21 May, 2011

Alive

When I posted about my mother, I got many comments and e-mails about what a class act she is.  I certainly am biased, but I couldn't agree more.

One of the things that I respect so much about my mother is that during the eight years my father was away from us as children, she thought it was of paramount importance that she "kept him alive" in our minds.  We only saw our father a couple times a year, and we only spoke to him on the phone every Sunday night. My mother thought that wasn't enough time for us to really know him.  She was adamant that his family was not going to forget about him just because he was in prison.

I remember that my mother always sent him copies of our report cards and had us write notes about our favorite subjects and what we were learning that grading period.  He was always so proud that his girls were straight A students.

At Christmastime, when my mother got our pictures taken with Santa, she had us write something to Daddy on the pictures.  In wobbly, five year-old penmanship, I wrote on one of them, "Daddy we love you from your two little girls".

Mama always wanted us to know what Daddy was like as a person.  She told us stories about him over and over again.  Every time she told us the same story, it felt like it was the first time I ever heard it.  My favorite story was that Daddy bought most of his impoverished senior class their class rings.  I loved his benevolence.  Even the FBI has commented on my father's generosity.

Whenever a movie came on television that my father liked, my mother got us all excited for one of Daddy's movies.   I can't tell you how many times I watched "King Kong."  Daddy loved it, so I sat through it with a smile on my face.  My father loved the brute strength of the giant gorilla, so I loved it too.

Daddy's favorite song was Jim Croce's "Bad, Bad, Leroy Brown."  My father loved it that Leroy was so tough, but it the end, he wasn't as tough as he thought he was.  Every time that song came on the radio, my mother announced that it was "Daddy's song", and I hung on every word of it.  It is still my favorite song, and whenever I hear it, I can't wipe the smile off my face.

My mother is stricken with Alzheimer's Disease now, and barely remembers my father.  My family and I tell her stories about him all the time to try to keep him alive in her memory.  Daddy is so important in our lives that all of us refuse to let him die in each other's mind.


15 May, 2011

Teasing

My mother always made sure we had the best of everything so that no one would look down on us because our father was in prison.  She grew up in an impoverished household, and she said she didn't want us to experience the same humiliation she did at the hands of other children.

All of our clothes were from Saks, and every year Amie and I had new real fur coats to wear to school.  We looked beautiful, but we just wanted to be normal.  Finally, after months of begging, my mother let us wear jeans to school like our friends did. 

As much as my mother tried, she couldn't protect us from everyone.  Our backyard neighbors had a son, Scotty, who was relentless about teasing us.  It seemed like every time I went in the back yard, he had something cruel to say, but I never said anything back to him.  One day I couldn't take it anymore.  Amie and I were in the backyard and Scotty yelled over the fence separating our yards,  "Your father's in prison!" 

My retort was absolutely classic:  "Yeah, well YOUR father had a vasectomy!"  I had no idea what that meant, but it was the first thing that popped into my little head to defend myself and my daddy.  My mother and grandmother laughed hysterically when I ran into the house and told them what happened.  Sure, my response to Scotty was nonsensical, but he didn't say another word to me for years after that.

Scotty's silence was broken many years later in the parking lot of the mall.  He asked as I walked by him,  "Is your dad still counting his stolen money?"

My retort was a little wittier than the last time we interacted.  I looked him straight in the eye and said,  "He sure is, and today he counted more money than your worthless father will see in his entire life!"

That was, officially, the last time Scotty ever harassed me.

The situation with Scotty was the only time I recall that my feelings were  hurt by a child's remarks about my father.  All of the other children knew our family's situation, but none of them seemed to care.  I was a popular young child at school and my father was never mentioned by my friends.

The adults, however, were quite a different story.  My second grade homeroom teacher had plenty to say about my father.  One day she was standing about five feet from me, and I heard her her say to the music teacher,  "That girl with the long hair is Amil Dinsio's daughter.  When I looked at my class list for this year and saw that I had the bank burglar's daughter, I nearly died!"  She had to realize I could hear her.

I swear, I could feel a dagger go through my heart as the hot tears welled up in my eyes.

That was the day I discovered that those who should know better are often the cruelest of all.

09 May, 2011

Mama

I, quite proudly, come from a line of extremely strong women. 

Amie read my last post and wrote to me,  "Wasn't Mom amazing?" 

Mama was only thirty-four years old when her brother was arrested in June of 1972 for conspiracy in the commission of the greatest bank burglary in American history.  She immediately flew to California to help him with bondsmen and lawyers.  My father, his brother, and two of their nephews, all part of my father's crew, were arrested while she was out there.  My father and Uncle James were extradited to California, so she had to care for them as well.  To say that she had an incredible amount of responsibility on her young shoulders doesn't even begin to do justice to my mother's situation.

Mama said that the FBI harassed her constantly because they wanted her to testify against my father.  At the time, the law was that a person could not be compelled to testify against a spouse.  Mama said the feds tried "every trick in the book", and even told her that my father had numerous girlfriends.  As much as that must have hurt and infuriated her, my mother remained loyal to my father.

According to my mother, every time she walked out of her rented apartment in Los Angeles, she was slapped with a subpoena to testify in front of the federal grand jury.  Every time she testified, she invoked spousal immunity and her Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination.  In other words, she told the feds nothing.

But that didn't stop the subpoenas.  The last time she was called as a witness before the grand jury, she took on the feds full force. 

She again invoked spousal immunity and "the Fifth".  The grand jury then ordered her to give them her fingerprints.  She asked them why, and they refused to tell her.  Her response was, "Then I'm not giving them to you.  My first husband was in the military, so the government has my fingerprints.  If you want them,  you get them yourselves."

The judge told her she would be held in contempt of court and go to jail if she didn't give her fingerprints.  She told him to do what he had to do.  He recessed for the day and told her to think about it overnight.

When my mother arrived at court the following morning, she was wearing a skirt suit.  One of the feds in the hallway approached her and said, "I see by the way you're dressed that you've decided to give us your fingerprints." 

She replied, "No, I'm just not familiar with proper jail attire."

The judged took the bench and called my mother to the front of the courtroom.  He asked her if she would give her fingerprints as the grand jury ordered her.  Mama told the judge,  "Your Honor, I respectfully refuse."

The federal marshals jumped up and handcuffed her.

Mama's attorney jumped up and asked that she be allowed to remain out on bond until the matter could be appealed.  The judge granted her attorney's request.

My mother beat the feds, won her appeal, and literally changed the law of the land.  For about a year, the law stated that the grand jury could not order a person to give his or her fingerprints without giving the reason the fingerprints were needed.

And it was all because a thirty-four year-old, one hundred-pound woman felt so harassed that she did what most people would be terrified to do:  She took on the entire federal government.

Indeed, Mom was amazing.

06 May, 2011

Terror

Friday, May 6, 2011 

My mother grabbed the gun under her pillow, pushed me on the floor, and threw herself over my five year-old body.  When the gunshots outside stopped, she did a sort of soldier's crawl to the top of the steps, never letting go of me.  With absolute horror in her voice, she yelled down to her mother,  "Mama! Mama!  Are you and Amie alright?"  Grandma yelled back that they were fine.  Grandma had her body over Amie's tiny body.

Amie was scared and crying, and both my mother and grandmother were visibly upset.  I was emotionless.

We never did find out why there were gunshots outside our house that night, but I knew that every second of every day, my mother lived in incomprehensible terror.

She had learned that there was a plot to kidnap her children.  As I've said before, my mother believed that we had to learn to deal with our lives, and she kept very little, if anything, from us.  We knew that a man named Spider wanted to kidnap us because the feds said we had 30 million dollars hidden away.

We lived one block from the school, but we couldn't walk to school with our friends, and we couldn't play outside.  I remember my mother trying to explain it to me because I was crying about being locked in what seemed like a prison to me.  I childishly told her, "I don't care if Spider kidnaps me!  I want to play outside!" 

Mama tried to make me understand that she didn't have the money to get me back if anyone ever took me.  I told her I didn't care if I came back; I just wanted to play with my friends.  With genuine compassion, she told me that she knew I didn't understand then why it had to be that way, but someday I would understand.

Prior to the night of the gunshots, I slept with my mother in her bed, and Amie slept with my grandmother.  After that night, my mother had us all sleep in the living room together.  Grandma slept on the couch, Mama slept on the love seat, and Amie and I slept in sleeping bags in the living room.  And it was all because of Spider.

It was on that living room floor that one of the most terrifying events of my entire life happened to me.  I must have been dreaming, but it was so real to me.  I heard the front door of our house open, and Spider (whom I had never even seen) was standing there.  I literally leapt out of my sleeping bag on the floor and jumped on my mother on the love seat.  I was sobbing hysterically and I kept screaming, "Spider!"  over and over again.  Mama held me and tried to tell me I was dreaming, but I still sobbed hysterically and screamed that awful name.  When I calmed down, I noticed that Grandma had Amie, and my mother had her gun.

In my memory, it seems like it wasn't long after that night of terror that my mother got a phone call that the news was reporting that Spider had been murdered outside his home.  I remember my mother telling my grandmother the news, and I remember my grandmother's response:  "Oh, thank you, God."

It was one of the happiest days of my life.

04 May, 2011

Happiness, Part II

We sat on Daddy's lap for about the first hour of visiting at Leavenworth and told him everything we had been doing in our little lives.

I remember telling him that someone spray-painted F-U-C-K on the wall  of the school.  His voice got stern and he looked me right in the eyes and told me to never, ever say that word.  He said that it was a very bad word and that ladies never said that word.  He told me that I was too pretty and too smart to ever have that word come out of my mouth.

We played card games with our father, and to this day, he still laughs about them.  Our favorite game to play was "Old Maid".  He obligatorily let us win a few times in a row and then he started winning.  We didn't like that at all, so we took a break.  During our break, Amie and I put a tiny smear of chocolate on the old maid card so that we would know not to pick it. 

Of course, he noticed it, but he let us think we got him.  After every game, he asked, "Now how did I end up with that Old Maid again?"  Amie and I giggled and giggled thinking we pulled one over on the country's best bank burglar.

I would go to the bathroom and get paper towels and Daddy wrote math problems on them.  When I completed them correctly, I could see the pride in his eyes.  He always thought I was the smartest little girl he had ever seen.  He still does.

I've been to many prisons since Leavenworth, and I've become a decent prison food critic.  Leavenworth had the best lunches ever because they would order from KFC (back when it was still Kentucky Fried Chicken).  A guard (or c.o., as the inmates call them) walked around to each table like a waiter and took our chicken order and collected our money. 

There also were vending machines for snacks and pop in the visiting room.  Amie and I played all over the visiting room with the other children who thought this was a normal vacation.  On one occasion, Amie and I decided to try to get one of our dolls into the vending machine, so we pushed her up the tiny opening where the pop cans came out on old vending machines.  Of course, she got stuck.  We pulled and pulled, but only managed to get her body out.  Her head was still in the pop machine. 

The guard couldn't get the doll's head out, so he called my father.  In a couple seconds, the man who blasted through bank vaults pulled a doll's head out of a pop machine.  My daddy could do anything!

When the fifth, and last, day of visiting rolled around, it was a sad one, especially as the clock got closer to 3:00.  We hung onto our father for dear life. 

Finally, it was time to leave him again.  We told him we loved him through our tears.  He told us he loved us, and he always told us to be good little girls for our mother.  Daddy tried to comfort us by telling us that everything would be alright soon.

We nodded our heads, but we knew better.
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01 May, 2011

Happiness


I get misty-eyed as I look at the picture of the federal prison at Leavenworth, but the would-be tears aren't ones of sadness; rather, they are ones of happiness.

I know this sounds strange to adults who never experienced this as a child, but Leavenworth was a place of happiness for me.  Even as I write this, I have a smile on my face thinking of the happiness this building held for me.

When we visited my father, we stayed at one of the two hotels in town, the Ramada Inn or the Cody Hotel.  Amie and I preferred the Ramada, so my mother always tried to book our rooms there.  They had breakfast at the hotel and we even got to jump on the beds for a few minutes!

A bus would come to take almost all of the hotel's guests to the prison (because the prison was the only reason anyone was there), but we never rode in the bus.  My mother always called for a taxi , and when the taxi came, she always said the same thing, "We are going to the federal penitentiary."  She never used the word "prison"; she thought it sounded pedestrian.

We were always dressed to the nines.  We visited for five days, and my mother wore a suit each day, and each day Amie and I wore $100 outfits.  She said my father liked to show us off to his friends and she didn't want to embarrass him by not looking the best that we possibly could.  All of that really does matter in the prison world.

When the taxi pulled into the circular driveway of the prison and passed all the guards holding guns, I always thought the same thing:  The building was the most beautiful and majestic one I had ever seen, even in books and magazines.

As soon as we walked into the building, we went to a tiny window where my mother showed her driver's license and our birth certificates.  Then we went into a small room where we sat and waited with all the other visitors for what seemed like hours.  Finally, we heard it over the loudspeaker in the corner of the room:  "Visit for Dinsio." 

We jumped up and went to barred, sliding prison doors, just like the ones you see on television.  We could hear them unlock (by the way, that's what "the sound" is in between scenes on "Law and Order"; anyone who has ever heard that sound would recognize it anywhere), and then we walked through a metal detector and through another set of prison doors into the visiting room.

The visiting room was a long room with rows of orange and green padded seats (it WAS the 1970's) against each of the long walls, with a small table placed in front of every fourth or fifth seat.  On the other side of that table was a green or orange chair that was for the inmate.

The inmates came out of a door at the end of the visiting room.  My tiny heart would beat faster every time the door opened.  Then my tiny heart would sink.  Finally, the door would open, and it was my daddy!  My sister and I always screamed, "Daddy!" and  took off running down the floor of the long room into his waiting arms. 

Everything in the whole world was suddenly good.

16 April, 2011

Guilty

She made eye contact with me through her tears as she walked from the jury room into the courtroom.

When my mother saw it, I heard her say to my grandmother next to her, "The juror is crying.  They've found him guilty."

My father stood and the verdict was read.  Guilty.

To Amie and me, all we understood was that Daddy wouldn't be flying back on the plane with us to Ohio.  We had no idea the impact that one little word would have on the rest of our lives.

I remember an incredibly compassionate federal marshal allowing Amie and me to see our father in the holding cell that day after the verdict.  In retrospect, I realize that the cell was dark and dingy, and it smelled of prisoners.  The smell of prisoners is one that I can't describe exactly, but it's a stench of body odor, sweat, and backed-up toilets, mixed with the scent of utter despair.  If you ever smell it, you'll know what I mean.

When Amie and I walked into the holding cell, my father, still dressed in his suit, was sitting on a chair.  He balanced us on each of his knees.  He explained that we should not be upset or sad because everything would be alright and he would be coming home soon.  He told us how much he loved us, and for us to be good little girls for our mother.

My father was sentenced to twenty years in prison, and he spent almost all of his time (just over eight years) in the federal penitentiary at Leavenworth, Kansas.  His inmate number was 30826-138, and as long as I live, or until Alzheimer's robs the crevices of my brain, I'll never forget the address for the prison:  Box 1000, Leavenworth, Kansas 66048.

I could never forget that address because I wrote it on a seemingly endless stream of envelopes of letters that all started out, "Dear Daddy, When are you coming home?"

My father kept all the letters and I still have them today.  I cherish them.  They are the memoirs of a little girl dealing with her traumatic childhood that she had yet to realize was traumatic. 

My five year-old hand penned letters expressing my hatred for the FBI. In one of my favorite letters, I tell my father, "We don't want no more stinky F.B.I.s!"  (Do I need to include [sic] when quoting from a five year-old's letters?)  Another of my favorite letters says, "They say you and Uncle Chuck and Uncle James robbed a bank but they lie." 

Was I a little girl who was totally and unabashedly in love with her father and who believed he could do no wrong? 

I have to plead guilty.

13 March, 2011

Dreams

This blog is so much harder to write than I thought it would be. I thought I dealt quite well with my father's life until I started this blog.

Tears are streaming down my face right now as my little girl memories come flooding back to me.

The most painful memories for me surround Christmas. The memories aren't painful because I missed Christmas with my father, but they are painful because of something my father did to try to ease the holiday season for us. Every year he would write in a letter, "Maybe you'll find me under the tree on Christmas morning."

Every year, I told my mother what he had written, and every year she said, "Your father is NOT going to be here Christmas morning."

It didn't matter what she said. Every Christmas morning I ran to the tree and expected to find him there. All I ever found was hundreds of dollars worth of perfectly wrapped presents from Santa. Why was Santa so cruel?

I also remember a little girl playing in the yard looking at airplanes up in the sky and thinking that they were bringing my daddy home. I even waved to my daddy on the planes and yelled to the sky how much I loved him. I knew better, but little girls need to pretend.

My heart breaks when I think of a little girl that hated the FBI. We grew up knowing that our phones were bugged. More times than I'll ever admit, I picked up the phone, heard the dial tone, and told the interloping FBI how much I hated them for taking my daddy away from me. Didn't they know how much I wanted him home?

And I won't even get started on how many times the little girl stared at the sky praying to see a shooting star.

07 January, 2011

Taken

One of my very first memories in life is of the FBI searching our house in June of 1972. I was three years-old.

My eighteen year-old sister, Debbie, was there and my two year-old sister, Amie, was there. Our maternal grandmother, who helped raise us, was there. Her son, Chuck Mulligan, was part of my father's crew. He had already been arrested and was in the Los Angeles County Jail. My mother was in California with him. My father was a fugitive.

To my three year-old eyes, it seemed like a hundred federal agents swarmed my home. They weren't mean to us at all, but were very stern and made us all stay in one room. We all sat in the living room, speechless for the most part, and watched while every centimeter of our once secure home was invaded.

I don't know how long it took them to search the house, but it seemed like we sat in one spot all day.

When the search was over and the feds were leaving, they turned to my grandmother and told her they found a $20 bill from the burglarized United California Bank in her purse. She was silent.

The FBI left our home and my grandmother said, "I better go get dressed. They'll be back to arrest me."

Grandma wasn't quite ready when the feds were back with an arrest warrant for her. She asked them if she could put on her pantyhose, and they allowed her to go back to her room to accomplish that last detail.

She came back into the living room and said to the agents, "Okay, we can go now."

Then Amie started screaming. Grandma was her security, the person she loved most in the world, and she was afraid she would never see her again.

Debbie held Amie and tried to comfort her. Grandma, from across the room, explained to Amie that everything would be alright and that she would be back soon.

When Amie had calmed down, the two agents and my grandmother walked towards the front door. Before they walked out the door, Grandma turned, looked at Debbie, and said, "You tell everyone to keep their mouths shut because I can handle anything the FBI can do to me."

I sat on the couch, motionless and speechless, throughout the whole event, and just watched it unfold.

My mother called a few hours later and I answered the phone. The first words out of my three year-old mouth were, "Mommy, the FBI arrested Grandma."

My mother's response, like the rest of the day's events, is burned in my memory: "I know, Honey. We got her a bondsman and she'll be home tonight." I didn't know what a bondsman was, but I knew Grandma would be home.

And Grandma was home that night. Eventually, the charges against her were dismissed.

Grandma was an incredibly strong woman and her arrest and time spent in the holding cell of the Mahoning County Jail didn't upset her one bit. In fact, until the day Alzheimer's Disease took that memory from her, it remained one of the highlights of her life.

02 January, 2011

Normalcy

"Mommy, why are there men with guns on the roof over there?"

My mother pulled no punches with her answer, despite the fact that she was holding the hands of her just barely four and three year-old daughters: "They're for your father."

I remember the whole thing so clearly. We were entering the federal courthouse in Los Angeles when I looked up and saw the sharpshooters.

"Why are they going to shoot Daddy? Will he be dead?"

My mother answered just as calmly as I had asked my questions, "They're not going to shoot him. They're only there in case he tries to escape and he's not going to try to escape."

And that was it. There was no crying, no drama. Sharpshooters on rooftops with instructions to kill my father were just part of my four year-old life.

Everything was like that. Nothing was kept from my sister and me, despite our tender ages. My mother firmly believed that this was our life and we needed to learn to deal with it.

And we did deal with it. We thought everyone lived the way we did. Every child watched the nightly news and pointed to the television screen while excitedly shouting, "Look! There's Daddy!"

We knew we were in Los Angeles because the FBI said Daddy stole money from a bank. We knew that if a bunch of people said he did it, then he wouldn't be coming home. My sister, Amie, and I knew the words "guilty" and "not guilty", and we knew that "not guilty" was the good one.

But children, even those living in dysfunctional situations, are still children. We loved Daddy, but what we really cared about was when we would go to "Knott's Berry Farm" again.

01 January, 2011

Life

The FBI calls him the greatest bank burglar in American history. I just call him Dad.

According to the FBI, my father, Amil Dinsio, has committed hundreds of bank burglaries throughout the United States, beginning in the 1960's. The most popular of those bank burglaries was in 1972 at the United California Bank in Laguna Niguel, California. The burglary has achieved quite a bit of notoriety and is the subject of several books and television documentaries. The feds say the burglary netted 30 million dollars. My father says they're "full of shit" and it was one of his worst scores ever.

For as long as I can remember, people have been telling me I should write about him and my experiences as his daughter. So many people find it fascinating, but it's so hard for me to understand that anyone would find this interesting; it's just life to me.

So, at forty-two years old, I'm finally writing about my seventy-four year old thieving, sociopathic, loving father. I know "loving" doesn't seem to fit in with "thieving" and "sociopathic", but that's one of the reasons I started this blog. I want people to know about the REAL Amil Dinsio. Yes, he is a sociopath and a bank burglar; and yes, he is a loving, gentle, compassionate human being. The two concepts can, and do, exist in the same man.

In this blog, I intend to tell both sides of the character of the man who gave me life. I intend to write about our home life, his crimes, and the unique experience of being the daughter of one of America's most notorious burglars.