The SpongeBob Bandit
Ed. Note: Mr. Thompson was born July 29, 1959. He is currently 14 years into a 37-year federal prison sentence for bank robbery, and for having been a career armed-criminal. The artwork in the article is also Mr. Thompson's.
My name is Clyde. I’m in prison for a bank robbery. I’d surpassed the number of banks I intended to rob, and had become a serial bank robber known as the SpongeBob bandit. I know what you’re thinking-how did you get a name like that?
Well, let me tell you how I got such a childish name. I was on my eighth bank robbery. I used to rob banks in those big grocery stores. While I was in the aisle of the grocery store, looking at the bank, I realized I didn’t have a bag with me. Fortunately for me, I was in the gift/card section of the store. I reached out, and grabbed a yellow bag, some kind of party gift bag for a kid I assumed at the time. Remember, I was there to rob a bank, not shop for gift bags.
I shoved the bag up under my arm and walked up to the bank teller. Naturally she said, “Can I help you, sir?” like they normally do.
“Yes, you can,” I said, as I threw the yellow bag on the counter and pulled out my gun. “Fill it up.” She complied, and the robbery went without a glitch.
I made it back to the apartment unhindered by the police. The bank robbery wouldn’t come out in the news until the next day. I liked seeing myself in the newspaper, so I picked up a copy and, WHOA Dude! The headline said, “SpongeBob robs another Twin Cities bank.” That got my attention, because I remember thinking, Who’s this SpongeBob character, and what’s he doing robbing the same banks as me?
I opened up the newspaper, and was startled because it was a picture of me, with a very yellow SpongeBob bag on the counter. I realized then I was the SpongeBob Bandit, because of the bag I’d grabbed at the grocery store. That’s how I became known as the SpongeBob Twin Cities bank robber.
I grew up in Chicago. We moved back-and-forth between Chicago and Minnesota. We finally settled down in Saint Paul, Minnesota right around 1969.
Looking back, it seems kind of funny how poor we were, because when you’re young, you don’t really give too much thought to stuff like that. I know one thing-my dad and mom didn’t aspire to home ownership at any time in my life. When we finally did settle down in St. Paul, we wound up renting some old, rundown apartment or section of a rundown house, which was like a one bedroom. My room would often be the living room, where I would usually end up sleeping on the floor. When I would go over to a friend’s house, I would actually think they were rich because they lived in a house.
In reality, there was no good reason why we should’ve had to live like refugees. My dad made really good money working as an auto body man in a body shop. The only problem was, he was a stone-cold alcoholic; frequently drinking, unable to live a normal, healthy life. That’s the reason we lived the way we did. It was a despairing, horrible way to grow up.
My older sister Sheila and I were the only two left at home out of the family, and not a close knit family at that. My two other sisters were married off, and out of the house. My two older brothers-one was in prison, and the other was living with his girlfriend at the time.
Drinking rule my dad‘s life. He would come home from a night of drinking, very drunk, shouting and cursing, and slamming stuff around. I couldn’t stand to listen to him curse my mom out. It was tough to hear those offensive words with his raised voice.
When I was older, like 12 1/2 years old or so, I would get away, enduring the night in a real bad hood, just so I wouldn’t have to hear the cursing. I spent as much time away from home as I could. I started stealing very early. I learned from my dad‘s brother, my uncle, how to steal little stuff. My sister Sheila introduced me to smoking weed. Nonetheless, I don’t blame anyone for the way I grew up. I never did like the blame game.
I used to tear it up in the city streets of Saint Paul, in the hood right around Rice Street. It’s no wonder I would end up fighting kids in the hood just like me-riproaring the streets, stealing stuff, smoking cigarettes and weed, breaking into buildings, doing all kinds of burglaries, even cars.
We’d drink wine and slam beers as we ran the neighborhood. On top of that, I couldn’t read or write it all. I had a very bad learning disability-dyslexia as we now know. That does not negate the fact of me stealing. By the way, there was no discipline from my father, who allowed me to run the streets. Apparently, it was the same for the other kids in the neighborhood. It was a shame, having no discipline; ultimately I would end up in prison.
The neighborhood had social problems. It didn’t help the circumstances of the hood, however, when I bought a .22 sawed-off rifle and sawed it off even further than it was. In 1972, I would end up escalating my criminal career to an armed robbery at the tender age of 13. It only continued to escalate when I realized the robberies were paying off. I was a small, skinny, 13-year-old kid; I was so little-looking, people would not give me their money, so I became known for firing off the gun in the stores.
I got busted at the age of 15 for robbing stores and firing off my gun in the stores. From the age of 13-15 years old, I was in-and-out of juvenile lock-up. I knew something had to change, and it did-at the tender age of 15, I furthered my career of robbery. I sat in jail until I was 16 years old, so I could be tried in court as an adult. I got 10 years for the robbery at the store.
It was a long ride to get to Saint Cloud Reformatory for men. I’d had plenty of time to think about what had gone down in court. The only consolation for the long ride was the scenery. It was beautiful! Country pine trees, all the way up to Saint Cloud.
This was the second time in my young life I’d travelled outside of St. Paul. The pine trees and the scenery were clouding my thoughts temporarily, until reality set in; I was thinking how I was going to do one-to-ten years, and how much of that time I’d actually have to do on this sentence.
We turned off of the main highway. You could see the prison walls looming ahead. We pulled up the access road along the wall. As we rolled up the road, it became dark and dingy. I believe the prison was built in the 1800’s. It was one of the largest prisons built. It had gigantic, granite bricks. As a matter of fact, the yard had two large rock quarries inside the prison walls.
As we were rolling up, tears started streaming down my face. I was hoping the deputies wouldn’t see me crying; it was dark in the car, as well as outside. Looking back now, I’m pretty sure they saw the tears. Before you go judging me on that crying thing, remember: I was only 16 years-old went I went to that prison. The year was 1976. They dropped me off, I was taken into prison custody, and wound up in “Cell Block B”; four-tiers high, and MAN! I was in for the shock of my life!
To my surprise, they put me in an open-bar cell that looked a lot like a shower. The guard told me to strip down naked; he then threw a white powder substance all over my body. I found out later, it was to kill lice, bugs, and all types of other stuff. The guard took my clothes, although I got to keep my shoes. He then handed me some blue-Jean prison garb. He leaves, and I’m left standing around in the cell, the new guy being gawked at by the other prisoners because of how young I was.
I was waiting on the guard to come back and assign me a cell, as was happening with the other new arrivals, when a big black guy came up and tried to intimidate me. I won’t go into graphic detail, but let’s just say he was wanting to sexually assault me. It’s funny; he was just talking smack, because weeks later, we got into a fight and he didn’t do jack! What he hadn’t realized was, I grew up in Chicago, fighting all the time. After that fight, I didn’t really have a problem during the rest of my time at St. Cloud Reformatory for men. I think I was the youngest guy in prison, at that time. There was another guy there, who was 17 years-old.
In St. Cloud, I really grew up. After orientation, they took me to another cell block, where I’d be living. This particular cell block was on the third tier, where I could lurk around, looking at the prisoners on the ground floor. There were about 200 inmates on either side. The cell block is a building within a building, so to speak. You could actually look out the windows of the tier I was on.
So, I see all these guys gathered up at the double-steel doors which allow you to go in and out of the cell block. There are more than a usual amount of people gathered, and it drew my attention. They have this gigantic picnic table, and a bunch of other stuff, barricading the steel doors. Needless to say, I was mesmerized. I realized I was in my first riot-right then and there!
When I came out of my self-induced coma, I saw they had taken the guards hostage, as well. There were guards on the other side of the double-steel doors, trying to push their way through. They were suited up in riot gear, and telling us over the load speaker to switch to our cells, which means, go into your cell. The next sentence I heard really got my attention:
“People will be shot.”
I wasn’t really sure if I was hearing what I was hearing. Surely, they ain’t gonna bring no guns in prison! Well, I was seriously wrong about that. The next thing I know, they were blazing through the doors with shotguns!
I was watching from a good distance away, so I wasn’t worried about being shot. That all changed when they made entry, with a quickness. The guards were shooting up the tiers, birdshot flying everywhere. You could hear it bouncing off of the all the steel in the building. This was the second time I’d been shot at, but this time it was in prison! I found myself under a bunk, shaking like a leaf!
Like I said before, I met a lot of accomplished crooks in the Feds. That was back from ‘75 to ‘85. When I entered the fed, it wasn’t like our state prison system; it was a lot more violent and dangerous. The reason I say that is, in the state prisons, people often “know” each other better. If they know you’ll fight, they’re less likely to try you. Usually, in the state-system, people have usually heard of you, or seen you in action.
In the federal system, I had a lot of adjustments to make. For one, the Feds will send you to another state, and you won’t get any visits. They have a unique way of separating you from your people. They’ll strip you down of your dignity and humiliate you. As you’re being transported across the country, you’ll feel hollow, lonesome, and lost, as they take you further and further away from your home.
Nowadays, the Feds have been taken over by gangs. It ain’t like it used to be. Back then, you could stand on your own and handle your business. I’ll give you an example: it happened in the early 90’s, when I was at Terre Haute. While we’re in the chow hall on a Wednesday, eating burgers, one guy killed another with a homemade knife. Then, he got another guy in the neck, and put him in the hospital for weeks.
The Feds today? The gang guys send four or five guys to go kill one dude. They might roll up on you, maybe try and get you to hit someone for them, or hold knives or other contraband. So, you have to adjust for things like that, because more than likely, you’ll be in an active joint. But it’s not just the convicts you have to watch for; you gotta watch out for the guards, too!
I remember when I was in Atlanta in 1997. The guards killed an inmate in a holding cell, while he was in “four-points”: arms outstretched and ankles stretched out and shackled, spread-eagle on a bed with rebar to chain and clamp the shackles to, so your hands cannot reach your body or mouth. The inmate was making noises, so the guard shut him up by sticking a towel in his mouth. The inmate later suffocated and died.
When the death was investigated, the officers got together and created a bogus cover-up story. Their official report stated the inmate had placed the towel in his own mouth, in order to commit suicide. This, in spite of the fact that the inmate couldn’t place anything in his own mouth, due to the “four-point” position and being shackled.
I don’t know if it was the circumstances of prison, because I was not scared. Had I been scared of prison life, I would’ve stayed out of prison. I was feeling homesick at the time, thinking back to 1976-1977-1978-1979; I should’ve been in school, not in prison. I was paroled in 1979 and went to a Christian halfway house. It was way cool; fine for about a month. Then-smash! I went ahead and did it: got drunk. I knew right then, I’d screwed up. In fact, I felt so bad about getting drunk, I left the halfway house and went to my sister’s place in the Twin Cities, St. Paul.
Leaving the halfway house made me a parole violator, and my status was now, “on the run”. The state would soon put a warrant out for my arrest. They didn’t apprehend me, however, because I’d already reached the East Side of St. Paul, where I could maintain a low profile at my sister’s house.
Good grief. Thereafter, I met up with my older brother, Chuck, whom I had not seen since we were in county jail together. At the time, he was in jail for a parole violation, while I was on my way to prison. Chuck was on parole a second time for bank robbery, and living in a halfway house when we met up.
One particular weekend, we decided to make some money by pulling off some robberies. Sunday nights aren’t the best for pulling robberies, as we would soon discover. Most of the desirable places to rob were closed, due to it being a Sunday night in 1979. We had other trouble as well: no car, which is a practical matter to work out, when committing robberies. We weren’t distracted or deterred by the circumstances, however; I was confident we would steal a car, when push came to pull.
And that we did. We found an auto body shop and broke in. Found the car we wanted, and a little cash we needed.
The weekend was up for my brother, Chuck; he would have to go back to the half way house. Instead, he decided not to go back, which automatically put him on parole violation status. Monday morning, there was a warrant out for his arrest.
It was the same Monday morning, when we finally hit. We robbed the bank early, and everything went as planned. We went over to Wisconsin to seek refuge, and partied down, hard. We ended up taking a flight to Reno, Nevada, and partied there, too.
We got away with the bank robbery, which was good and bad. I had escalated my career from small-time stores to robbing banks. I went from getting a couple of hundred dollars to taking $15k. We actually took over $30k from the bank, but after the split, it was $15k each. This was a substantial amount in 1979. Needless to say, I was hooked.
So, my brother and I get away with the bank job. We were both on escape status at this time. We took a flight to Reno, and partied for awhile. We ended up going back to Minnesota, nearly broke. We went over to our friend’s house where we had left our guns. This was a hangout spot-a party house.
Chuck hooked up with my sister’s babysitter, Barb. I liked Barb at the time, but she was too young to mess with. Chuck didn’t feel the same way I did. All good things come to an end.
My brother ended up getting busted a couple weeks later for the bank robbery. I was caught a couple of days later. I was given 16 years for the bank robbery, and a couple of years for something else. The judge had recommended that I only do 48 months of that sentence. I think he felt sorry for me, as skinny and runty that I looked. I was 20, but looked like I was about 16. My brother was 31 years old, and I think the judge felt like he had influenced me. It was really the other way around; I influenced him in the robbery.
They always told me as a youngster, and as a kid in-and-out of juvenile, I’d end up in prison. In the juvenile detention center, they had boxing gear, and they made you fight other kids. I guess that was a good thing; when I was eventually tried as an adult, it came in handy. I was able to take care of myself.
Anyway, I graduated to the federal system when I was 20. That was a new experience. I ran into all kinds of accomplished criminals. Bank robbers, armored car robbers, extortionists, kingpin drug dealers, and mobsters. I found myself idolizing these older criminals, and thought I was in gangster heaven. Some of the guys looked out for me; they liked me for all the robberies I’d pulled, and being shot at by the feds. I guess I was accepted by them. Eventually, after five years, I was released.
No sooner had I arrived at the halfway house, I got myself a pistol. Old habits die hard. I ended up running into Barb at my sister’s place. She used to date a friend of mine, and they had a baby named Rachel. She was a cute, little girl who I fell in love with, and took into my heart as my own daughter. Eventually, I got out of the halfway house, and Barb and I moved into an apartment in the same complex as my sister.
At that period of my life, I was content. I had a ready-made family. I needed someone to love and provide for, and they needed someone to love and care for them. Rachel was a pretty good kid growing up. Barb and I were married about a year after my release from the halfway house. She was pregnant with our son, Clyde Jr. I was high on happiness when he came into this world.
I loved Barb and the kids, and I still do. The trouble was, I never grew up, mentally. I didn’t know how to be a father. I was intimidated by the responsibility of family life, even though I did-and still do- love them. Yet, I could not stay out of prison. It was a twisted way of giving up on myself, on responsibility, on life itself.
I went back to prison in 1987. I’d betrayed the family by not being a real parent. But there’s more. I did about 16 years, got out in 2004, and stayed out for a whole year. I got to see my kids all grown up, and even my grandkids, since my kids had kids of their own.
It’s very clear to me now: I used to give up on myself, and any responsibility. My way out was prison.