew up in prison. …They held each other down and helped facilitate their growth into who they are now. I thought it was an interesting story on survival and redemption and friendship and juxtaposed what happens when you isolate somebody and send them away basically for life.

CM: What did you learn from these men?
JL: I admired their strength and their resolve and their perseverance and their willingness to accept what they did and try to make up for it and try to move on with their lives. I just learned that friendship can really overcome a lot of things. The bonds that are formed are important.

CM: How did this experience affect your perspective on crime and the justice system?
JL: It just reinforced my belief that we can’t sustain our system with just incarcerating people. … When individuals come back...it’s hard to find housing. It’s hard to get a job…When I grew up it was you did the crime, you did the time. You know, you paid for your crime. That’s not necessarily true. Once you have that felon label, it can be very difficult.

To learn more about the film, read column Stuart Warner’s “Icing the Cooler Bandits” here.

By Cassie Smith

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