July 13, 2009
Held Hostage: A Bank Robber’s Road to Redemption with Ken Cooper
Welcome to Haven Today. I’m Charles Morris with the great story that’s all about Jesus. In the next few minutes I want you to hear another story, the story of a serial bank robber whose story will lead us to Jesus.
This is a program called “Held Hostage: A Serial Bank Robber’s Road to Redemption.” To his friends and family Ken Cooper was the perfect citizen. He was devoted to his wife and children, loved by all and had a high profile job with a well known Christian college. Yet beneath the polished exterior lurked a man haunted by a broken past, fueled by a dangerous addiction. If you live in Florida you may recall the man the media called “The Gentleman Bank Robber”. Later after you hear his story I’ll explain how you can get a copy of Ken’s new book as our thanks for your help this summer to Haven Today. Now let’s begin with a group from New Zealand singing of joy and being forgiven. Parachute Man and the song is called “Forgiven”.
Performed by: Parachute Man
Welcome again to Haven Today. I’m Charles Morris and I want to welcome a new friend of mine who’s with us on the line from Jacksonville, FL. His name is Ken Cooper and before we start talking about your life story, a Christian we should know, Ken welcome to this program.
KC: Thank you so much. I’m really honored to be talking to you Charles.
CM: Well, it’s good to have you and a friend of mine kept telling me, “You need to talk to Ken Cooper. You need to talk to Ken Cooper” and finally I started reading a new book that you have out and I started hearing more about your story and I thought, “My goodness, we’ve got to have Ken Cooper on this program!” Let me just ask you flat out. You’ve written a book. Why did you call it “Held Hostage”?
KC: Well, to my shame Charles, I took hostages when I robbed some of the banks that I robbed for about 13 years.
CM: OK, let me stop you right there Ken.
CM: You didn’t rob a bank. You just said plural robbed banks for 13 years?
KC: Yes sir. I tried to be nice to the ladies. It was always a woman that I took with me to buy more time during the robberies. I’m so embarrassed and ashamed by that now. At the time I was so blind and so controlled by Satan that I felt like by being mannerly and nice to them, in fact some of them called me a gentleman or would say that, “Well, he was so kind to me,” but I terrorized them and I didn’t really understand or know that until later when Christ came into my life.
CM: Well, I guess anyone listening to us in Florida right now, and we’re on a number of stations in Florida, they will probably remember the media branded you “The Gentleman Bank Robber” didn’t it?
KC: Yes, at the time there were several of us that were going about our robberies in a very mannerly way so I wasn’t the only one. But it was very surprising to me that I would be called a gentleman. In fact the first time or two, like most robbers I would read the newspapers from that city to see what the press had said and it just really shocked me that they said I was very nice to them even though I’d taken them hostage. And so I guessed it helped sell newspapers also Charles, I’m not sure about that.
CM: Well, you were not a Christian when you were robbing banks but the bottom line though, of that is you had been around Christianity most of your life hadn’t you?
KC: Yes, when I was 13 I saw my father, he was a coal miner. My mother was a coal miner’s daughter and I lived in the hills in the country. You can tell by my voice that I speak very slowly and softly as many mountain people do. I saw my father go to a mourner’s bench and fall at that mourner’s bench and cry out to God but I was a 13 year old kid making fun of him and ridiculing the cross. I think my primary problem though, I was raised from that point on by Christian parents, was that I couldn’t believe in the cross. I couldn’t see how it could have any value and a blood sacrifice to me was just, you know, that turned me off. So I made fun of the cross until I found myself in a jail cell in Tampa asking God to wash me with his blood and of course Jesus did and I became a new man in that moment.
Cm: This leading up to your becoming a serial bank robber, you didn’t start out robbing banks did you? In fact most people in your life thought you were a pretty honorable, moral, respectable, hardworking person I think.
KC: Well, I was hardworking. I worked hard at robbing banks just like I worked otherwise and I was successful in public relations. Unfortunately at the same time I was promoting the state of Kentucky as advertizing director. I was out occasionally doing my hobby. And I worked for a Christian college in Kentucky and I regret so much that my life was a sham, that there was a good guy/bad guy kind of a thing going on. Generally the good guy was in control but occasionally the bad guy would want to do his thing so here I’d go.
CM: To this day, you’ve told me this before when we’ve spoken. It’s painful for you to think back on. You didn’t just start out, you know the Bible says the heart is deceitful, you weren’t a bank robber from the start but you were a sinner from the start and your life of crime began in little tiny ways, didn’t it?
KC: Yes. I don’t know if each person born has a tendency to lie and to steal but I certainly did from a very early age and I enjoyed it. This other little friend of mine when I was about 8 we became serial shoplifters. We did what we’d call “sneaking” and by the time I was a teenager it became shoplifting and then joy riding and ultimately when I was in college, I was a junior in college making good grades, I had a good future. I went out and when my wife became ill I started stealing from the person I was working for in order for us to take a month’s vacation. The doctor said she might live about year and so I said, “Well honey, I’m going to take you on a month’s vacation.” And so I stole $100 from my employer to do that you know, I regret all those things but that’s just part of what had happened.
CM: And that sin pattern is what the Lord used then finally to bring you to faith. Let’s move it forward a little bit here Ken and if you just joined us, yes this is Haven Today. You’re listening to Ken Cooper who was a bank robber, professional bank robber or, as he said, it was his hobby. But Ken you were arrested in Tampa by the law. Tell us about that and then tell us about how the Lord nailed you then.
KC: Well, thank you. I appreciate the second part just as much as the first if not more.
CM: Yes, right.
KC: I was robbing a bank in North Tampa and a plain clothed officer showed up and shot me as I was leaving the bank. I was so deceived Charles that I thought when I charged him just showing him my gun that he would fold but he was a trained shooter so he shot me through the first door, the first glass door as I was leaving the bank. And of course I went into black as I felt the bullet. It was like it happened in slow motion, like I could almost see the bullet and I could feel it enter my body and I could see the glass shards piercing my body and falling to the floor. Waking up with an officer standing on my back, I said on the way to the hospital as I was taken in the ambulance, “It’s over.” And in a way I wish that it’d happened many years before because it was so crazy but I was out of control. I was addicted to the adrenaline Charles, that when I’d go into a bank to rob it I was doing it probably more for the addiction than I was for the money.
Cm: Wow. You found yourself in jail. You actually got, what a 99 year sentence I think?
KC: Yes sir. Yeah, because of taking hostages the judge guaranteed society that I’d never walk the streets of America again and he was right. But what he didn’t know was that 6 weeks prior to that sentencing Christ had come into my heart as I had cried out to him and he had washed my sins with his blood, so that the judge sentenced the bank robber. The bank robber was actually dead but you know, in terms of the law it doesn’t have the mercy and grace of God, and rightfully so, so the judge sentenced me to 99 years.
CM: How did the Lord come to your life? You were sitting in a cell. Did someone share a Bible with you? Did someone visit you? You had heard the Gospel all your life. How did Jesus finally break through before you were sentenced to 99 years in prison?
KC: OK. Well, it started, once on the lamb I saw Ben Kinchlow on the 700 Club. I didn’t know who he was but this was in the middle of living a double life and I stopped at a motel to let things settle down before I went on home and he was pointing at me saying, “You’re not only running from yourself. You’re running from God.” As I remember it he said, “You’re living a double life. You’ll never be pleased. You’ll never be happy.” And I thought, “Good grief this guy!” I mean I was paranoid anyway and I thought, “This guy has got an inside track on me,” and so I turned him off but then years later when I was in jail and receptive to hearing the Gospel this man came in, a man named Sid Barrett. He’s now 94 years old. I saw him the other day and I thank him very often because he didn’t condemn me. He and, I’m emotional,
KC: remembering. Yeah.
Cm: I think Sid knew he was a sinner too, saved by grace.
KC: He didn’t condemn me. He just let me know that I could be forgiven. I thought it was impossible. I’d hurt so many people but Sid led me down that road. I repented not only of my sins but I asked Jesus to forgive me for ridiculing the cross. I guess you might say from that day forth I took up my cross.
CM: Sid said something to you one day. Did you pray with him or did you pray back when you were alone? What happened?
KC: He came to see me week after week for about 6 or 8 weeks and at first it was just to get out of my cell. I was exceedingly angry, primarily at myself for having been dumb enough to get caught and that was before I accepted the Lord. That was the attitude. But once I realized that hey there’s something to this man. There’s a genuine love and concern for me as a human being that I hadn’t seen in other people. So he led me to Christ through love.
CM: The love of Christ from someone who had caught the love of Christ and had shared that love with you. Well, now Ken you’re giving back to the Lord. You’re involved in prison ministry aren’t you? That’s your life now?
KC: Yes. I like to say I’m serving a life sentence as a prisoner of hope.
CM: It’s very interesting, one thing I know you do, you actually, when you speak, when you go to churches all over the place you wear orange. Why is that?
KC: OK, the, in most of the systems the most violent, the vilest criminals have to wear orange to alert people as to who they are. And I’m not really proud of what I did but I want people to know that God will save the vilest and that’s the reason I wear that orange is to let people know that the Lord Jesus will come into the vilest sinner’s heart and there is hope. There’s hope for the hopeless, for those people who are walking in deep despair, some probably who are hearing this program today. I don’t care how bad it looks, there is hope in Christ.
CM: That is music to my ears Ken, thank you for sharing that with me and all of us. Well, not everybody’s been robbing banks like you but of course we know what Jesus said even to think certain things is as evil and as sinful as actually doing it. And if we all look at our own hearts we’ve done more and worse than robbing banks. Give me some advice here. There’s somebody listening right now who needs to hear a message from you. What message, as my brother in the Lord, do you have for that person as well as for all of us?
KC: Whatever it takes, God is going to help us get ourselves usually through our bad decisions. We get into a circumstance or a situation where we lose control and that’s when we need to reach out to God and say, “Lord Jesus if you’re real I need your help. Come into my heart and take over my life because I just don’t want to go on the way I am. I’m sick and tired of being sick and tired and I want to get away from this madness.” And he will be there. He’s always there waiting it’s just that we’re not willing to give up our control that we think we have of our lives when in reality we don’t have control.
CM: I think you’d better lead us in prayer. Pray for that person who’s listening right now and they know they’re a sinner and this may be the moment when they too get to know Jesus.
KC: Father, I believe in my heart that there are people listening right now that have reached that point where they know that it’s beyond themselves to regain some semblance of sanity and some understanding of purpose. Lord and I pray for those individuals right now that are hearing this wherever they are in their car or at home, wherever they’re hearing this Lord, that they would just stop right now in their hearts and they would ask you for help. Because I know Lord that as you came into my heart when I was deep in that dungeon and you gave me a ray of hope, I pray Lord that that little bit of light, that spark of hope would come into their being that they might continue to have some kind of optimism for the future. Lord, I thank you for this opportunity to pray for these people and Lord if my having been such a sinner in great darkness, I pray that if someone can find the light as you helped me find the light I pray that they would walk out of that darkness into the light of Jesus Christ. I pray in his name, amen.
This is a program called “Held Hostage: A Serial Bank Robber’s Road to Redemption”. Ken Cooper, thank you for being with me here on Haven Today. What an unforgettable story about one man’s redemption through Jesus Christ. You know Chuck Colson who spent his own share of time in prison after the Watergate scandal read Ken’s new book and said, “Ken points his readers to the only light that can penetrate the darkness of prison or the darkness of the human heart.” Ken Cooper is another one of those Christians you should know. If you’d like a copy of his new book “Held Hostage: A serial bank robber’s road to redemption”, we have that just out book as our thank you for your gift to this ministry here in the summer of 2009. You can read more about the book by going to our website, haventoday.org, that’s h.a.v.e.n.t.o.d.a.y, haventoday.org. You can also call us on our toll free number in North America, 1-800-654-2836, that’s 1-800-654-2836. If you do call us just tell us you want the book about the bank robber and we’ll know the one you mean. Please let us know the station you’re listening to as well when you get in touch with us here at haventoday.org or call 1800-65-HAVEN. And if you’ve been thinking about it but just haven’t gotten around to it yet you can also check out that book by Warren Weirsbe, “50 People Every Christian Should Know”. We still have plenty of copies in our warehouse and you can find out more about that when you go to our website or when you give us a call. And thanks to everyone who’s giving above and beyond the suggested gift amount for the book by Ken Cooper or the book by Warren Weirsbe.
Well, I’m Charles Morris and I want to thank you for being with me. I want to invite you back again tomorrow when you’re going to meet another Christian you should know, a man who came out of the mafia and is now loving Jesus driving a truck. Join me won’t you as again we’re sharing the great story together. It’s all about Jesus here on Haven Today.
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