Stickup Kid

View film


Caitlin McNally


ALONZA THOMAS: Here’s a glimpse into my past

To help you better understand

It was mistakes that brought me to this place

Where they degrade men

And hands I would trade because it made me a slave

Bondage and a cage frustration I’m enraged

This was my last resort I ain’t no stickup kid

On my last Newport no place to live

Here’s a glimpse into my past to help you better understand

Everything that I am not makes me who I am

ALONZA THOMAS: I was 16. I just turned 16. They had cages like they would have at the zoo but they were sectioned off, right. And there were guys filled with them at capacity. I was just like, “Ya know, I am not one of them. I do not belong here. I do not want to be here. I wanna go home. I have thirteen years.” I don’t know if I could do it. I don’t if I could wake up every day. Look at the same wall every day. Like, about six months in, I gave up. I’m not scared to admit. I can’t handle prison. I’m not that strong.

ALONZA THOMAS: I wasn’t a hellion or nothing like that, or just like the worst kid. But I got in trouble a little bit.

My mom was mad at me. So I run away. I met somebody. I went to his apartment. They talked to me, asked me questions. Did I want to stay there for a little while. I could stay there for a couple of days. They cooked me food, they fed me.

I thought, “You know what? I’m just gonna try to go home.” He said, “You’re going home?” So he left and went in the room. But when he came back out, he came back out with a gun. And he said, “You think you’re gonna eat my food for free? Live in my house and just walk out? And things that come free like that? No, nothing’s free.” He said, “No, you’re gonna have to rob this store.”

The way he made it sound like was this: “If you do it for me and you do it successfully, I’ll probably even give you some of the money. But you’re gonna do this for me.”

ALONZA THOMAS: It was a Fastrip gas station.

ALONZA THOMAS: I remember seeing gangster movies, “Menace II Society,” “Boyz n the Hood,” where they had guns. And all those movies, when they pulled their gun out, they held it like this. So that’s what I did. I put my gun to the guy’s chest, and I said empty up.

NASSRI JABER, Fastrip owner: I hit my hand down like that. The gun went off -- smoke, commotion. No customers in the store.

ALONZA THOMAS: When the gun went off, it snapped me to attention, I was like vacate the premises. So I tried to run. The store clerks hopped on top of me and started beating me.

ALONZA THOMAS: I said, “God if you get me out of this, I swear I’ll be good. I swear. You have my word. Get me out of this and I’ll be a good boy. I promise. Amen.”

NASSRI JABER: And then we held him at gunpoint until the cops came. You have a lot of adrenaline running through you at the time, so you’re not really thinking till after, and then it all started sinking in that this is really, um, uh, a kid.

REPORTER: Alarming news reports describing teens as time bombs and superpredators.

PETE WILSON: Youth is no excuse for committing murder, rape, robbery, home invasions or for terrorizing entire neighborhoods.

REPORTER: Proponents argue stern measures are necessary to combat rising youth crime

ED JAGELS, Kern County D.A.: Many of the worst super predators were juveniles and they were being referred to a system that was created to handle bad boys. We were walking around basically unarmed in terms of our penal statutes when it came to juveniles. And that is why Proposition 21 came about.

JIM LEHRER: In California, a zero tolerance youth crime initiative is on the March 7 ballot.

REPORTER: Opponents say the measure would sweep more youth into the criminal justice system in a state that already locks up more kids per capita than any other...

ED JAGELS: These crimes are dangerous. What people have to remember is that a lot of people out there who were trying to make a living, have a right not to be terrified. And their right, frankly, trumps and ex post facto sob story.

H.A. SALA, Alonza’s defense attorney: Alonza Thomas was the first minor tried as an adult under Prop 21 in Kern County.

CAITLIN McNALLY: Was Alonza a juvenile superpredator?

H.A. SALA: Absolutely not. Absolutely not.

It surprised me why the prosecutor would file it in adult court because the robbery was botched and it was botched because he was a fifteen-year-old youngster. Many minors are impacted by adults. They’re impacted and influenced to do things they wouldn’t ordinarily do, and that needs to be taken into consideration. When you’re 14 or 15 years old, even if you commit a violent felony, the potential is great for rehabilitation. I don’t think that in most cases it’s appropriate to process a fourteen-year-old, a fifteen-year-old through the adult system unless it’s merited. Sometimes it is. Most of the time it’s not.

JANICE VENUS-RAMOS: He did the crime, and he had to be held accountable. But to be tried as an adult? You have this young man that you- that didn't have one blemish on his record, sent away as an adult- tried as an adult. Why?

ALONZA THOMAS: If I would have been more brave or a little bit more determined to-to not go into that store, maybe I could have did something different, you know? But I was just so scared. I thought I had no other choice.

ED JAGELS: It would be inconceivable for us and for most prosecutors in California not to direct file in superior court robbery with the use of a firearm. Uh, that particular crime is the most dangerous crime that there is absent a homicide itself. We either treat people who commit that kind of crime very seriously in order to protect people like his victims or we don’t. There’s no middle ground.

ALONZA THOMAS: They dropped two counts of armed robbery and they charged me one count of armed robbery—second degree robbery. So all together, they gave me 13 years.

JANICE VENUS-RAMOS: I remember looking at him and he looked so innocent. And I hugged him and I kissed him, and I said, I love you. And they walked him out.

ALONZA THOMAS: Every time you go somewhere out of your cell, you go to a cage. Sometimes the cages are half the size of a phone booth. So, you can’t move your elbows even

And then when you leave that cage, they cuff you up and take you back to another cage. You’re just always from cage to cage.

There’s a big wall on 4b. When I got there and I saw that wall, it was like, just me against this wall you know. I don’t know if I could do it.

ALONZA THOMAS: The whole building was yelling, kicking on the door. Man down, he’s hanging. He’s hanging, man down, he’s hanging, we have a hanger. So some time went by. They brought him out. Everyone already knows he’s dead. And he never came back. I thought, “That’s going to be me in a couple years. I’m going to lose my mind. I’m not going to be able to take it. I’m going to have to check out.”

MICHAEL BIEN: I am writing concerned about my future here in CDCR and my life in general. I’m not trying to be funny, but I feel that I'm humpty dumpty. I guess you could say I had a big fall. I committed a robbery that got me locked up. I honestly feel all the psychologists, psychiatrists, counselors, officers can't help me. They can't put me back together again. I need you, badly. And it's signed, sincerely, a young man crying out for help. Alonza Thomas.

MICHAEL BIEN, Attorney representing Alonza: The idea of a sixteen-year-old going to a California men's prison is beyond my comprehension. It is an extremely, dangerous, complicated place. It is a place where you have very few systems of support, very few systems of protection. So here's a young man who was put into this terrible environment with a long sentence in front of him. And very little ability to cope.

One way that the system encourages people like Alonza -- who are vulnerable, who are young -- to cope, is to go into segregation. They literally encourage you to go into solitary confinement for protection. And once you're in segregation, things just spiral out of control.

ALONZA THOMAS: I overdosed. Swallowed, like, three hundred pills, two hundred fifty pills. I would cut myself. Sometimes I would be curled up in the corner for weeks not eating. Just crying, shaking and stuff. I would just lose it, you know. I would just lose it. I would just sit down and talk to people like they were sitting right there with me. I would have full conversations. I would answer their questions and I’d answer my questions. I would have full conversations, you know. It might sound crazy, but whatever works. Being in a room for twenty-three hours a day is crazy.

JANICE VENUS-RAMOS: How was it seeing him? It was awful. Shackles on his hands and feet. He was in isolation for so long he didn't have a color. He was gray. What did I do? I smiled. I'm glad I was able to make it this weekend. How are you doing? He smiled as well, and we talked. And we ignored the obvious.

H.A. SALA: What happens is when you send them to state prison at that young age, they come out of prison an entirely different person. We should think about what we are doing to our young people, even if they have committed a violent or serious felony at the age of fourteen, fifteen, what we’re doing to them by sending them to adult prison like this county did to Alonza Thomas.

ED JAGELS: He was punished, he was taken off the streets at- during the time period when he was most likely to commit another crime. You can’t afford to spend an inordinate amount of time feeling sorry for people, no matter how young, who are willing to commit crimes.

ALONZA THOMAS: Before I got out I was in a cage and I was talking to a doctor and I was in a little cage, probably about the size of this chair, and the doctor said, “Well what are you worried about, you should be happy, you’re going home.” And I said, “This right here, this cage, me sitting in this cage, it feels safe to me, this feels safe, this feels comfortable, this feels normal. But when I’m out there and I can’t touch these walls, I can’t pace back and forth and be in my own little world. Really what it means to me is, I’m institutionalized.”

ALONZA THOMAS: What house is it?

JANICE VENUS-RAMOS: This is not our house.

PHILLIP THOMAS: It’s that one, over there.

ALONZA THOMAS: After thirteen years, it was over.

UNCLE RONNIE: I missed you.


UNCLE RONNIE: I missed you. I hated when they separated us, man.


UNCLE RONNIE: You alright?

ALONZA THOMAS: Yeah, I’m alright.

PHILLIP THOMAS: We just crossed over it. Our old house, 316, is just right down the street.

ALONZA THOMAS: What you all got to eat up in here?

JANICE VENUS-RAMOS: Okay, this is one of the things Alonza asked for when he come home.

ALONZA THOMAS: For 13 years they waited

JANICE VENUS-RAMOS: He wanted some shrimp so I’m gonna cook him some shrimp. If it doesn’t sizzle when you drop it in, you’re doing it wrong.

ALONZA THOMAS: Inside, I’m still that same 15-year-old.


ALONZA THOMAS: They didn’t care what prison did to me. I’m still the same person

JANICE VENUS-RAMOS: Come on, we’ll eat this meal together. This is Jubee’s first … come on, get one Phillip.

PHILLIP THOMAS, Alonza’s younger brother: It was the greatest moment, the greatest feeling of my life to see him again. You’ve been-you’ve been really waiting for the moment like forever.

I honestly don’t remember the first time I heard that he was going to be gone for that long. I was really young. I was probably like 10, 11 years old.

It was just different not having him around. Not being able to talk about football and just do that type of stuff. I ended up playing football at Bakersfield High and it would have been cool for him to see me play there or play in college.

JANICE VENUS-RAMOS: Phillip was very successful. He broke records. Unanimous all American. First one in the history of uh Fresno State to receive that award. Can you imagine the joy Alonza must have felt, seeing, that's my brother.

ALONZA THOMAS: I had stacks- stacks of-of articles, of highlights, of-of interviews, pictures, everything. If I’d stacked it up page by page, it probably would have went up in the air about five or six feet. I knew he was going to make it to NFL, and um there’s no doubt in my mind. There was none.

RICH EISEN: My name is Rich Eisen, pleased that you are with us for rounds 4 through 7 for a draft that might have its best value go today…

PHILLIP THOMAS: I was projected to go at a certain spot, I was projected to be, like, a second round pick or whatever.

PATRICK THOMAS, Alonza’s older brother: By the third round, you know, we were all feeling like, uh, I don’t know. And we didn’t know, you know, how to really feel. And my step dad Dimos he was like, you know, “Let me watch a little more. You know, get it out my system.” Okay, like, not even 10 seconds after he said that he starts screaming, “Woo, woo.”

I started screaming I said, “Woo,” and I took off running.

That was a great day.

ALONZA THOMAS: The nurse came by and I’m like, “um nurse can you do me a favor, I have a little brother here at the draft this year, and I want to know where he went in the draft. Or did he get drafted?” She goes, “What’s his name?” So I told her his name and she left and about 20 minutes later she came back and she goes, “Washington Redskins.” I said, “Washington Redskins, alright.” I could dig it. That could be my team now, you know.

PHILLIP THOMAS: He hasn't seen me play a game ever. I think he said he looked up my highlights before but it's not the same. I just really can't wait for him to be able to come and finally see what his little bro can do.

JANICE VENUS-RAMOS: Your number should be at the top.

ALONZA THOMAS: It’s right there.

JANICE VENUS-RAMOS: See, your number’s at the top. That’s where mine is. You callin’ yourself?

ALONZA THOMAS: I’m calling her.

ALONZA THOMAS: It’s an adjustment. It’s a learning experience. I have to deprogram myself.



CLERK: Hi, I’m Valerie Rangel.

ALONZA THOMAS: I’m Alonza Thomas, Jr.

CLERK: Alonzo?


CLERK: Alonza Thomas Jr. And do you have your application with you?

ALONZA THOMAS: I have to adjust to being free you know

CLERK: So are you working at all?

ALONZA THOMAS: No, not working.

CLERK: You were just recently released, is that correct?

ALONZA THOMAS: Yes, I did thirteen years. I got released two and a half weeks ago.

ALONZA THOMAS: I don’t know what it feels like to have a job. Never had a job before. I never been to the prom, or on a date. Never driven a car.

I’m learning things at 28 I should have learned at 15.

ALONZA THOMAS: So what do I do?

PATRICK THOMAS: Put your foot on the brake.

ALONZA THOMAS: Foot’s on the brake.

PATRICK THOMAS: Start the car. Keep your foot on the brake.

ALONZA THOMAS: Foot’s on the brake.

PATRICK THOMAS: Put it in reverse. Do not take your foot … now, you ease your foot off. Make sure nobody’s around you.

ALONZA THOMAS: Where’s, uh, where’s it say it at?



ALONZA THOMAS: Every little accomplishment that I make, I’m one step closer to getting my life back, you know. Learning how to drive is one step closer to regaining my childhood that I lost. Or regaining my manhood I never had.

CAITLIN McNALLY: Does he deserve a second chance now?

ED JAGELS: He did his time. He deserves to be treated like any other citizen. He deserves to be treated fairly and be given a fair chance.

TEACHER: When you first decided to create your own histogram, what did you have in common?

STUDENT: Years in prison

TEACHER: Years in prison. Something we all have in common.

ED JAGELS: He doesn’t deserve any breaks that a similarly situated citizen who hadn’t committed an armed robbery wouldn’t get.

MICHAEL BIEN: I think he was harmed. I think he suffered permanent harm as a result of his experience in the California Department of Corrections. In other words, he is worse off now than he would have been if he hadn't gone to prison.

CAITLIN McNALLY: What medications do you have now that you’re out?

ALONZA THOMAS: Well, they just changed them today. I’m on Rimaron, 15 milligrams, once a day and at nighttime. I’m on Buspars, twice a day, once in the morning, once at night. And I’m on Risperidone. I’m on 4 milligrams every night.

CAITLIN McNALLY: What are those drugs for?

ALONZA THOMAS: Some are anti-psychotic. Some are anti-depressant. And one’s for anxiety.

CAITLIN McNALLY: Are you taking them?


ALONZA THOMAS: Then I said, good evening baby bro. I love you more than anything in the world. He said I love you too.

PHILLIP THOMAS: He seems a little different. He’s definitely different. It’s definitely noticeable. He’s been incarcerated for just as long as he’s been out of prison.

ALONZA THOMAS: Two days later I said good morning baby bro, I love you.

ALONZA THOMAS: My biggest fear is becoming a burden to somebody, and um I don’t want to be a burden to anybody due to my crime, due to something that I did, you know?

MICHAEL BIEN: He's made it over one of the scary periods. He didn't commit any crimes, he was not sent back to jail, he wasn't sent back to prison. We all need some kind of structures to help us through and he has a family that's still standing behind him.

ALONZA THOMAS: I see my brother or my niece and you know, I just stare at her. I just stare at her, you know. I’m learning these things over again. I’m barely meeting these people for the first time. Just getting to know them is a blessing, you know?

But, uh, it’s like everything I do takes me back to prison. I sit there and I see my mom cutting the meatloaf with a knife and I’m thinking, “She’s going to get a write-up. She’s not supposed to have that knife.” And it’s like, “Oh okay, I’m free again,” you know, “I’m free, she’s just cutting the meatloaf with a knife and it’s okay,” you know.

ALONZA THOMAS: I talked to my doctor today. She said, “Oh, you’re still in the honeymoon stage.” I said “The honeymoon stage?” I thought about it. I thought that-that sounds about right, the honeymoon stage. I was like, yeah, but -- it’s gonna be honeymoon stage for a long time, you know.

CAITLIN McNALLY: What’s after the honeymoon stage?

ALONZA THOMAS: The rest of my life.

I don’t sleep often, but sometimes when I sleep I just, I don’t know, I wake up and I get up and I don’t realize where I’m at

CAITLIN McNALLY: Does it feel good?

ALONZA THOMAS: Does it feel good?

CAITLIN McNALLY: To realize you’re not in prison anymore?


CAITLIN McNALLY: I would think that would feel good.


CAITLIN McNALLY: To remember that you’re free.

ALONZA THOMAS: Yeah, it doesn’t feel good.

ALONZA THOMAS: “I’ve made a lot of decisions that have shaped the man I am today. Some I’m not proud of, but through all the bullshit, I’m proud of me. I’ve learned and shown growth after every fall and I’ll continue to keep rising. It all gets better in time. Every time you think you can’t make it another day, something or someone picks you up.”

Don’t know that anyone would read this stuff and really, actually genuinely feel hope. I’m just trying while I’m here.

CAITLIN McNALLY: Why is it important to give other people hope?

ALONZA THOMAS: I told you, because I don’t have any.


Tears drops cease

I’m all cried out

I’ve been through so much

At times I wanna shout

I can’t let em win

Alonza keep faith

Hope in sink or swim

But the sharks give chase

I’ve been to this point so many times

When I get past it just rewinds

I walked in that court

Prepared to die

So when he said thirteen I didn’t cry

I didn’t die or bat my eyes

I raised my cuffs and waved goodbye

Goodbye to that young man who never got to live

Goodbye to that old soul who never was a kid

I’m trapped in a cage all my rage has been bottled

All my winters come in May

Brighter days never follow

I overstand in justice so there’ll never be peace

It pains me to witness, that’s why my eyes weep

But if any man or God could see the

Misery within

Then maybe that pain would blow away

With the wind

People wait to receive bread in Kabul
Afghanistan Undercover
An undercover investigation into the Taliban’s crackdown on women in Afghanistan.
August 9, 2022