Barbara Joly says prison has offered her the freedom to say what she wants. Pictured at the Dayton Correctional Institution in September, she has almost completed her fourth year of a nine-year sentence. Enquirer/ Carrie Cochran
Barbara Joly realized she was almost out of gas. Pulling her red
Chevy Cobalt up to a pump - $6,084 from her robbery of the Mason Peoples
Building & Loan on the seat beside her - the 68-year-old housewife
and grandmother got out to fill her tank as a pack of wailing police
cruisers roared by.
"I saw all the police cars, and I remember
wondering where they were going," she says four years later, sitting on a
hard plastic chair in the visiting room at the Dayton Correctional
Institution. "Then I realized it was me."
Barbara Joly wasn't used to being the center of attention.
she undertook a eight-month bank robbery spree and became an Internet
sensation known as the "Granny Robber," Joly's name was unknown beyond
Middletown's closely linked church and parochial-school circles.
She was the skilled seamstress who sewed prayer shawls for cancer patients and made warming hats for premature babies.
was the Irish-descended, non-voting member of the Sons of Italy - there
every Thursday night for bocce, keeper of the money and buyer of the
groceries for their fundraising dinners. "She did it for at least five
years," fellow member Rosetta DiCristoforo says. "She never touched a
Barbara was also known as the mother of Chris Joly, a
noted athlete at Bishop Fenwick High School. That was where she spent
five months a year organizing booths for the annual festival and endless
hours raising money for athletics.
The high school once named her
booster of the year. After repeatedly calling her to mid-court
ceremonies during halftime of a basketball game, booster leaders finally
tracked her down in the school's basement kitchen. She was washing
dishes and hurried to accept the award still wearing her apron.
far she'd go to support her son wasn't clear to anyone - even Barbara
herself - until two decades later, when she'd rob banks in Middletown,
Lebanon and Mason and finally be arrested two blocks from her last
target in Franklin. All to rescue Chris.
How could it be that the
doting grandmother with 14 photographs of her grandchild in her living
room, who'd never had so much as a traffic ticket, had turned into a
Her priest, who had seen her at 9 a.m. Mass nearly every
Sunday for 19 years, says she was the last person in his parish of whom
he would have believed it possible.
Her husband of nearly 50 years
was so unsuspecting that he once coaxed her to the television to see a
clip of the escaping Granny Robber, teasing, "Barb, that looks like your
little red car."
Barbara herself would tell a judge, "I'm so
sorry for the horrible mistakes I've made. I just can't make heads or
tails of some of it."
And for the 31/2 years since Joly started serving a nine-year prison term, no one has.
Joly, Inmate 74444 at Dayton Correctional Institution, has given her
first interview, and family and friends have finally spoken. From their
detailed accounts of her life and actions, it's clear the seeds of her
undoing were sown as far back as her childhood, when her family's only
possessions were ruined in a Thanksgiving Day fire that plunged them
into crippling debt.
They took root in her adolescence in upwardly
mobile Kettering, where classmates wore cashmere and Barbara wore
clothing she made herself - social distinctions she'd recall when her
son entered high school and his higher-income classmates "were dressed
to the nines whenever there was occasion for it."
"I think it was
always up here," she would say in a prison interview, tapping her head,
"the idea that Chris shouldn't do without. Chris was not a child who
asked for a lot, but I gave a lot."
At some point Barbara Joly's
giving turned to giving in, as she breached the boundaries of reasonable
parenting to overindulge her son.
And then it turned to giving
up, as she ruined her family's finances in fruitless efforts to rescue
Chris from debt. In the end, she resorted to a desperate plan to remedy
things by robbing banks - a plan the former bank teller knew from the
start would fail.
"I knew I would go to jail, but I never thought
of the consequences - that my son would be hurt, my granddaughter would
be hurt, my friends would be crushed," she says. "I had just one focus:
Go in, get money and give it to my son."
Her husband, Bill, a
retired supervisor at Contech Construction Products in West Chester,
didn't know about that plan on Nov. 21, 2008, when a violent pounding
brought him to the front door of his Middletown home. FBI agents rushed
in, rifling through drawers, cupboards and Barbara Joly's purse, and
finally emerging from the couple's bedroom with a gray wig and what they
said was a hold-up note.
Bill Joly was dumbfounded, then
chagrined when he listened to his phone messages and heard his wife say,
"I'm in a whole bunch of trouble."
Barbara Joly's crimes would
stun her neighbors, terrify her victims, mystify two judges. But they
would also, at her lowest point, spark a conversation the Joly family
had avoided for years - a conversation not unlike that many American
families face, of where to set boundaries for offspring, how to face
conflict rather than avoid it, how to talk to each other and how to say
what needs to be said.
That conversation took place a few days
after the FBI raid of the Joly home, with a shaken Barbara Joly - fresh
out on bail - initiating it, and parents and son laying open problems
they'd kept covered for years.
"You might say," Bill Joly says, "the new life of our family started from that moment on."
By the time she was in junior high, Barbara Laughlin had moved seven
times, her impoverished parents migrating across Dayton, Kettering and
Warren County to find a place they could afford to rent.
pictures show the three Laughlin children in patches - their skinny
wrists and ankles sticking out of clothing they had long since outgrown.
In the Laughlin house, even basic necessities often met with Barbara's
father's most common response, "That's not in the budget right now."
Thanksgiving Day when Barbara was 10 was to be a day of celebration and
even a little excess. Both sides of her large extended family were
expected for lunch. That morning her father, Scott Laughlin, a tenant
farmer and milkman, was away at the dairy after spending weeks
renovating their leased Waynesville farmhouse using rented equipment.
Gertrude Laughlin, a homemaker, had preheated the oven and was ready to
begin the day's cooking.
As she opened the door to the kitchen, a gas leak triggered an explosion. Flames quickly engulfed the walls.
Gertrude tried to wave down hunters in a distant field, then sent Barbara and her brother to find help at surrounding farms.
The houses were too far away and the help too late. The farmhouse burned to the ground. The family had no insurance.
Laughlin - an Irishman so stoic, Barbara's brother David Laughlin
remembers, "he wouldn't tell you if he had a nail in his shoe" - refused
to declare bankruptcy, insisting he would pay back what he owed. "The
burden ..." Laughlin remembers, shaking his head. "There was nothing
To help out, Barbara, the oldest, was soon making her own
clothes and became the neighborhood babysitter - dependable,
even-natured and infatuated with children.
A rule-follower, she
took her father's lessons to heart: Take care of things yourself,
without complaint. Don't trot the family's business around the
neighborhood. "Nunya," her father would say when a private or
controversial issue came up. "That's nunya business."
If conversation followed, he'd snap his fingers as a signal for his children to shut up.
Barbara learned the lesson well. Except once.
couple with a young child lived up the street from the Laughlins. Both
were heavy drinkers and neglectful parents. One day the boy toddled down
the street alone in nothing but a diaper.
eighth-grader who already was telling friends she'd one day have a large
family, snatched him up, ran up the street and confronted his parents.
"She was screaming and yelling at them - 'Why aren't you watching him?
He's your son, why aren't you watching him?' " - her brother David
remembers. "It put me back on my heels."
When her father found out, he made her go back up the street and apologize.
A more headstrong child might have argued her case. Barbara did as she was told.
was so conforming she was never - "never, ever," her brother David says
- in trouble, and so guileless she could never master strategies for
the card games her grandfather tried to teach her.
affable, Barbara stood out for simple talents. She sewed and knitted
superbly, taught by her grandmother on the family's front porch. She had
flawless penmanship. She had a knack for styling hair.
Kettering's Fairmount High School, "Bobbi" Laughlin threw herself into
pep club and chorus, but was so unathletic she bombed at tryouts for the
Rhythmettes dance squad. She had so much trouble operating the family
Studebaker that her frugal father finally paid someone to teach her to
A good student, she enrolled at Ohio State University in
the fall of 1958, only to learn her parents couldn't pay for a second
quarter. She returned home to Kettering, and a family friend helped her
land a teller's job at Winter's Bank in Dayton.
She would work on and off in banking until 2006.
19, she had met and married Bill Joly, six years her senior and a
high-energy, talkative, up-and-coming accountant at Armco Steel. The
two moved to Middletown.
His young wife was so deferential "she'd melt in a crowd," he says now.
"She wasn't the effervescent type - not a wallflower, but not a yack-yack-yacker."
brother-in-law Michael Joly remembers her as "a pert redhead,
spontaneous, a cute little smile. Everybody in the family liked Barbara.
She was easy to like."
Barbara's life soon revolved around Bill
and five other couples. The youngest of the group, Barbara soon became
"She was a true bobby soxer," her sister
Bonnie Moss recalls. "She created that home all around her, just the way
Betty Furness would have kept it." (Furness was a 1950s-era actress
featured in TV ads for Westinghouse products.)
marriage followed a traditional pattern. Barbara took care of the inside
of the house, Bill took care of the outside. Barbara made her clothes,
the bed and the meals. Bill made the income.
Life was good for the young couple. Barbara had more material comforts than she'd ever known.
Only one thing haunted her. After dreaming of a large family since junior high, she found out she couldn't have a child.
Twenty-nine-year-old Barbara Joly answered the phone thinking she
knew why the nun on the other end was calling. A church fundraiser was
approaching and Barbara, an exceptional seamstress, had agreed to make a
"money doll" on which donors would attach their contributions.
are you ready?" the nun asked, and the excitement in her voice told
Barbara that her agonizing 10-year wait was finally over.
time she had celebrated friends' pregnancies, supported her unmarried
teenage sister as she placed a baby for adoption, while enduring rounds
of futile fertility treatments.
Now a baby boy was waiting for Barbara and Bill Joly to adopt him, the nun said.
Barbara burst into tears.
that moment on, "she centered her life around bringing up her son," her
brother-in-law Michael Joly says. "And Chris could do no wrong."
maternal energy Barbara had built up from adolescence, when she first
dreamed of being the matriarch of a large family, would now be invested
in her only child.
Motherhood would define Barbara Joly. It would
reveal her obvious talents and hidden ambitions, her easy generosity and
latent insecurities. It would bring out her best instincts and her
As a new mother, she would polish her toddler son's
high-top white shoes every day while he slept. She would ban
neighborhood children from thumping basketballs against the garage door
during his nap, then tiptoed them upstairs to admire him sleeping. She
would trim his hair every week, and press even his play clothes.
chided her for never buying clothing even a half-size too big. She shot
back that she never wanted Chris to look "sloppy." They told her what
she needed was more kids.
By elementary school, Chris Joly was
drawing attention for his athletic skills, and Bill and Barbara were
relishing being the parents of a star.
Chris Joly, now 43, says
the happiest he ever saw his mother was when he was 8 years old and won
two gold medals and one silver at a swimming championship at Rolling
Hills Country Club in Fairfield.
"I finished the race and saw her
come running down to the pool. She was just ecstatic," he says. "She was
right next to my swim coach, jumping up and down."
Chris would go
on to play soccer, baseball, basketball and football, and the Jolys
would be there for every game, crisscrossing the state for summer
tournaments, building their social life around their son's athletics.
mother would keep score at every game, in every sport. His father would
remember the name of the swimmers Chris beat at the Rolling Hills meet
34 years later.
Soon Barbara Joly could talk of little but her
son, and tolerated no criticism of him. When coaches berated him at a
Little League game, she yanked him out and took him home. When an
altercation arose with his friends, she was immediately on the phone to
their parents or at their front door. When Chris faced drunken-driving
charges as a teenager, his mother alternately excused his behavior or
"Nobody was better than Chris," says Rosetta
DiCristoforo, a neighbor and friend of the Jolys for 43 years. "Chris
was at the top of the mountain - Chris was a genius at math, he was the
best dressed, he dated the most beautiful girls. She sacrificed all of
her life for him. She was fixated with her son. She lived for him."
effect wasn't lost on Chris. Early on his mother became his confidant
and ally, and a way to avoid communication with his sterner father.
knew I could always ask my mom, and if it got past her, it would get
past Dad. I knew she had a hard time saying no to me. And I knew her
communication with Dad was always tenuous," he says. "So instead of a
connection among the three of us, it would be a conversation between my
mom and me, and she'd say, 'I'll take care of it.' "
to help Chris became extreme. After he and his date missed their prom
cruise, she found a speedboat to try to catch the larger boat. She
drove to Miami University to pick up his laundry and clean his
frat-house room; and sent him on a golf trip to cheer him up as an
adult after having decimated her savings to rescue him from debt.
psychologist evaluating Barbara after her crimes would write that, to
avoid upsetting her husband, she would leave him out of the loop. "She
hated arguments, and she found it easier not to involve him. To describe
her as emotionally enmeshed with her adopted son - her only child -
would be to understate the point."
From his infancy, Barbara and
Bill Joly had told their son he could turn to them for anything. In
adolescence, he took them at their word.
He volunteered his mother
for everything at Bishop Fenwick High School, to the extent that she'd
be called away from one activity to help with another. He brought home
tickets for school fundraisers that his father sold door-to-door. From
out-of-state travel for athletics to custom-made shoes for his narrow
feet, nothing was denied Chris Joly. Years later his mother would say
that at some point Chris began to believe he was entitled to their
savings - but that those savings were far smaller than he thought.
"Chris always knew he was going to be helped out," agrees Barbara's sister Bonnie Moss. "Real life had never really hit him."
For 33 years, life went easy on Chris Joly. Captain of his high
school football, basketball and baseball teams, social chair of his
Miami University fraternity, he'd married his college sweetheart, taken a
job as marketing director of a Louisville insurance company and become a
Then in 2002, in quick succession, he lost his marriage, job and financial footing.
"I thought it was the perfect life," says his mother, Barbara Joly. "And then it just blew up."
was overextended after buying a larger house with a $10,000 down
payment from his parents to try to save his marriage. Then two years of
unemployment and several more at lower-paying jobs left him behind on
monthly expenses that included private-school tuition for his daughter,
car payments, rent and substantial credit-card debt.
creditors were hounding not only him but his parents - whose phone
number he had given them - threatening to garnish his wages or take him
Chris Joly knew where to turn for help.
told our son, 'When you have a problem, bring it to us,' " Barbara Joly
says. "But that kind of interpreted to 'Bring it to Mom.' "
call late at night, to avoid speaking with his dad, and begin with "Ma,"
the name that meant he was about to ask for something. His mother would
take the calls in a back bedroom, hunched over the phone.
hear her say, 'Uh-ha, uh-ha, uh-ha,' and I'd say, 'Do you ever say no?' "
Bill Joly says. "She couldn't put one foot in front of the other fast
enough to help him."
Spending on Chris had long been a point of contention for the couple.
who had grown up poor, wanted her only child to have nice clothes, a
private school education, money for socializing and college tuition.
Bill, who retired in 1996 from a 40-year career in management and accounting, wanted to know where they'd finally draw the line.
Barbara wouldn't back down when it came to Chris. "It was always, 'If
you're not going to make this happen, I will,' " her brother David
Soon Chris was bringing his mother spreadsheets of
his expenses, and she was writing him checks for $500, $2,000 and
$3,000, sometimes even wiring money for an urgent need.
my dad knew about it," Chris Joly says. "Sometimes she'd say, "I can
give this much, and I'm going to have to ask your dad if you need any
But at one point Bill drew the line - "I said, damn, Barb,
when is this going to stop?" he remembers - and said Chris should take a
second job to deal with his own debt.
At that, Barbara started to conceal her giving.
thought that meant Chris wouldn't have time for his daughter, and that
scared me more than anything because she's my pride and joy, too,"
Barbara had taken over billpaying and banking duties
when her husband retired. Over the next years, she would slowly
decimate the couple's savings, channeling more than a quarter million
dollars to rescue her son.
Four years after his wife's arrest, as
he struggles to erase $84,000 in debt on the home he and his wife had
once paid off and chips away at $8,000 in remaining credit-card debt,
Bill Joly says he regrets "burdening" his wife with the family finances.
He says that only when she was arrested did he learn the disastrous
shape they were in.
"When I looked back over her checkbook, I
could tell the end was near. There was no way out unless everything was
going to blow up," he says.
But Barbara Joly was afraid of
something more than her husband finding out she'd drained their
retirement savings. She was terrified that her son was despondent over
finances. "She told me she believed Chris was suicidal," says her
sister, Bonnie Moss.
But while Barbara would confide it to family and friends, she refused to share it with prosecutors or judges.
four years later, when she hesitantly broaches the topic with The
Enquirer, she can't immediately bring herself to identify him.
had been financially supplying a family member for a long time, and I
ran out of funds," she says carefully. "I was more and more stressed. I
taught this person how to love, and how to get along with people. But
what I didn't teach him was what to do if you have a failure in your
"He had had a golden life. He had always succeeded. And when this failure came along, he didn't know how to handle it."
did his mother, who, a psychologist would write, "had an almost
hyper-generous orientation toward those - including her adult son - who
she perceived as being in need." She was devastated by his divorce and
distressed over "these horrendous bills - they just stacked up and
stacked up." At peak, Barbara would give Chris $5,000 a month to pay off
debts that included trips to the West Coast and Paris.
never enough. Over time, she drained $75,000 of her own savings and an
equal amount from her husband's inheritance from his parents, exhausted a
$100,000 home-equity loan, borrowed from her sister, brother and niece,
and maxed out the couple's credit cards, running up $30,000 of debt on
one card alone.
"I was trying to pay my bills, pay my family
back, but it got worse and worse. I thought, "What am I going to do? I
don't have another source of funds. I didn't know there was some place I
could go for help," she says. "I could see my son going downhill and I
could feel myself doing the same thing. And I thought, 'I don't know
where to go with this.'"
In her nylon jacket, white headscarf and sunglasses, the elderly
woman who walked into the Community National Bank in Middletown was
utterly forgettable. The note she slid across to a young teller was not.
It said a gun was trained on her and to hand over the cash in her drawer.
The teller would be so traumatized she would quit her job and leave banking entirely.
robber, 68-year-old seamstress and grandmother Barbara Joly, would
drive less than two miles to her home, briefly sit on her bed and stare
at the money she'd just stolen, then drive to her own bank, deposit it
and send it off in a check to her son.
"Frankly, I don't remember
saying anything," she says now. "The first robbery that I did is the one
I remember the least about. I must have been in a state of shock
Barbara Joly was a coupon-clipper and bulk buyer. She was
a woman who felt guilty treating herself to a new Longaberger basket
once a year.
She was the neighbor who walked down the street
daily, sometimes barefoot, to check on a cancer-stricken friend, the
wife who made the world's best angel food cake, the mom of whom there
are few pictures because she always had the camera in her purse.
during her own two-decade career in banking, she was the teller known
for balancing her drawer, the vault and the entire bank branch down to
the last cent.
But in 2008, Barbara Joly's desperation to rescue
her debt-ridden son - whom she believed was depressed and suicidal -
would lead her to rob banks in Middletown, Mason, Lebanon and Franklin
over eight months.
"Her husband, Bill, made Barbara give her word
that they would give Chris no more money, and she's a person with a son
who doesn't want to live, and she gave her word and something clicks,
and the next day, she robs a bank," says her attorney Chris Atkins.
crimes would make her the target of a three-county FBI investigation
and the butt of jokes by late-night talk-show hosts and Internet
bloggers, who called her the Granny Robber and snickered at her
unsophisticated disguise and awkward gait.
In fact, her simple
approach worked in her favor. She slid into banks so unassumingly that
customers held the door open for her, and she exited the same way. She
parked her car a short distance from her target and ambled back to it
after her crime, putting the cash she'd gotten on the seat beside her.
She handwrote simple demands and was content with whatever cash the
tellers pulled from their drawers, rather than forcing them to the
"I tried not to do it in a violent way. I didn't have a
weapon. I didn't have a partner. I've never slapped anyone in my life,"
she says. "That's all I can say. It was not a big plan. I was not trying
to get all the money they had.
"I wasn't a very good bank robber - obviously, I wasn't a very good bank robber."
Still, Joly had knowledge that most robbers don't. In 2003, she was working as a teller in a bank when it was robbed.
positioned herself to get a look at the robber's face and shouted to
co-workers to lock the door after he left. The next day when FBI agents
came to her home, she eagerly sorted through photos to identify him.
She isn't sure if the incident led her to think of robbery. She says all she remembers is how desperate she felt.
had gone to my family for help, and it was embarrassing, upsetting -
trying to work and pay my bills and then help my son and pay them back,"
she says. "My checking account was down to zilch. I used every penny I
made to try to pay back what I had borrowed, and then (Chris) would call
and say, 'They're going to garnish my wages. I'm going to have to go to
court if I don't pay this credit card.' It got to the point where I
couldn't keep going."
Stress had ruined her sleep, thinned her
hair, hunched her shoulders. From sociable and easygoing, she'd become
jittery and distracted.
"We'd play bocce together and every once
in a while I'd see an emotion in her eyes, like there was something
she's hiding," says her friend Rosetta DiCristoforo. "She told me, 'I'm
pulled between my husband and my son.' "
When Chris called just
before Thanksgiving in 2008 to again ask for help, his mother determined
she would make one more attempt to save him.
On Nov. 21, she
drove to Franklin to rob the Huntington National Bank, across the street
from a bank where she had worked and directly behind the police
"I knew there were people who would more or less know me.
When I walked in, I thought this will stop it, and this is the only
way," she says. "It would stop me from continuing to rob banks,
continuing to give to my son, continuing to lie to my husband and
continuing to wreck my life."
She approached a young teller and handed her a note that demanded money and warned of an armed accomplice.
Simultaneously, a male co-worker approached to ask the teller if she was ready for lunch.
"She looked right at him and said, 'No!' and I knew that I was done," Joly says.
teller's alarm had been noted. Law enforcement agencies had been
notified. And five minutes after walking out of the bank and making a
single right turn in her red Chevy Cobalt, Joly was surrounded by police
"All I could feel," she says, "was relief."
after, in the interview room at the Franklin police station, Joly
answered Detective Jeffery Stewart's questions politely but vaguely. She
said she did not know why she had been stopped by police. She said she
was on her way home from a fabric store and exited at Franklin for
cheaper gas. When Stewart brought up the money sack found in her car,
she said she thought she should probably speak to an attorney.
didn't appear surprised, not crying, no strong emotions. She wasn't
belligerent in any way," Stewart says. "I don't know if relief is what I
heard, but more or less someone who knew it was coming. She just kind
of took her medicine."
That night, as Charnice Supper sat watching
the evening news and saw her best friend since high school being
arrested, she went from shock to understanding in a minute.
immediately figured out why she had done it - she'd talked about the
money she'd given Chris, and Bill didn't know anything about it," Supper
says. "But I also thought, oh, my God, we'd go to Wal-Mart and
JoAnne's, we'd use coupons - she'd been robbing the banks we were
driving right by."
Joly's ability to seemingly compartmentalize
her life - to terrorize young bank tellers while she sewed pillows for
breast-cancer victims, to rob banks while she turned in every cent of
the bingo money she collected - confused prosecuting attorneys, judges
and Barbara's family and friends.
So did the relatively small
amount of money she took - a total of $10,408 in four robberies - when
she knew the vaults held more, and the proximity of her targets, all
within 20 minutes of her home.
But getting money wasn't Joly's only wish for her son.
and Bill didn't realize what they were doing. Each time Chris would
call and his dad would answer the phone, he'd say, "Dad, can I talk to
Mom?" They just couldn't get that together," she says from the visiting
room at the Dayton Correctional Institute, where she is serving a
nine-year sentence. "My being out of that equation was the thing we
needed - it brought them together."
The Joly house was mostly silent as two aging parents and an adult
son faced each other, Barbara's crimes and their own broken
relationship. Then they did something they hadn't done in years. They
told each other the truth.
"Nobody wants to know the truth," Bill
Joly says now, as he struggles to manage housework, pay the debts his
wife incurred, and jot down family news to have beside the phone for the
twice-weekly phone calls from his wife in prison. "The truth sometimes
It hurt that night as a shaking Barbara Joly, just
released from jail on bond, told her family, "I was just ready to go
over the edge."
It hurt as she described the tightrope she had
walked between them, unable to say no to her son's needs because she
feared he would kill himself, unable to tell her husband how much she
had given Chris because he'd see they were financially ruined.
It hurt them to hear that, for years, she'd been sinking in the silence that lay between them.
It hurt her to realize that the two people in the world closest to her didn't see she was sinking at all.
has never been one to sit down and talk. I couldn't make him see," his
wife of 52 years says in the visiting area at Dayton Correctional
Institution, her thinning hair tied up in a knot. "He could see
something was happening to me, but he couldn't stop to talk about it."
psychologist who evaluated Barbara Joly noted her husband's extreme
concern for her, but also his tendency to sidestep her worries about
Chris with comments like, "Let's not even go in that direction - it's
gonna work out."
"He did not come across as the sort of person
who's inclined to spend a lot of time reflecting on the more nuanced
aspects of behavior, his own or other people's," the psychologist wrote.
Then a crisis exposed the ruptured relationships and pattern of avoidance that had plagued the Joly family for years.
arrest for four bank robberies - charges that could have carried a
20-year prison term - meant there could be no more sidestepping.
earliest childhood, Chris Joly knew he was at the center of his
mother's affection, but believed he was a disappointment to his father.
He quickly learned to bypass his father by taking concerns to his
mother, who relished being his confidante.
"It's the biggest
aspect of our family that created the situation - that communication was
very difficult between my father and I, and my mother was the
intermediary," Chris Joly says now. "She wanted to make peace between
us, and the only way to do that was to say yes to me, and maybe not tell
him what he needed to know."
For Barbara, the friction between
her son and husband - combined with a compulsive need to smooth her only
child's way in life - led her to a solitary, secretive and finally
absurd attempt to save him.
That attempt, her attorney says, took
her out of the safe confines of her quiet, small-town life and shook
even her own basic assumptions about herself.
"In the photographs
of her, her eyes were scared," says attorney Chris Atkins. "I think much
of that was being in the legal system, but you don't know if some of it
was being scared of herself - who am I? That's a scary question to ask
"The real Barbara everyone knows is not the Barbara who
robs a bank. The church-goer, the quilt-maker gives us the true Barbara
who does not rob banks. But the Barbara who gets married early, who
wonders what life would have been like without that marriage. ... Her
life was such that maybe she never really knew who she was or who she
could have been," Atkins says.
Who Barbara Joly was that November night was a lost soul.
to confront her actions, to speak the truth to her son and husband,
Barbara Joly took the first step to being found. As she told a
psychologist later, "Finally, everything had to get laid on the table -
no more Mom in the middle."
For the last year, Barbara has been
working on communication and assertiveness skills with a visiting priest
at her prison. When he first invited her to anger management classes,
she resisted, saying, "I'm not mad."
Now she says feelings of fear
and helplessness were buried deep within her. And she says finally -
ironically, confined in a state penitentiary - she has found the freedom
to say what she feels.
"I've said to my husband - here's a
for-instance - 'Before I came in here, how often did you call our son?'
He didn't. I said, 'How often do you call him now?' He said, 'A couple
of times a week.' " She sits forward, her eyes widening. "I said, 'A-ha -
doesn't that tell you something?'
"And I had never told my son,
now listen to me - you have all the ability you need to stand up on your
own, the faith and the ability to do it yourself," she says, her pale
cheeks flushing, her words coming in a torrent. "After my arrest, my son
looked for other jobs. He interviewed and had his choice of jobs. He
started one the week I went to Marysville," to the Ohio Reformatory for
She leans forward. "That's a sign to me that God is saying
to me, 'You need to do something else with your life rather than running
around in circles trying to do things for them.' "
Joly does now is work as a mortgage broker in Louisville. "In hindsight,
I should have declared bankruptcy," he says, "but then I wouldn't have
been able to get licensed in the mortgage field if I did."
his mother does now is teach knitting classes for fellow inmates, mend
uniforms, make objects for charities and dream of "going home and
cooking dinner and just sitting down and talking to my husband and doing
the dishes and doing the laundry and going to the grocery store."
Her attorney says he will request her release in 2017, when she has served eight years of her nine-year sentence.
By then, she will be 76. Bill Joly will be 82.
has kept things as much as possible as they were before his wife was
led off to prison in Feb. 11, 2009, so distraught she could not look
back in the courtroom at her husband, brother and sister, best friend
and priest. Barbara's hand-stitched "Welcome" sampler hangs inside the
front door. Her Sudoku and "Curves: Permanent Results without Permanent
Dieting" books are on the coffee table. "She was big on Curves," Bill
says with a smile.
He is waiting to have a knee replacement until she can be beside him. He says he sometimes fears dying before she's released.
could have taken some trips," he says, dropping the forced cheerfulness
that is his usual demeanor. "I wanted to go to Alaska so badly. The
worst thing for me is having to take care of the house - to cook, to
take care of the laundry. I tell her, 'I'm doing things, babe, that I
never thought I'd have to do.' "
Chris Joly says his mother's
imprisonment has altered how he and his parents relate to each other,
and changed his father profoundly.
"Before all this happened, my
dad wasn't a very emotional person, rarely said I love you, even to my
mom. Since then, he's the polar opposite. Now every time we talk on the
phone, there are one or two 'I love yous,' " he says. "He's basically
become my mom."
At Dayton Correctional Institution, Barbara
shakes her head slightly at the thought her imprisonment brought the
reconciliation between father and son she'd always wanted.
it was a sacrifice and the biggest part of the sacrifice" - here, she
cries for the first time in a four-hour interview - "was giving up part
of my life with my husband."
Her voice grows stronger. "Because it
actually brought us closer. My husband never kissed me in public -
never. He was not a really affectionate person. But when I walk in
here," she says glancing across the prison visiting room, "he hugs me
and he kisses me and it doesn't matter who's around.
"We have found a stronger love, a stronger marriage - and because of that, it hurts even more."
Joly says it hurts him, too - that he feels guilty enjoying a nice meal
out because Barb can't, that he misses her every Reds Opening Day, when
he goes to the parade without her.
"She used to do angel food
cake with this fantastic icing. I haven't had an angel food cake since
she left," he says quietly, then visibly rouses himself. "I'm determined
I'm going to be positive for Barb. I don't want her to be scarred by
this. I want her to come home the same person she was when she went in."
It's something Barbara Joly can't promise.
Dayton Correctional Institution, inmates and even guards still look at
the white-haired, slightly hunched woman in Reeboks, navy pants and a
shirt with a green collar - signifying an honor inmate with a low
security risk - and marvel that she's the Granny Robber.
say, 'Mrs. Joly, come here. I want to talk to you. Are you really that
person?' she says. "I say, 'Yes, I am - at least I was that person.'
"I don't feel I am any more."