In 1963, Ronnie Biggs was one of a gang that stole millions of pounds from a mail train between Glasgow and London. He was caught and sentenced to prison. A year into his prison service, he escaped and fled to France where he underwent plastic surgery.

From there he fled to Australia where his family joined him. They lived there for about three years. During that time he received an anonymous letter indicating that Interpol was on his trail, and he moved with his family from Adelaide to Melbourne. I wonder who wrote that letter and why?

In 1969 the police were closing in on him, and he escaped to Brazil.

In 1974 he was discovered in Brazil, but he was not extradited to England. There were two reasons for this. England had no extradition agreement with Brazil, and by this time Ronnie Biggs had a Brazilian girlfriend who was pregnant. Brazilian law did not allow for the parent of a Brazilian child to be extradited.

During his stay in Brazil, the Biggs family had various sources of income, including barbeques where tourists could meet him and hear his story of the train robbery, and sales of items such as coffee cups and t-shirts. Ronnie Biggs was apparently not allowed to work because of his legal status in Brazil.

Imagine not being able to work from 1970 to 2001, and not having an income apart from what his family earned on the basis of his fame. For me that would have been quite a punishment.

In 2001 Ronnie decided to return to England, knowing that he would go to prison again. He had various health problems, and had applied for parole on different occasions over the years.

In July 2009 Ronnie was considered for parole again, and his case was turned down by the Home Secretary because he was “wholly repentant”. Apparently the parole board stated that apart from his age (he is 80 now and has been treated for pneumonia and a broken hip since January 2009), there is no indication that he would not return to his old lifestyle.

At the time there were various press releases about him slipping in and out of consciousness and being unable to speak. I wondered how he would have to express any repentance to satisfy the Home Secretary. Of course he has been released on parole recently.

I also wondered again about the need for society to punish people. Of course when you rob a train and assault the train driver, you should take responsibility for toe consequences of your deeds. It is only fair that a person should be given a reasonable sentence by the legal system if their actions require that.

But here you have an eighty-year-old man, in ill health, who might not see Christmas this year. He had been on the run from the law for half of his life. He had no freedom of movement, and the only way he could return to his country of birth was to willingly go to prison again.

I am just wondering what one achieves in such a situation by self-righteously insisting that he serves the rest of his prison sentence. Somehow the sums do not add up. In a way he served his entire sentence, even though he was not in prison in England.

On paper he had a specific number of years left to serve, and he had to go through specific motions to have those years reduced.

By another count he served the entire sentence and provided entertainment to many people with his audacity, and lived his own blueprint.

Author's Bio: 

Elsabe Smit provides professional transition coaching and psychic readings. See