It wasn’t one thing that drove Donald Sturton to decide one day three months ago to rob a bank.

Pressure had been mounting.

He couldn’t pay his bills. His Social Security check barely covered the rent for his South Portland apartment. He wasn’t getting enough hours from the cab company that employed him to cover the rest of his expenses. His car needed work. He had blown through his savings. He had to cancel his cable, one of the things that kept him connected to the world.

“I was seriously considering doing away with my life,” Sturton, 70, said in an interview Friday, his first public comments since his arrest on March 7.

How serious?

“I was going to do it,” he said. “I was either going to rob a bank or do that. When that moment came, I chose the bank.”


Sturton didn’t succeed in his attempt to rob the Bank of America branch near the Maine Mall. He left with $895 from the teller in small bills and walked to a nearby parking lot where police were waiting to arrest him. He didn’t run or struggle. This is what he wanted.

“I just figured, maybe you’re better off getting locked up,” he explained. “It would resolve a lot of issues in a stupid kind of way.”

Sturton spent 43 uncertain days in the Cumberland County Jail, but, as of last week, was free on a deferred sentence. If he can stay out of trouble for the next year and abide by conditions of his release, including regular counseling and a curfew, he won’t have to go back.

He said he wanted to talk about his experience because he knows other people could be in similar situations and he’s not sure enough is being done to reach people like him who might be struggling, either with isolation or financial uncertainty or both.

“People need to pay better attention to their future,” he said. “They better save some friggin’ money. It doesn’t have to be a lot.”

Donald Sturton said he’s not sure enough is being done to reach people like him who might be struggling, but by hearing about his experience, others in similar circumstances might be able to relate. (Derek Davis/Portland Press Herald)

Sturton grew up in upstate New York and moved to New England as a young man with his wife and two daughters. When he and his wife divorced, he chose to live in Portland because it was close enough to visit his daughters in Durham, New Hampshire, but not so close where he needed to worry about running into his ex-wife. He’s been in Maine 30 years.


For much of his adult life, he was a car salesman, in Gorham and Sanford. But after he left one dealership and was looking for a job at another, a friend suggested he become a cab driver.

“I liked not shaving every day and wearing blue jeans and T-shirts to work,” he said. “The job just kind of grew on me. I liked the work; people were fun.”

Sturton said he’s never had any drug or gambling problems, but wasn’t good about managing his money. That’s true for a lot of older folks. As of last year, a record number of Americans over the age of 65 were working. In 2000, 4 million seniors had jobs. Last year, it was closer to 9 million, according to U.S. Census data. Social Security benefits have lost about a third of their purchasing power during that time.

When Sturton semi-retired a few years ago, he couldn’t live on his $1,146 monthly Social Security check and didn’t have much in savings, so he kept his cab license and tried to continue working.

Hours started to dry up though. Things got tighter. Sturton got more depressed.

“I was at the point where I wasn’t motivated to do much more than take care of my cats and stay hygienic,” he said.


Sturton said he had dealt with depression in the past – he declined to go into specifics – but always managed to come through it.

This time, though, he felt hopeless.

“Part of me wanted to do something crazy. So I came up with a crime that wouldn’t hurt anyone except myself,” he said. “I don’t know where I’d be if I hadn’t done it, to be honest.”

Until the last minute, suicide was still an option.

The day he decided to execute his plan, he wore a bright yellow rain jacket and put in the front pocket at pistol-style squirt gun that he used to train his cats to stay off the furniture.

He took the bus from his apartment in Red Bank Village to the mall, then walked inside the bank.


He never took the squirt gun out of his pocket but he suggested to the teller, a young woman, that he had a weapon.

Sturton left the bank on foot. The teller, according to a police affidavit filed in support of his arrest, sat down on the floor of the bank and cried.

That’s one thing he didn’t prepare for.

“I didn’t think about the bank employees at all when I did this,” he said. “I probably frightened the living hell out of her. I am sorry for that.”

Sturton confessed to the crime when interviewed by detectives. He appeared in court the next day, March 8, on charges of robbery, a Class C felony, and terrorizing, a Class D misdemeanor. A judge set bail at $5,000.

Without money to pay for basic necessities, Sturton couldn’t come up with the money so he sat in jail.


The only other time he had been in jail before that was one night many years ago.

“I was 23 or 24 and I was (caught) sitting in a car with a buddy and a couple of chicks smoking some weed,” he said. “In 1972 that was a no-no.”

Sturton’s court-appointed attorney, Robert LeBrasseur, petitioned for him to be released on personal recognizance. He argued that Sturton was not violent and not a flight risk and was only incarcerated because he was indigent.

“If someone who is charged with the same crime is able to post that bail, the state would be OK with it,” LeBrasseur said in court. “Because he’s not rich, he has to sit in jail.”

The judge agreed.

Since his release, Sturton has moved out of his apartment and into a room at a house in Westbrook. His rent is still too high – about 50 percent of his Social Security income – but he hopes to resume driving a cab, at least part time. He doesn’t know if someone will hire him given his recent troubles.


“How do you even apply for a job anymore,” he said, only half-joking.

He has been going to counseling through Maine Behavioral Health.

“I’m not really a thousand percent comfortable with sharing everything that’s going on in my life, but it’s something I’ve got to continue with,” he said. “If I’m going to live another 20 years and be comfortable in my own skin, I’ve got to do it.”

He faces up to five years in prison if he doesn’t abide by the conditions of his deferred sentence for the next year.

If he does meet his obligations, he will plead to a lesser charge and get credit for the time he’s already served.

Opening up to a counselor has been hard for him, though. All those years he spent driving a cab and listening to people’s stories didn’t make Sturton more likely to share his own.


He’s on a list for senior housing in South Portland, which would cap his rent at about 35 percent of his income. But he’s apprehensive about that too.

“I’m still not looking forward to going into that kind of housing. Hanging around with a lot of 70- and 80-year-old people. I’m not real keen on that.”

Sturton realizes that he should have taken steps to ask for help long before his situation became desperate. If there is one thing people take from his experience, he hopes it’s that.

“I could have helped myself out and I didn’t. I just didn’t want to. I don’t know if it’s pride or what,” he said. “There are probably so many out there that are living on $600 or $700 a month, and they don’t rob banks.”

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