CHEYENNE, Wyo. — A transgender woman who robbed a bank in an attempt to be sent back to prison expressed a change in heart, and a sympathetic judge sentenced her Wednesday to six years in a federal women's prison, far less than the 20 years she could have gotten.
Linda Thompson, 59, told the courtroom that whatever sentence U.S. District Judge Nancy Freudenthal handed down would be fine with her, but she hoped yet to get a commercial driver's license and land a job driving a truck.
"No one really wants you to die in prison," Freudenthal said. "There's more out there than hanging out in custody."
Thompson apologized to a teller at the U.S. Bank branch in Cheyenne she robbed in July. The teller and other bank employees sitting in the audience declined to address the court.
"My intention was not to hurt you. My intention was to go back to prison. I'm sorry you had to be part of that," Thompson told the woman.
After robbing the bank, Thompson threw some of the cash into the air and tried to give some away. She sat down and waited for police to arrive.
She pleaded guilty in August. During Wednesday's somewhat topsy-turvy sentencing proceedings, her attorney, David Weiss, acknowledged the crime wasn't victimless because Thompson — who is heavy-set, stands well over 6 feet tall and has a deep voice — was imposing as she showed the bank teller a sign indicating she had a gun.
"Spending her life in custody is a cop-out," Weiss told the courtroom. "Every day in prison is the same. Every issue she has with the system she knows how to negotiate."
Federal prosecutor Stuart Healy agreed, adding: "I don't think anybody in this courtroom can imagine the suffering Linda has gone through in this life to get here."
Weiss and Healy agreed Thompson should be sentenced at the low end of federal sentencing guidelines, and she was.
Thompson was released from prison in Oregon in June after serving time for robbery, a crime also motivated by a desire to return to prison. She told Freudenthal she hopped on a freight train to Cheyenne in hope of finding work even though she had difficulty getting the photo identification she needed for the commercial driver's license she wanted.
She told police she resolved to return to prison after being attacked in a park. On Wednesday, however, Thompson expressed optimism she could complete treatment for alcohol abuse and get a job "twisting a steering wheel" after her next release.
"It's encouraging to me you've got concrete, specific ideas about how you could work," Freudenthal told her. "It's hopeful and optimistic, and I really appreciate you sharing that."
Thompson was featured in a 2007 documentary, "Cruel and Unusual," about the problems that incarceration in men's prisons present for inmates who identify as female. In the film, Thompson described castrating herself after Idaho prison officials wouldn't give her hormone treatments.
A successful lawsuit against the Idaho Department of Corrections eventually got her the treatments, according to the film.
She had gone to prison in Idaho for stealing. Her inability to find work because she identified as female and dressed like a woman drove her to steal electrical wire and sell it as scrap, Thompson said in the documentary.
"What am I supposed to do to survive? I can't work. I'm not allowed in a shelter. I'm not allowed in a rescue mission," she said in the film. "Yes, it's wrong. I know I shouldn't have done it. But, oh well. I'm not going to lie about who and what I am."
Thompson served time in Washington state and Oregon after her imprisonment in Idaho. In the film, she said she continued to be rejected for work in western Wyoming's gas fields.
She also was unable to get the hormone therapy she had received in prison, she said in the film.
"I wasn't on my medication so I was really getting into the suicidal thoughts," she said in the documentary. "I intentionally got myself arrested and sent back to prison, so I would get back on my medication."
Thompson has been getting certain hormone treatments during her recent custody as a health measure because of her self-castration, Weiss said.