Larry Lawton, America's Most Notorious Jewel Thief, Just Wants To Masturbate In Prison In Peace

Yesterday, the Sun Sentinel ran a front page feature story on Larry Lawton, a local celebrity jewel thief selling his tale of criminality and incarceration in a new book called Gangster Redemption, but left out just one key fact.

Larry Lawton just wants to masturbate in prison in peace.

Lawton, born in New York, served on the U.S. Coast Guard for seven years, before beginning a new career. He robbed $15 million worth of diamonds and gold from jewelers at gunpoint and was arrested in 1996 and sentenced to 12 years in federal prison. This was a dark time for Lawton.

"I saw inmates stabbed and friends die," a promotion for his book said. "I saw young men raped and pimped out as prostitutes for other inmates."

And he also injected himself into a strange lawsuit over his right to masturbate.

On October 26, 2003, guard Teresa Vlach at a prison in South Carolina came upon Lawton's cell at midnight. "I observed inmate Lawrence Lawton exposing his erect penis with the cell light on," the guard wrote in her incident report. "He was lying on the bottom bunk with his penis erect and fully exposed in his right hand... He made no effort to stop when he saw me at his cell door and continued this activity."

According to her report, Lawton explained he'd only been looking at a "sex book." He added: "I did not know that the officers were standing at the door watching me or else I would not be doing that."

But it was too late to mend the wrongs of prison masturbation. He was slapped with a violation of "engaging in a sexual act," carted off to solitary confinement, and lost 27 days worth of good time.

So Lawton appealed, saying masturbation isn't a sexual act according to prison rules. He alleged no one had told him not to masturbate, and that he'd been denied due process.

His appeal was shot down. So Lawton took his quest to masturbate to federal court in South Carolina. "They put me in the 'hole' because I was fighting the abuses going on in the system," Lawton told New Times. "Our prison system is seriously broke."

So on June 15, 2004, Lawton sued his prison's warden, the guard, and just about anyone else he could think of saying they'd impugned his right to masturbate.

"There is nothing in the inmate handbook nor any policy statement which has been posted that informs inmates that masturbation is a prohibited act," the court filing says. "Even doctors recommend that men over the age of 40 masturbate weekly in order to maintain a healthy prostate."

The complaint was dismissed, and Lawton let the matter drop.

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Terrence McCoy