Jonathan Standridge and Colton Harris-Moore made an odd couple as
they sat together in the visiting room of a Washington state prison one
day last spring.
Standridge, 57, is a project manager at Boeing, 1
of the world's most important aviation companies. Harris-Moore, 21, is
the "Barefoot Bandit," a world-famous airplane thief who is serving a
7-year sentence after a sensational run from the law in stolen boats,
cars and planes.
As it turned out, they had a lot to discuss. Aerospace design. Books. And second chances.
"What have you heard about me?" Harris-Moore asked, Standridge recalled.
"I've read all about the 'Barefoot Bandit,'" Standridge said. Harris-Moore replied: "That's not who I am."
Ever since, Standridge has returned to the prison
in Aberdeen, a two-hour drive from his lakeside home in the Seattle
suburb of SeaTac, at least once a month, hoping to have a positive
influence on what has been a bleak, if sometimes thrilling, young life,
and to repay a favor someone once did for him.
"This is a young man that is fully engaged in the
rehabilitation process that we in society ask of those folks who are in
our prison system," said Standridge, who has tutored Harris-Moore in the
airplane business and a lot more.
The progress is threatened by new burglary and theft counts that could add to Harris-Moore's sentence, he said.
Standridge was lining up other aviation specialists
to meet with Harris-Moore when the prisoner was transferred last month
to the Skagit County Jail. Prosecuting Attorney Rich Weyrich said he
filed the charges because the plea agreement other prosecutors reached
with Harris-Moore in 2011 was too lenient. A hearing was set for
Harris-Moore grew up poor on Camano Island north of
Seattle, raised by an alcoholic mother and a series of her felon
boyfriends - a feral childhood he wouldn't wish on his "darkest
enemies," he once wrote to a judge. He earned his first conviction at
age 12, in 2004, for stolen property, and things only got worse. After
he walked away from a halfway house in 2008, he embarked on a 2-year
burglary spree, breaking into unoccupied vacation homes and stores, and
stealing money and food.
Some of the crimes were committed barefoot, and by
2010, he had rocketed to international notoriety as he stole small
airplanes in the Northwest, flew them with no formal training and landed
them with various degrees of success. A few were only lightly damaged,
but two crashes were so severe he could have been killed.
His final run was a cross-country dash to an
airport in Indiana, where he stole a plane, crashed it in the Bahamas,
and was arrested in a hail of bullets.
He pleaded guilty to dozens of charges, apologized,
and sold the rights to his story to FOX, which plans a movie. Any
proceeds will repay his victims.
That, Standridge tells him, is the past - useful in determining how we got where we are, but not what we will become.
A chance encounter led Standridge to Harris-Moore.
At last year's Seattle International Film Festival, he met Lance Rosen,
Harris-Moore's media attorney. As they made small talk, Rosen grew more
interested in Standridge's work and finally asked: Would he be
interested in mentoring Harris-Moore?
Intrigued, Standridge sent Harris-Moore a letter in prison. Harris-Moore wrote back, and Standridge was hooked.
"The key ingredient I look for in something like
this is somebody who has passion - passion for life, passion to move
forward," Standridge said. "It immediately came off the pages of this
first letter that we had a highly motivated young man who was looking to
change his life."
Stocky and well-spoken, with short, receding white
hair and a salt & pepper goatee, Standridge is married and has a
19-year-old daughter. He came from a background very different from
Harris-Moore. He was born in Oklahoma City to a loving, engaged family
and later moved to Illinois. Nevertheless, as a young man he was
directionless and fell into heavy drug use, he said. After wasting most
of his 20s, he enlisted in the Navy in 1984.
At boot camp, he got caught with drugs and instead
of sending him home, the Navy captain in charge of the base offered him a
second chance - warning Standridge that he'd be following his career.
Standridge spent seven years in the Navy, four on
the flight deck of the U.S.S. Constellation aircraft carrier, where
watching the F-14 fighter jets fostered a love of airplanes that began
in boyhood, when his father would take him to watch the planes at Will
Rodgers World Airport in Oklahoma City.
He went on to graduate from Seattle University in
1997, the same year he began working for Boeing. He stresses that his
involvement with Harris-Moore is on his own time, not a
At their first meeting, Harris-Moore walked into
the visiting room amid a line of other convicts. Sunburned from being in
the prison yard, he wanted to know why Standridge was taking such an
interest in him. Standridge told him the story of the Navy captain.
"Even today I think about it. Without that second
chance, I would not be where I am today," he said. "That is what I'm
passing on to Colt, the opportunity for that future."
He made Harris-Moore promise that he'll repay the favor when he gets his life re-established. They shook hands on it.
While he declined to get into some specifics about
their conversations, Standridge said Harris-Moore badly wants to get a
pilot's license and hopes one day to design prototype aircraft.
Harris-Moore has said he wanted to get an aeronautical engineering
degree while in prison. They talk about planes, corporate governance,
management techniques, body language, and books - Steve Jobs' authorized
biography was a favorite of Harris-Moore's, he said.
Only rarely and in passing do they discuss his time
on the run. When Harris-Moore learned Standridge grew up in the
Midwest, they commiserated about the size of the mosquitos he
encountered on his way to Indiana.
Sometimes Harris-Moore draws his ideas for plane design on a piece of notepaper to show Standridge.
"He is in a very good place. He likes where he's headed. He likes the person he has become," he said.
Johnson can be reached at https://twitter.com/GeneAPseattle
Copyright 2013 The
Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be
published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
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