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10 things I learned from living with a former bank robber for a month

By: payless

10 things I learned from living with a former bank robber for a month

Daniel Rojo was in the '80s the most famous bank robber in Barcelona. He robbed more than 300 branches in a 15-year criminal career. He stole the first one when he was 16 years old. In the most successful robbery he took 158 million pesetas (almost 1 million euros). The police nicknamed him 'the millionaire'. Before being imprisoned for the last time in 1991, he buzzed four banks a month to keep up with his life: do drugs, sleep with whores and flaunt expensive clothes, motorcycles and cars. "I've never been bad or psycho, he did it because he was very hooked and I was good at it," he says.

Daniel Rojo looks like reinforced concrete at 54 years old: he is huge (1.9 m tall), he has a voice that resounds in his bear's chest and already graying whiskers. There would be no other body capable of resisting what his resisted: he contracted 'the bug' (HIV), suffered from liver cancer, maintained a daily consumption of coca for decades, was stabbed in the side and crashed on the highway at 200km/h He survived everything, even the sorrows of a 14-year-old gangster in prison, got married and has two children. He took his last heroin spike of 8,000 pesetas. (€48) in 1997 and was released from prison a year later. That was the big blow to him.

I spent a month with him sharing breakfasts, dinners, walks, book presentations, taxis, and talks in a club for marijuana smokers. These are the ten lessons I took from my time with him and his books.

1. Adrenaline is a well-regarded drug

Daniel Rojo robbed a kiosk at the age of seven without need. He did it for the thrill. He later knew that they were the symptoms of adrenaline. It was the first shot of his life and he searched for it for the next 23 years. The sensations of adrenaline hook. Those who practice extreme sports (bungee jumping or skydiving, for example) or some infidelity (an 'adventure') say that they feel alive. Who wouldn't want to feel like this?

As happened to Daniel Rojo, the problem with adrenaline (and with any drug) is that it always asks for more and less and less satisfies. It can be dangerous to try to feel alive at all costs to hide an existential emptiness.

2. Money does not bring happiness

Daniel Rojo had all the money in the world. Surrounded by luxury he wondered why he wasn't happy. He remembers the exact moment in which he felt that the money did not fill him. “He lived in a very cool house. He had a brutal room with Afghan rugs worth a million pelas [6,000 euros] each. The table was Murano glass with elephant hoof legs. There were a lot of millions spent on shit alone,” he says. “At night I began to reflect when the whores left me. Something was wrong."

Daniel Rojo was very addicted to heroin and coke and he loved robbing banks. He felt the incomprehensible emptiness of someone who has everything and who is unhappy. "That didn't turn me on anymore, but he needed it," he says.

3. Be careful with the referents of success

In the 1980s, heroin users were rock stars. Young people believed that successful people took drugs. Now it's hard to see because a junkie doesn't inspire anyone. But at that time, kids like Daniel Rojo were looking for cultural references and wanted to imitate the exciting life of trendy rockers.

Today, a reference like the tronista of Mujeres, Hombres y Viceversa can influence as much as rock stars influenced Daniel Rojo. There are already more teenagers who want to be famous before astronauts and cultivate their bodies before their heads. Not only can you fall into drugs by choosing poorly who you admire: you can also be more manipulable.

4. Uncertainty is orgasmic

Daniel Rojo controlled the entire robbery, except when he left the bank with the loot in a bag. At that moment, and in full light, the success of the robbery was at stake. That emotion (adrenaline) excited him, in addition to the ego shot that he supposed to be smarter than the police.

Despite advertising messages about stability, even though banks encourage fear of the future to get private pension contracts, humans are attracted to the unknown and need times of instability. Not knowing what will come prevents routine because it is a challenge. "If you also go home with the money after the robbery," says Rojo, "it's like ejaculating with a fuck." Facing the void is scary, but jumping into it is a pleasure.

5. Junkies need understanding, not rejection.

When we say that everyone can make mistakes, we do not believe it. There are crimes that we condone (such as robbing a bank), but mistakes that we do not tolerate (such as having been a drug addict). Daniel Rojo, despite spending more than 20 years on the fringes of crime and without drugs, is stigmatized. Drug addicts never stop being drug addicts for the rest of society.

Most criminals act under the anxiety of drugs. In the 1980s, 97% of the inmates in Barcelona's Modelo prison were drug addicts. Crime was not reduced in the city until psychologists and social educators entered the prisons. Red likes a quote: "Whoever judges my path, I lend him my shoes." If we empathized, we would understand.

6. Love is not sought, it is found

Daniel Rojo paid a fortune for love without love. He lived with whores. He loved them and rejected them. None of those paid loves fulfilled him, even though he sought fulfillment among them. I live by a miracle, with a year of life in the best medical forecasts, Daniel Rojo fell in love with his doctor, Eva.

Eva and Daniel Rojo met by chance. He especially remembers that she touched him without gloves. “Even officials had been touching me with gloves for 14 years,” he says. “That a doctor who is hot touches my whole body without gloves, of course, she made me horny. Plus, it meant a lot."

7. Pain and suffering look alike, but they are not the same

Daniel Rojo's brother died of leukemia when he was detoxifying. Plus, he was "the good brother," he says. "I have everything for the body and nothing has hurt me like the death of my brother." He went through a terrible streak: every time he closed his eyes he saw his brother dead. Even today he finds it hard to think about it.

His suffering ended when Daniel Rojo told himself that if that trauma hadn't brought him back to drugs, he would never try them again. "What could have been my fall made me stronger," he says. He went from defeat to strength with the same foothold. With the change of attitude he did not avoid the pain, but he did avoid the suffering.

8. Gangsters are also afraid

It may be because of the movies, but we think that professional criminals neither suffer from nor have an inner world. Daniel Rojo was as vulnerable as any of us. Even today, when he dresses in black and maintains the appearance of the king of the underworld because he helps him sell books, he is a fragile and empathic man.

He says that he is not afraid of death, but he is afraid of losing his children. “When I close my eyes and get scared, it's because I think something is going to happen to my children. Like a bus passes when we're crossing. Hard stuff,” he says. "That scares me."

9. You have to learn from the past, not deny it

Daniel Rojo does not regret anything. He relives his past and a certain romanticism still emerges when he talks about crime: sidekicks like brothers and a life outside the law. He does not want it for his children nor does he consider himself anyone special, but he does not deny it. He believes that the fault would have been not having made mistakes.

10. The best way to be happy is to go down to hell

For Daniel Rojo, happiness is the result of a comparison. Except for the minutes that the drug lasted, everything else was suffering, anxiety and lack of control in his life. He got separated from his parents, his friends abandoned him and sometimes he still despises himself. To hell with him today he looks down on him, but he can still feel the warmth of him. It is easier for him to value what he has and what he has lost.

Image credit: Javier Rodriguez

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