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A groundbreaking film about life, justice, and the American way.
A groundbreaking film about life, justice, and the American way.
128 backers pledged $15,335 to help bring this project to life.

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    1. Alan Light on

      Thanks for everyone's responses. I've gone ahead and pledged. The workings (or misworkings) of our criminal justice system is certainly worthy of our attention, as is the humanity of those whom we incarcerate - a humanity which should not be denied even when this incarceration is necessary.

      I would like to respond to a couple points. First, to Nicole - my thoughts on the penal system are a bit more than "they did the crime, so they should do the time". If I could be assured that a person was never going to commit another serious crime, I would not seek more than a token punishment to acknowledge that a crime had, indeed, taken place, with restitution where possible. I am, however, concerned about a pattern of crime, because a pattern suggests that the perpetrator is likely to commit more crimes and hurt more people in the future. I see confinement as a sometimes necessary evil, and given its necessity would nevertheless hope that it can be made as comfortable as reasonably possible.

      Second, to Reginald Dwayne Betts - I'll have to disagree about victimless crimes. When it comes to drug offences we tend to think of disconnected derelicts who leave their families and their jobs and go down the road to self-destruction, but it is worth remembering that Carl Sagan was also a marijuana user. In fact, there are millions who use illegal drugs responsibly, who maintain their jobs, their friends, and their families. I have never been into the drug scene myself, but over the years I have heard many times from those who noted that the stereotypical addicts they knew were messed up BEFORE they started using drugs. As Jacob Sullum noted in his book "Saying Yes", it is no more reasonable to associate responsible drug use with a junkie than it is to associate an after-dinner drink with a wino.

      Also in the realm of victimless crimes, we have recently heard about teenagers jailed for "sexting", and the official busybodies claim that they must do this to protect these teens from the possible ill consequences of their actions - which they do by giving these teens a criminal history and putting them on the sex offender registry for life, thereby ASSURING consequences much worse than otherwise likely. While one can argue that these teens - and drug users - harm themselves and their communities by not playing their given roles, such a calculus assumes that each of us is community property and that by not participating in the expected way we are depriving the community of its due - which is to say, it assumes that we are rightfully slaves. While I certainly applaud community involvement, I cannot condone legal sanctions for those who do not want to participate in someone else's narrative.

    2. Missing avatar

      Nicole on

      Good morning,

      This brief but compelling exchange of arguments and input is 100% the reason that this film, and more films of its’ caliber should be funded. We need to move from our superficial selfish conversations to a more in-depth and evolved frame of thinking where people are not a result of their actions but a culmination of their experiences. I understand completely where Alan is coming from because less than 9 years ago I felt and thought the same way, "they did the crime, so they should do the time!" I had very little compassion, understanding or concern for those individuals who made the unwise decision to take the so-called "easy way" out. Then one day, I came to KNOW a criminal/inmate/felon; not just his name, age, offenses and sentence but I came to know him intimately- his thoughts, feelings, fears, dreams and aspirations. I came to view him as more than just a number or an offender. I began to see him as a human being...JUST LIKE ME!!

      I agree with the other commenter’s that sympathy is not the goal here at all, nor is it our desire to diminish the severity of the crimes committed. Knowing one of these men personally, sympathy would never even be an option for him. The Director of this film has done a remarkable thing with this work, he has captured the hearts of these men, their families AND their victims. He has given voice to a community filled with 100's more Charles', Donovan's, Richard's and Frankie's...young ones, who still may have a chance if someone somewhere hears their cry and even remotely begins to care.

      This film is not really about the Cooler Bandits and a series of media worthy robberies they committed in the early 90's, it is about a rising epidemic in our homes, communities and society where people, actual living human beings, are simply being forgotten, discarded and enslaved. Whether someone decides to contribute financial to the finishing of this film or not should be their own personal decision, but the fact that this film MUST be funded and seen by many should be a unanimous societal decision. We can't continue to let stories like this go untold.

      Nicole M.

    3. Missing avatar

      robert mandala on

      No doubt that the victims of these crimes warranted justice, however, the greatest of all injustice is that which goes under the name of law; and of all social injustice there is noneigreater than the forcing the letter of the law in a inconsistent way that is obviously so unjust, This is another example that would have the authors of our constitution spinning in there graves or shaking there heads. How is it that 18 year olds that did not take a life nor seriously injure a victim serve such sentences, when every day plea bargains are granted to criminals of greater maturity that commited violent crimes,are offered far lesser sentences than these kids, I'm in John Lucas, hopefully your in for the cause and not the money.

    4. Missing avatar

      bill hodapp on

      Cooler bandits diffently have served their time but the harse judgement of 200 to 500 years is irrational and I have seen Murders and rapists get out in 10 years and repeated their crime they deserve to get out to show they can change and be acceptable in our society

    5. Reginald Dwayne Betts on


      I hear your hesitation. One of the things that draws me to this project is the possibility of engaging in a real conversation about crime, the costs of crime, and what happens to a man (or men) after twenty years. One of the most salient things you said was that you see this kind of crime as a crime that warrants 20 years - but they were sentenced to nearly five hundred years (at most); moreover, what’s troubling about it to me is that as a society, we have no real clue about the impact of crime and punishment. What I heard in the clips is that these men understand how their actions were reprehensible. What I’m hoping to hear is what they’ve come to think of as the source - and I’m also hoping to get rid of this idea of “victimless” crimes. I can’t think of any. Even the drug addict who seemingly only ruins his body does damage to his community, his loved ones, etc - and I would love for this film to open up a fuller conversation about the ramifications of long sentences, and how believing simply warehouses folks ignores what rehabilitation offers society.

      Also, I’d say that the question here isn’t either/or. I believe this story is essentially compelling because of how it’s grown, because of the relationship John has to the boys (now men) and really just because he is choosing to do it with a skill and insight that is making it worthy. But that doesn’t mean that there aren’t fifty other stories that should be told or need to be told. It’s just that folks have yet to choose to tell them - or that the stories exist in spaces where we haven’t found them. I’d argue that paying attention to the individual stories prevents the deaths of millions, or in this case, may prevent the crimes of a number of other kids.

      Last point - I don’t think anyone is going to have sympathy as the end result of funding or watching this film. Sympathy doesn’t amount to much more than tears. I don’t think, as empathetic as I am, that I have any more tears for these stories. What I’m after now is some kind of understanding that allows me to be more of a citizen, if that makes sense. To be moved to engage more with some of my communities issues, and maybe, to intervene, if possible, before a life sentence is handed out.

      I do hope this film is funded - not even cause I’m involved, not even cause I know what the inside of a cell smells like, but because the lack of a film like this is dangerous. We’re already way too myopic. We need our vision expanded - we need to, even, be able to watch this film and say - yeah, I listened - and I’m still not convinced, if that’s what we’re want to do.

    6. John Lucas Creator on

      Alan, thank you for your response. I agree that these crimes were serious and punishment was in order. Clearly the sentencing was beyond reasonable and the changed laws in Ohio attest to that, but a decisive referendum on the reckless and dangerous actions of these four men will not come from funding this film. I think the years served and being served serves that function.

      You also expressed concern about “wasted attention on undeserved sympathy.” As the director of this film, sympathy is the last emotion on my mind. In fact I would consider it patronizing to these men to have that as my goal.

      Why I am making this film and would love to have your support stems from my association with the Big Brother/ Big Sister program, (almost thirty years ago now) where I came to know these men when they were boys—before they committed these egregious crimes (like you, I agree that if you arrive somewhere gun in hand with the intention of taking something that doesn’t belong to you, you deserve to be punished).

      As a native of Akron, Ohio I was witness to the fact that these men came from environments that made the life-threatening decisions they made (for both themselves and their victims) seem reasonable, or at least commonplace. Over the years, visiting them in jail when I could, I watched boys grow into men. I watched them process realities most of us only consider theoretically.

      Oddly, the ones who are released will be returning to situations even worse than what they left twenty years ago. It’s my hope that this film will take one person at a time from variable statistics and return him to a complicated humanity.

      This film seeks neither to apologize nor sympathize; I wish to recognize how certain lives get constructed. At some point we need to move away from the categories of “undeserved and injured” or “perpetrators and victims” and begin to think about individuals and possibilities—especially where judgment has already been served.

      I appreciate your comments.

      John Lucas

    7. John Lucas Creator on

      Thanks very much for your comment, Alan.

      We appreciate your thinking, but as you said, we're asking for support for the film itself, as distinct from supporting these four men. The funding will allow us to hire an editor, and incorporate scenes to create a balanced and nuanced treatment of the situation.
      We are in no way excusing the acts of the Cooler Bandits. We are currently preparing additional sequences in which they discuss the crimes themselves in detail, and also plan to include interviews with victims of the crimes, further context on sentencing, and additional footage with Mr. Callahan, their prosecutor.

      There is a somewhat longer clip available now on our website (, and and I think you will find that, although Charles, Richard, Donovan and Frankie have varying perspectives on things, they have all matured enough to acknowledge their crimes.

      At the same time, a possible life sentence in this case seems grossly inappropriate, and is likely to benefit no one. As you pointed out, we can't afford to incarcerate teenagers for life under these circumstances. The state of Ohio seems to recognize this, as they have since changed their sentencing guidelines so that sentences like these are illegal.

      Nevertheless, disproportionate punishments continue to exist widely throughout the country, as well as extreme racial disparities in sentencing (see and It seems to us that the case of these four young men offers a unique opportunity for all of us to reflect on the issues involved.

      We hope you will stay with the project, and urge you to consider becoming a backer.


      Bruno Navasky

      ps. I passed on your comments to director John Lucas, who is also eager to respond and will be posting a comment shortly.

    8. Alan Light on

      I'm considering backing this.

      On the one hand, the funding is about the documentary, not about these four men who committed serious crimes - yet making the decision feels like making a referendum on their actions.

      In spite of all the rhetoric, the crimes of these men are exactly the type that should see the perpetrators locked up in jail for a long time. Most crimes are spontaneous, but a pattern of robbery and theft demonstrates a disregard for others that is quite dangerous to society - and though everyone was lucky that no one was physically harmed in these crimes, armed robbery is inherently reckless. I don't feel bad about these men spending 20 years in jail. On the other hand, crime is a young man's game, and these men are no longer young. I am not sure what benefit comes to society from keeping these men in jail - and there are a multitude of costs to society in keeping over 1% of the US population prisoner. Also, there are few crimes that I consider worthy of more than 20 years in prison. We do need to keep our perspective.

      What do others think? Why is this story a compelling one, compared to the millions who have gone to prison for victimless "crimes" that are not crimes at all? Is that not a greater crime, committed by the agents of the majority against an innocent minority? I am reminded of Stalin's maxim that the death of one is a tragedy but the death of millions is a statistic - and would this film waste our attention on undeserved sympathy while allowing the injured millions to remain a statistic?

      I'll be following this project, but I'll need a more persuasive argument to contribute.