Friday, May 29, 2020

U.S. to Expel Chinese Graduate Students With Ties to China’s Military Schools

U.S. to Expel Chinese Graduate Students With Ties to China’s Military Schools

The move is the latest in the Trump administration’s efforts to impose limits on Chinese students. But university officials say the government is paranoid, and that the United States will lose out.
Comment to University Officials:
"This Is Our Country!"
Ron Ernie

People’s Liberation Army soldiers marching on Wednesday at the entrance of the Forbidden City in Beijing.Credit...Noel Celis/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

By Edward Wong and Julian E. Barnes
May 28, 2020


WASHINGTON — The Trump administration plans to cancel the visas of thousands of Chinese graduate students and researchers in the United States who have direct ties to universities affiliated with the People’s Liberation Army, according to American officials with knowledge of the discussions.

The plan would be the first designed to bar the access of a category of Chinese students, who, over all, form the single largest foreign student population in the United States.

It portends possible further educational restrictions, and the Chinese government could retaliate by imposing its own visa or educational bans on Americans. The two nations have already engaged in rounds of retribution over policies involving trade, technology and media access, and relations are at their worst point in decades.

American officials are discussing ways to punish China for its passage of a new national security law intended to enable crackdowns in Hong Kong, but the plans to cancel student visas were under consideration before the crisis over the law, which was announced last week by Chinese officials. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo discussed the visa plans with President Trump on Tuesday in a White House meeting.

American universities are expected to push back against the administration’s move. While international educational exchange is prized for its intellectual value, many schools also rely on full tuition payments from foreign students to help cover costs, especially the large group of students from China.

Administrators and teachers have been briefed in recent years by the F.B.I. and the Justice Department on potential national security threats posed by Chinese students, especially ones working in the sciences. But the university employees are wary of a possible new “red scare” that targets students of a specific national background and that could contribute to anti-Asian racism.

Many of them argue that they have effective security protocols in place, and that having Chinese students be exposed to the liberalizing effects of Western institutions outweighs the risks. Moreover, they say, the Chinese students are experts in their subject fields and bolster American research efforts.

Chinese students and researchers say growing scrutiny from the American government and new official limits on visas would create biases against them, including when they apply for jobs or grants.

The visa cancellation could affect at least 3,000 students, according to some official estimates. That is a tiny percentage of the approximately 360,000 Chinese students in the United States. But some of those affected might be working on important research projects.

The move is certain to ignite public debate. Officials acknowledged there was no direct evidence that pointed to wrongdoing by the students who are about to lose their visas. Instead, suspicions by American officials center on the Chinese universities at which the students trained as undergraduates.

“In China, much more of society is government-controlled or government-affiliated,” said Frank Wu, a law professor who is the incoming president of Queens College. “You can’t function there or have partners from there if you aren’t comfortable with how the system is set up.”

“Targeting only some potential professors, scholars, students and visitors from China is a lower level of stereotyping than banning all,” he added. “But it is still selective, based on national origin.”

The State Department and the National Security Council both declined to comment.

American officials who defend the visa cancellation said the ties to the Chinese military at those schools go far deeper than mere campus recruiting. Instead, in many cases, the Chinese government plays a role in selecting which students from the schools with ties to the military can study abroad, one official said. In some cases, students who are allowed to go overseas are expected to collect information as a condition of having their tuition paid, the official said, declining to reveal specific intelligence on the matter.

Officials did not provide the list of affected schools, but the People’s Liberation Army has ties to military institutions and defense research schools, as well as to seven more traditional universities, many of them prestigious colleges in China with well-funded science and technology programs.

The F.B.I. and the Justice Department have long viewed the military-affiliated schools as a particular problem, believing military officials train some of the graduates in basic espionage techniques and compel them to gather and transmit information to Chinese officers.

While some government officials emphasize the intelligence threat posed by students from military-affiliated universities, others see those Chinese citizens as potential recruits for American spy agencies. Preventing the students from coming to the United States may make it more difficult for the agencies to recruit assets inside the Chinese military.

After completing their graduate work, some students land jobs at prominent technology companies in the United States. That has made some current and former American officials wary that the employees could engage in industrial espionage.

Last year, Senator Richard M. Burr, Republican of North Carolina, who was then the chairman of the Intelligence Committee, predicted the administration would cut the number of visas going to Chinese students, citing the threat of technology theft.

Senator Marco Rubio, Republican of Florida, who now leads the committee, has sent letters to universities in his state warning about ties to the Chinese government.

Mr. Rubio has been pushing schools to cut relations with China’s Thousand Talents program, which has provided funding for American researchers — including Charles M. Lieber, the chairman of Harvard University’s chemistry and chemical biology department, who was arrested by the F.B.I. in January on charges of concealing his financial relationship with the Chinese government.

Asked about the Trump administration’s move to cancel the visas of some Chinese students studying in the United States, Mr. Rubio said he supported “a targeted approach” to make it more difficult for the Chinese Communist Party to exploit the openness of American schools to advance their own military and intelligence abilities.

“The Chinese government too often entraps its own people into service” to the Communist Party and its objectives “in exchange for an education in the U.S.,” Mr. Rubio said, adding that “higher education institutions in America need to be fully aware of this counterintelligence threat.”

Other Republican lawmakers proposed legislation on Wednesday to bar any Chinese citizen from getting a visa for graduate or postgraduate study in science or technology.

Trump administration officials have discussed restricting Chinese student visas over the past three years, current and former officials said.

In 2018, the State Department began limiting the length of visas to one year, with an option for renewal, for Chinese graduate students working in fields deemed sensitive. Two officials said targeting graduates of the military-linked schools gathered steam after the F.B.I. announced in January that it was seeking a Boston University student who had hidden her affiliation with the People’s Liberation Army when applying for a visa.

F.B.I. officials said the student, Yanqing Ye, had studied at the National University of Defense Technology in China and was commissioned as a lieutenant before enrolling in Boston University’s department of physics, chemistry and biomedical engineering from October 2017 to April 2019.

While in Boston, Lieutenant Ye continued to get assignments from the Chinese military, including “conducting research, assessing United States military websites and sending United States documents and information to China,” according to the F.B.I. wanted poster.

The Justice Department charged Lieutenant Ye, who is believed to be in China, with acting as a foreign agent, visa fraud and false statements.

The vigorous interagency debate over the move to cancel visas has lasted about six months, with science and technology officials generally opposing the action and national security officials supporting it.

The Australian Strategic Policy Institute, a think tank, has researched the Chinese military-affiliated universities, and that has influenced thinking in the American government. A 2018 report called “Picking Flowers, Making Honey” said China was sending students from those universities to Western universities to try to build up its own military technology.

The study suggested that the graduates were targeting the so-called Five Eyes countries that share intelligence: the United States, Canada, Britain, New Zealand and Australia. In many cases, the report said, students hid their military affiliations while seeking work in fields with defense applications, like hypersonics.

Under the current Chinese government, Beijing has aggressively tried to combine military and civilian work on important technology, said American officials and outside researchers. That often includes tapping the expertise of civilian companies and universities.

“To some degree, U.S. concerns are driven by the assessment that Chinese companies and universities seem unlikely to refuse outright or could be compelled to work with the military, whereas their American counterparts often appear more resistant to working on military research,” Elsa B. Kania, an adjunct senior fellow at the Center for a New American Security, wrote in a report last August.

“It is also striking at the same time that some of China’s leading technology companies appear to be less directly engaged in supporting defense initiatives than might be expected relative to their American counterparts,” she added.

United States officials said the fusion policy also entailed sending military-trained students to American universities to try to gain access to technological know-how that would be valuable to China and its defense industry.

The Chinese military has strong ties to a number of schools with an overt military bent, according to the Australian think tank.

Less obvious to the casual observer are the more traditional universities with longstanding ties to the military.

According to the policy institute and American officials, those are Northwestern Polytechnical University, Harbin Engineering University, Beijing Institute of Technology, Harbin Institute of Technology, Beihang University, Nanjing University of Aeronautics and Astronautics, and Nanjing University of Science and Technology.

Keith Bradsher contributed reporting from Beijing.

How to Fix Drag URL and Drop URL To Desktop In FireFox Vrsions 67 And Up

Running Windows as Administrator with Launcher Process enabled in Firefox causes Drag and Drop errors - How to Fix
This article applies to Firefox version 67 and above, on all Windows builds. This article is also for IT Admins who want to configure Firefox on their organization's computers.

The Launcher Process is a security-related feature that was enabled for all users in the Firefox version 68 release. When running Windows as an Administrator with User Account Control (UAC) disabled and the launcher process enabled, Firefox users may experience unexpected behavior.

Table of Contents
Why the problem occurs
How to verify the problem
How to fix
Re-enable UAC
Start Firefox Using the -no-deelevate command
Partial workaround
Why the problem occurs

When the launcher process detects that it is running at a high integrity level, it will force Firefox to run at a medium integrity level. This intentional security feature is intended to prevent malicious code from gaining write access to sensitive areas of the operating system. Windows does not allow programs running at a lower integrity level to send data to programs running at a higher integrity level. As a result, users may experience errors when trying to drag and drop from Firefox to another application.
How to verify the problem

To verify this condition, make sure the user is operating Windows as a full Administrator and has disabled User Account Control (UAC) settings. Enter about:support in the address bar and look under Application Basics for the Launcher Process entry. If enabled, you may experience errors when trying to drag and drop an image or URL from Firefox to another application or to the Windows desktop (for example, when you try to create a desktop shortcut to a website).
How to fix

To fix the problem, users have two options.
Re-enable UAC

First, users can re-enable UAC on their PC. To do so, type UAC in the search field on your taskbar by right-clicking the Start button and selecting Search. Click Change User Account Control settings. To turn UAC on, drag the slider to Notify me only when apps try to make changes to my computer (default) and click OK. This option is the most secure fix available.
Start Firefox Using the -no-deelevate command

Alternatively, users can solve the issue by launching Firefox using the -no-deelevate command line option, either directly from the command line or by editing their Firefox shortcut to do so.
Partial workaround

Copy and Paste often can substitute for drag-and-drop. For example, a user can right-click on an image and choose Copy Image, then right-click on the Windows desktop and choose Paste. Where practicable, this is preferred to reducing security by using the -no-deelevate command line option.

Thursday, May 28, 2020

To Beat Trump, Democrats May Need to Break Out of the ‘Whole Foods’ Bubble

By David Wasserman
Feb. 27, 2020

Election results in places near Whole Foods, Lululemon, Urban Outfitters and Apple

Lean Dem.

 Lean Rep.

2016 Election Results by Precinct

In the past decade, Democratic voting strength has become increasingly concentrated in precincts within five miles of current Whole Foods, Lululemon, Urban Outfitters and Apple Store locations. But those precincts made up just 34 percent of the nation's vote in 2016 -- and just 29 percent in battleground states.Note: Battleground states are defined by the 10 states decided by less than four percentage points in 2016: Ariz., Fla., Maine, Minn., Nev., N.H., N.C., Mich., Pa., Wis.

It’s no secret that Democratic primary voters prize fall “electability.” But for all the clamor about progressive versus moderate choices, the obstacles to pulling voters toward Democrats -- particularly in the battleground states -- could prove more cultural than ideological.

Last summer, Senator Elizabeth Warren electrified huge crowds at rallies in Seattle, Austin and New York. The events had one thing in common besides her populist pitch for “big structural change.” At each stop, her trademark selfie lines were less than a mile from a Whole Foods Market, a Lululemon Athletica and an Urban Outfitters.

These high-end retailers and brands, popular with urban millennials and affluent suburbanites alike, are increasingly correlated with which neighborhoods are trending blue. The drawback for Democrats? Just 34 percent of U.S. voters — and only 29 percent of battleground state voters — live within five miles of at least one such upmarket retailer, and the Democrats’ brand is stagnant or in decline everywhere else.

Once dominant in labor halls, Democrats are more ascendant than ever near galleria malls. But the reality for Democrats is if they aren’t able to stop their slide in less elite locales, President Trump’s advantage in the Electoral College could further widen relative to the popular vote.

In fairness, Ms. Warren and the other top 2020 contenders are spending more of their time and energy seeking to woo voters in less cosmopolitan settings. They have no choice: Sixty-nine percent of U.S. voters live closer to a Cracker Barrel, Tractor Supply Company, Hobby Lobby or Bass Pro Shops location than to one of those high-end brands.

But it wasn’t always this hard for Democrats. In the 1990s, millions of less religious middle-class heartland voters opted for Democrats, in part because they viewed Republicans as the party of rich people and “Bible thumpers” who wanted to impose their moral values on the country. Today, many of those same voters might feel they have even less in common with liberal arts graduates in trendy ZIP codes willing to pay $14 for a half liter of avocado oil, $59 for a recycled tie-dye sweatshirt, $158 for yoga tights or $1,449 for a smartphone.

In many ways, what people buy, eat and wear is just another lens through which to view the growing political divide between Americans with college degrees and those without.

“It’s cultural arrogance,” said the veteran Democratic strategist James Carville, who now teaches at Louisiana State University. “On taxing the rich, health care, Roe v. Wade,” he added, “we’re in the majority on all these issues. But in this country, culture trumps policy. The urbanists — voters think they’re too cool for school. And voters pick it up.”

His advice to today’s Democrats: “If you want to win back loggers in northern Wisconsin, stop talking about pronouns and start talking more about corruption in Big Pharma.”

Plenty of different factors decide vote choices, race and religion among them. There used to be far more high-income white Republicans than high-income white Democrats; today their numbers are roughly even. But the biggest swing among voters in recent years — in parts of Europe, too — is happening among whites along educational lines.

This cultural and class disconnect was one of the reasons Mr. Trump’s 2016 victory blindsided so many academics, pundits and journalists. He was unpopular relative to past G.O.P. nominees in the wealthy, white and highly college-educated neighborhoods — the Whole Foods bubbles — where such people tend to live and work.
The upmarket bubble

To quantify the relationship between retail locations and voting, we analyzed retail and precinct-level election data compiled for this article by the U.C.L.A. postdoctoral research fellow Ryne Rohla and Grant Gregory, a pollster for Breakthrough Campaigns.

After examining the voting patterns surrounding over 100 popular American chains, we zeroed in on eight national brands — each with retail locations in over 40 states — that proved useful predictors.

Of the eight brands, the four correlated with Democratic vote growth were the Amazon-owned organic mecca Whole Foods Market; the Canadian-based yoga and “athleisure” apparel retailer Lululemon Athletica; the hipster fashion magnet Urban Outfitters; and the glassy, minimalist Apple Store. Let’s call these “upmarket” brands.

The four brands correlated with recent Republican gains were the Southern-themed Cracker Barrel Old Country Store; the booming rural lifestyle chain Tractor Supply Company; the arts-and-crafts giant Hobby Lobby; and the outdoor recreation hub Bass Pro Shops. We’ll call these “down-home” brands.

Next, we divided the country’s electorate — based on the proximity of these stores to the geometric centers of America’s more than 169,000 voting precincts — into three groups:

Upmarket bubbles: voters living less than five miles from a current Whole Foods, Lululemon, Apple Store or Urban Outfitters location (34 percent of the electorate in 2016).

Upmarket bubbles are within five miles of a Whole Foods, Lululemon, Apple Store or Urban Outfitters location.

Lean Dem.

Lean Rep.

Down-home zones: voters living less than 10 miles from a current Cracker Barrel, Tractor Supply, Bass Pro Shop or Hobby Lobby location (these stores tend to be in less densely populated areas) — but more than five miles from the nearest “upmarket” retail location (50 percent of the electorate in 2016).

Down-home zones are within 10 miles of a Cracker Barrel, Tractor Supply, Bass Pro Shop or Hobby Lobby but at least five miles away from an upmarket location.

Lean Dem.

Lean Rep.

Chain-sparse communities: voters who don’t live close enough to any of these retail stores to fall into either category (16 percent of the electorate in 2016).

A chain-sparse community is everywhere else.

Lean Dem.

Lean Rep.

The good news for Democrats: Over the past few election cycles, they’ve gained a lot of ground among voters in upmarket bubbles. In 2016, Hillary Clinton carried them by 31 percentage points, up from Barack Obama’s 26-point margin in 2012. And among the 4 percent of voters within one mile of a current Whole Foods/Lululemon/Urban Outfitters/Apple Store location, Mrs. Clinton won by 45 points, up from Mr. Obama’s 36-point margin in 2012.

This retail realignment was also on display in the 2018 midterms: Of the 43 districts Democrats wrested from G.O.P. control to take back the House, 65 percent contained a Whole Foods Market, compared with 38 percent of all districts that elected a Republican. And both states where Senate Democrats scored gains — Arizona and Nevada — have upmarket numbers above the national average.

But the challenge for Democrats is that relatively few voters, especially in Electoral College battleground states, live in these upmarket bubbles.

Consider that in the most recent presidential election, 53 percent of all California voters and 57 percent of all Massachusetts voters lived within five miles of a current Whole Foods, Lululemon, Urban Outfitters or Apple Store location. But in electoral battlegrounds, just 33 percent of voters in Florida, 32 percent in Pennsylvania, 24 percent in North Carolina, 20 percent in Wisconsin and 19 percent in Michigan did.

In 2016, among the roughly half of U.S. voters who live in down-home zones — think of places like Saginaw, Mich.; Erie, Pa.; or Green Bay, Wis. — Mrs. Clinton lost by 10 points, worse than Mr. Obama’s six-point loss in 2012 and his two-point loss in 2008. And among the 16 percent of voters who don’t live particularly close to one of these retail brands at all, she lost by 22 points, far worse than Mr. Obama’s 11-point loss in 2012 and his six-point loss in 2008.

And all three House districts and all four states — Florida, Indiana, Missouri and North Dakota — where Republicans gained House or Senate seats from Democrats in 2018 feature either down-home or chain-sparse shares well above the national average.

What’s more, the below-average upmarket shares in Minnesota (30 percent), New Hampshire (22 percent) and Maine (11 percent) suggest Mr. Trump might even have some cultural upside in a few states Mrs. Clinton narrowly carried.

If residential patterns around retail are electoral destiny, trends suggest the Democrats’ future lies in the Southwest and Sun Belt. Of the six states Mr. Trump carried by less than four points in 2016, Arizona stands out for an upmarket share (37 percent) higher than the nation’s — a good sign for Democrats in that increasingly metropolitan, diverse state.

Democrats might also be encouraged that Texas’ upmarket share (33 percent) is also higher than those of many other traditional battlegrounds. But President Trump’s 2016 margin of victory in Texas was nine points — still a lot of ground for the 2020 Democratic nominee to make up.
Bridging a cultural divide

There will always be plenty of voters who defy stereotypes: Republicans who shop at Whole Foods and Lululemon, or Democrats who stop at Cracker Barrel on road trips. But much as retail chains have effectively micro-segmented consumers to map where new locations will perform best — as Whole Foods has done around clusters of college graduates — candidates and parties can increasingly depend on “lifestyle brand” data to predict voter behavior.

Perhaps no presidential candidate has flaunted wealth to the degree Mr. Trump has. But from construction sites to Howard Stern call-ins to WWE appearances, he also spent decades before becoming a politician developing a blue-collar persona. In 2016, as the G.O.P. nominee, he defied history by winning a higher share of low-income whites than high-income whites. And the deepening fault lines of elite versus anti-elite could help Mr. Trump once again this November — no matter the Democratic nominee’s ideological orientation.

Many Democrats who succeeded in 2018 — such as the Marine veteran Conor Lamb in a Pennsylvania House race, the water rights lawyer Xochitl Torres Small in a New Mexico House race and Senator Sherrod Brown, a longtime opponent of job outsourcing, in his re-election in Ohio — had profiles that appealed across this chasm. But it remains to be seen whether the Democratic presidential nominee will be someone whose background and message can bridge the gap.

Most Americans have already chosen sides for the November election, and it’s easy to believe there isn’t all that much sorting left to do. It’s also easy to view the divide as purely urban versus rural. But something all eight of the retailers in this article have in common is a growing presence in the suburbs. That should serve as a reminder that when it comes to elections, not all suburbs look or behave alike.

To beat Mr. Trump, Democrats will probably need a nominee who can relate to people in the modest suburbs of Harrisburg, Pa.; Eau Claire, Wis.; and Fayetteville, N.C. — not just the chic suburbs of San Francisco, Dallas and Washington, D.C.

Note: If a voter happened to live within range of both an upmarket store and a down-home one, we ultimately found that the upmarket chains defined the political trend lines of precincts within five miles of both much more than the down-home chains did. Therefore, we put such voters into the former group.

David Wasserman is the House editor at The Cook Political Report. You can follow him on Twitter at @Redistrict.

Tuesday, May 26, 2020

The Rise and Fall of the Bombshell Bandit

Stories to fuel your mind.

The Rise and Fall of the Bombshell Bandit
For two months an unusual bank robber shocked, mystified and captivated the US. She was a woman, she was short, young and well-dressed, and she held up a string of banks in quick succession.
BBC News
Jeff Maysh

Photo from KABC.

Sandeep Kaur pulled on a wig and adjusted her designer sunglasses in her rear-view mirror. June 6, 2014 was a typically sunny afternoon in California's Santa Clarita Valley and a quiet one, except for the screams of passengers on a nearby roller coaster. Thirty-eight miles northwest of Los Angeles, the First Bank sits in a hamlet of Spanish-style shops just off Magic Mountain Parkway. The busy road leads to Six Flags, a theme park billed as the Thrill Capital of the World.

Kaur, 24, had been using her iPhone to research bank robberies. It was clearly a high-stakes pursuit. Some robbers escaped with fortunes, while others were captured or even killed by police. She opened the car door and stepped out into the mid-afternoon heat. At just five feet three inches tall, the slender Indian nurse did not boast the muscle of typical bank robbers. She had no weapon or getaway driver. Instead she gripped a hurriedly written note that read:


If Kaur didn't look like a criminal, she certainly didn't fit the profile of a bank-robbing desperado. Kaur and her family are devoted Sikhs, a religion that steers followers away from the selfish pursuit of wealth. A prodigious student, she graduated from nursing college several years early, while still a teenager. She had three jobs, tirelessly caring for elderly cancer sufferers, for patients at a Sacramento hospital, and ironically, for inmates at a jail. But as she walked towards the bank, she prepared to do the unthinkable and join their number as a violent criminal.

At 2.30pm, Kaur arrived before the bank's faux-Roman pillars. White lettering on its glass doors read: "Please remove hats and sunglasses before entering." Her reflection looked like she might be going to a costume party as Vogue editor Anna Wintour. Inside, a greeter jumped out and said: "Hey, how can I help you?" This technique is called SafeCatch, and it's taught by the FBI to put potential robbers off their stride. Kaur panicked, and fled.

Back in her car, Kaur sipped a bottle of water she had stolen from a nearby grocery store. Across the square of terracotta-coloured businesses, she spotted the logo of the Bank of the West, a bear walking on all fours - like the bear on the Californian flag, supposed to have been modelled on a grizzly captured in 1889 at the behest of newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst. Kaur pulled open the green doors, her heart racing as she felt the icy blast of conditioned air. A stuffed toy bear stared down from a shelf. She approached the cashier, and told herself: "I just have to do this. It's this or nothing." She slid the note over the counter. 

Bank robbers are becoming an extinct species. The rise of electronic payments is creating a cashless society, and since 2003, bank robberies have fallen 47%. The crime is also an overwhelmingly male activity. According to the latest FBI figures, just 8% of America's 4,347 bank robberies last year were committed by a woman. "Traditionally women have been involved in bank robberies only as getaway drivers, or accomplices to male robbers," says Dr Richard Schmitt, a US criminal psychologist who has evaluated more than 50 bank robbers. Schmitt says that a robber who is an educated professional female, and a Sikh, is, "a highly unusual case… in the history of the United States you will not find another bank robber with this profile."

When Sandeep Kaur ran from the Bank of the West in Valencia, she had risked her life and liberty for little more than $21,200. Yet she then embarked on a one-woman, five-week crime spree, robbing banks in Arizona, California, and Utah. Inspired by Kaur's bomb threats and glamorous disguises, the FBI named her "the Bombshell Bandit", and appealed for help from the public. The bureau prides itself on its catchy robber nicknames, like the "Bad Rug Bandit," "Attila the Bun," and "The Boom Boom Bandit," (his note read, "No drama, no boom boom.") A good nickname creates notoriety and gets people talking, says the FBI's Laura Eimiller. And with the Bombshell Bandit, she says, "The press just ran with it."

Last summer I watched the Bombshell Bandit story unfold like a bizarre crime drama, never sure when the next episode would air. It was a spectacle that culminated in Kaur's arrest on 31 July 2014, after a desperate police pursuit. The 65-mile chase crossed three states and two time zones, reaching speeds of 130mph. Finally unmasked in the press, Kaur created headlines across the United States, and in her native India. Reporters besieged the Kaur family asking why an educated young woman would turn to bank robbery. But no-one in the tight-knit Indian community would talk.

Then on 28 January 2015, she responded to my letter, asking for answers. Her attorney wrote: "Ms Kaur would like to meet with you."

Sandeep Kaur, now 25, rests her thin hands on a table in the visiting room of the Iron County Jail in Cedar City, Utah. A prisoner has etched the word "BONES" into the wood. "My mom is still under the delusion that people don't know about it," she says, in a disarming Indian-American accent. Her olive-coloured prison uniform catches a flood of tears. "People ask about me, and she says, she's working," Kaur says, laughing and sobbing at once. "She wanted to die out of the embarrassment." Over the next four hours, Kaur will tell a tragic story that a federal judge will later call "complex", before describing the nurse as "one of the criminal minds that the court does not understand". 

Her story begins in Punjab, north-west of Delhi on the Pakistan border. It is one of the smallest but most prosperous states of India. Sandeep Kaur was born on 11 November 1989, in Chandigarh - India's first planned city, sometimes called "the city beautiful". She says her name means the "first ray of sunlight". Aged seven, she moved with her mother and brother, Jatinder, to join her father in America. They arrived in San Jose, California, as the area's Indian population was exploding. But for as long as she can remember, Kaur says she felt like an outsider.

"My mom would go to the store and if the guys' clothes were on sale, she got all of us the same thing. My little brother would be wearing Pocahontas sandals. She didn't understand." The children were bullied relentlessly and after the 9/11 attacks in 2001, racial tensions developed. "I was called a terrorist at school. They were like, 'Did your Dad do this?'" Kaur and her brother skipped school to escape their tormentors, but were suspended and sent away to a boarding school in the Eastern Himalayas, as punishment.

She lived with her mom, so she had no bills… her money was piling up.
—Amundeep Kaur

Back in America, Kaur says her parents banned mobile phones, television, and friends, isolating the children. "We would have to stand there with a chair up in our hands for like an hour until our arms hurt," she recalls. "That was how [we] were raised, we knew not to go tell the school, we were beaten with a stick. This is how parenting is."

Kaur's closest confidante became her cousin, Amundeep Kaur, 27, whom I interviewed at length on the telephone. Their mothers are sisters, and though Kaur was two years younger, she played the role of older sister. Amundeep admits she was the naughtier of the pair. She sneaked Kaur to the movies, and in return, Kaur covered for her cousin's illicit teenaged romances. She liked to joke that trouble was Amundeep's middle name, as in, "I'm-in-deep trouble".

When her mother fell ill and went into hospital, the 14-year-old Kaur was inspired by a friendly nursing manager to take up nursing. "She even gave me some nursing textbooks," Kaur says. Galvanised, she graduated from high school early, starting college at the remarkable age of 15. By 19 she was a Licensed Vocational Nurse, eager to escape the family home she describes as "a prison". Quickly, Kaur earned up to $6,000 a month, working for a health care agency, nursing a terminally ill businessman, and back-to-back shifts at various Bay area hospitals. "She lived with her mom, so she had no bills, she had a very used, beat-up car… her money was piling up," says Amundeep.

It was 2008, and the American economy crashed. Kaur says she started investing in the stock market. "I was really into it. I put all the money I had saved up, and [some] from my parents… the stocks [were] really low, these are the biggest banks of America there are. It can't get any lower than this, Bank of America was at two dollars fifty-three cents." It is a topic I was not expecting from this jail visit. Kaur gambled on America, and won. "I invested in the insurance banks, AIG and Prudential," she says. "I ended up making $200,000."

Then, like any college-aged American girl she started to enjoy parties, boys, and everything forbidden by her parents. She wore party dresses under her hospital scrubs, to fool her mother, and began leading a double life. Aged 20, Kaur left home and moved to Sacramento, where she studied for her Bachelor of Science in Nursing. "I even worked at… Sacramento County Jail. [Taking inmates'] blood pressure, giving them pills… the diabetic inmates, getting their blood sugars." With a glance at her current surroundings, she says: "It's kind of weird now I'm on the other side." 

Kaur says her 21st birthday in November 2010 was the turning point. This is the legal drinking age in the US and her cousin planned a celebration holiday. The girls lied to their mothers and fled to Sacramento airport - but before Kaur told the story, I had already guessed where they went. Back when the Bombshell Bandit was a fugitive on the run, I plotted her bank robberies on a map, and noticed how her heists circumnavigated America's city of sin.

Like a flotilla of metallic icebergs, the Crystals shopping mall towers above the souvenir shops on Las Vegas Boulevard like a giant geometric puzzle. It claims to be the world's largest collection of designer fashion stores under one roof, boasting a Balenciaga, Christian Dior, and a Jimmy Choo. To Kaur, it was a retail heaven full of daring, Western styles that would boil her mother's blood. Inside the Gucci store, the designer clothes seemed to transform her. 

Photo from Getty Images.

"It was my favourite brand, it had the style I liked. Louis Vuitton was too flashy… Gucci is more forever lasting." She says the girls bought "killer outfits" - heels and short dresses they had never been allowed to wear. The cousins click-clacked towards the casinos and clubs in their expensive new shoes. Kaur had found freedom.

"I gambled. I won a couple of thousand and it was pretty fun. I played blackjack and I kept winning," she says. "Everyone else at the table was getting mad." With a dizzying streak of beginner's luck, Kaur says she won $4,000, and was "instantly hooked". That first trip became two, then three, and soon she was flying to Vegas monthly, accompanied by her brother and a revolving cast of friends. "After a few trips, they started comp-ing everything," says Kaur, of the free hotel rooms and perks. Then she discovered baccarat, and suddenly nothing else in the world mattered. "I can walk past roulette," she says. "But if I even see baccarat, my heart leaps."

When I gambled it was like an escape from everything.
—Sandeep Kaur

For decades, the game of baccarat was played privately, in lavish high-roller pits for the enjoyment of millionaires, and James Bond in the movies. In this simple card game, players bet on which of two hands will add up closest to nine. "Baccarat is not beatable… it's a lottery," says US gambling journalist Michael Kaplan. "When you see these people writing down the progress of the game… it's idiotic." Kaur played a progressive game, doubling her bet after each loss to earn her money back. It is this type of aggressive play that has seen baccarat revenue in Nevada triple since 2002. Today it earns $1.4bn a year, more than blackjack, craps, and poker combined. "When I gambled it was like an escape from everything," Kaur says. "The pressure from my mom to do this and that, she wanted me to buy a house… I would go there for an escape."

Inside Kaur's penthouse suite at the Bellagio hotel and casino, RnB music throbbed from a sleek Bose stereo. The two-bedroom, five-bathroom luxury suite became a private club, strewn with bottles of Patron tequila, Don Julio, and Hennessy. Downstairs, she played behind the frosted windows of the Baccarat Bar, a ballroom-style gaming lounge with chandeliers the size of a family car. Kaur had grown a reputation as a fearless but fortunate gambler: She was known to play until she had chips worth $10,000, before spending it all in the designer stores. 

Photo from Getty Images.

"I had a weakness for designer sunglasses," she admits. "I would first go and see how much the pricing is... then I would go make a bet for that same amount. If I win, I'll go buy it, if not then I'm not meant to have it." The casino treated her like royalty, and she played next to foreign dignitaries and celebrities. Kaur says she decided to get a credit line at the casino. "So that way I don't have to bring the money there."

"A marker is a fancy word for a cheque," explains casino super-host Steve Cyr, 51. "If a cheque bounces in Nevada, it's a criminal offence." Yet Kaur still kept to a strict lunch budget of $15, and enjoyed her winnings. Soon, the casino agreed to raise her marker to $20,000, and her bets increased.

Kaur was on a roll. She was making money almost out of thin air, and had gained entry to the inner sanctum of the seductive nightlife of Las Vegas. But then things started to go wrong.

A year after her first gamble, in November 2011, Kaur confided to Amundeep that she had lost $60,000. She said she had lost it on the stock market but her brother revealed the truth. "She gambled it all in like three hands on the table, I saw her," he told his cousin. After that, Amundeep says, "I knew she had a problem."

Kaur says she quit nursing and left her studies at Sacramento State to concentrate on gambling. "I stopped working. I can't focus and be going to work for this little amount of money," she says. She wired more and more money from her investment account. "It started off at like $250,000," she says. And all of it dripped away. In late March 2012 she was seen walking the casino floor in a daze. Outside the Baccarat Bar, she walked past the banks of slot machines like "The Jewel of India", and "Bollywood Babes", as their discordant sirens sounded an internal alarm: her life savings were gone - and she was in debt to the casino.

That was when a stranger approached, Kaur says. The man had watched her gambling from afar, and was impressed with her talent. She says he told her: "I can get you some money." The man, she says, was not a member of casino staff, just one of the game's many hangers-on. "I've seen you win before, you can win your money back," he told her. Kaur says he led her outside and introduced her to more men. "I told them I need $20,000. He said, 'I can get that for you.' I wanted to win… I got sucked into it. They were really big guys, but at the time I thought I could pay it back. They said it would be a high interest rate... and I agreed." Kaur describes the men as, "a Mexican guy, and the other guy was like a mix maybe… Puerto Rican, he had braids." She gave them her details, and in the casino's parking garage they handed her the cash. "OK I'll pay you back, it'll probably be a couple of hours," she said. Then she marched back through the casino's monogrammed doors, ready to win. 

Photo from AP.

The heels and expensive dress were gone. Kaur wore a sweat suit, as she played to pay off her debt to the Bellagio and the loan sharks. She says she needed $45,000. "I ate at that table. I only took bathroom breaks… I was sitting at the table for 16 hours." But the cards were cruel, and her chips quickly depleted. The host encouraged her to try a lucky drink, perhaps a Louis XIII cognac, or an expensive cigar, which she accepted. "I'm sitting there…hoping it'll all change," she recalls. Puffing on a cigar in her sportswear, Kaur cut an unlikely figure in the mahogany-panelled Baccarat Bar, with its modern art and exotic flowers, but soon her pile of chips began to grow. "At one point I had $38,000," she says - just a few thousand dollars from safety. In a few more hands, she might be up - perhaps she'd even win enough for a shopping spree?

Indian parents are very nosy, they like to look at your bank statements.
—Sandeep Kaur

"Then it all just went down the drain," she says of the last few hands that wiped her out. "I can't believe that I've done this," she told herself. Then Kaur says she fled Las Vegas and her creditors, vowing to give up gambling. In May 2012, she moved with her mother to Union City, California, for a new address and new start, always with one eye out for her creditors. Kaur maxed out her credit cards to pay the deposit for a family home, and to cover for her losses, told her mother she bought the house outright. She worked 96-hour weeks as a nurse to pay her secret mortgage. But by 11 December 2012, there was a warrant for her arrest, for failing to pay her casino marker and it wasn't long before Kaur's mother discovered the truth.

"Indian parents are very nosy, they like to look at your bank statements," Kaur says. "She went ballistic on me. 'Where is the money? Why did you do this? How bad does this look, you being a girl?'"

There were other secrets in the Kaur household. Kaur says her parents had divorced, which is unusual in the Indian community. She says her father, who travelled to and fro to India, still attended family functions and pretended nothing had happened. "I just felt like my whole life I've been living a lie," she says. "Just an image for people." Kaur describes her father as "not involved" in their lives. She says he is "retired" and that "he used to work for companies". Amundeep tells me he is actually a taxi driver in Union City.

Kaur says she stayed far away from Las Vegas "for a year" to dodge the loan sharks and casino debts, but Amundeep's account is different. She told me that Kaur was "back and forward to Las Vegas" until July 2013, and she even boasted of turning "$1,100 into $25,000". Whatever the real timeline, it is clear that Kaur did not repay her debts. And at this point, Kaur's mother began to arrange her marriage.

Potential suitors were invited to the family home, but Kaur was not impressed. "What guy doesn't have the balls to tell their family they want to get married on their own?" she says. And anyway, her parents' own arranged marriage was a charade. By September 2013, Kaur had eloped with a man of her own choice. When we talk in the jail, she will not discuss her husband, other than to say: "I was a prisoner in my own home." Amundeep tells me that Kaur was given a $1,000-a-week allowance from her husband, but gambled it in Las Vegas. Her cousin also says that in January of 2014, Kaur's car was impounded for unpaid bills, and in April, her marriage was over. Amundeep says her husband stopped paying her allowance in May. Then Kaur's mortgage, heavy gambling debts, and web of lies became a ticking time bomb.

Ever since we were kids we had to lie.
—Sandeep Kaur

Memorial Day, Monday 26 May 2014. Kaur says she noticed a mysterious black vehicle following her car, during a trip to visit friends in Freemont, California. "I thought my father had hired someone to follow me," she says. When she paid for gas, she says she returned to find two strange men sitting in her car.

"Oh, you're in the wrong car," she told them.

"We need to talk to you. You're Sandeep," she recalls one of them saying. "You owe us $25,000 but that's not enough, we need more."

Kaur says these were not the men who had loaned her the cash. It is not unusual for so-called "bad debt" to be bought for pennies on the dollar, by unscrupulous collectors. I asked who they were. "One was darker… one guy was black. Medium size… they called him by some nickname, I forgot what it was." Kaur says they demanded $35,000 and that she had two days to get it. "My family still doesn't know any of this."

"They said, 'Where are you gonna get the money from?'"

Kaur pulled out her phone. "I'm gonna make some phone calls," she said. "They said, 'Why don't you make those phone calls right now.'"

When no-one would lend Kaur money, the men threatened her family, she says. They told her she had a choice - to pay the money, or work for them. "I didn't know what working for them meant. I was thinking some drug stuff, I don't know, prostitution… They said, 'You can rob a bank. Go rob a house, do this do that, we need the money.' They tried to give me a gun."

When they suggested bank robbery, Kaur says the idea didn't seem ludicrous. "It's do or die. If I did this, and anything did happen then at least the police would be involved," she reasons. "Or you know, I could just kill myself." But why didn't she just tell the police? "Ever since we were kids we had to lie," she says. From the punishment she suffered at the hands of her parents, to partying, and her parents' divorce, anything shameful had to be hidden.

Eleven days later, Kaur escaped from her first bank robbery in Valencia, on to Magic Mountain Parkway and on to the I-5 freeway towards Los Angeles. As she tossed away her wig, a police car flew past in the opposite direction. "I kept looking backwards, thinking, 'They're gonna be here now… Or now?... Now?'" But after a six-hour drive, Kaur realised she had got away. She arrived outside a restaurant near the pier at Santa Monica, where she says her creditors were waiting.

"I met them in Santa Monica like I was supposed to, the day after. I told them what I'd done." Kaur says she handed them the cash. "They said, 'This is not enough.'" The men gave her a week to come up with another $20,000, she says. With the interest increasing at an extortionate rate, Kaur says she scraped together $5,000. Then she drove to Las Vegas on 20 June, 2014, to make another payment. But the moment she arrived, the familiar flutter of excitement rose in her stomach. She parked at the Aria casino, a sister hotel of the Bellagio. What if she could turn that $5,000 into a larger amount, she thought, and solve her problems forever? 

Photo from Getty Images.

There is nothing more intoxicating than a lucky run on baccarat. Her $5,000 became almost $10,000 in a matter of minutes. The buzz was back. Then she felt a hand on her shoulder, perhaps a congratulatory friend, she thought. But it was a huge security guard, who told her: "Can you come with us? You have a warrant out for you." Soon Kaur was staring into the camera at the Clark County Detention Center, on Casino Center Blvd. Her marker had finally caught up with her. "I thought, the bank robbery is gonna come back on me too now… this is it for me," she says. But luckily for her, they didn't connect the dots. On 26 June, Amundeep helped find $15,000 bail money, and Kaur was free - but deeper in debt than ever. And with a "felony" charge on her record, Kaur knew she would not be allowed to work as a nurse again.

Soon Kaur was looking at her iPhone again for directions to another bank. "What are the chances of me getting away with another robbery?" she thought. "Maybe I should just kill myself, end it all… no they'd go to my family. I have to do this. I was very close to [suicide]. I kept thinking… pills. But no, there's a chance of surviving. But then… if I'm already thinking of ending my life, why not go rob the bank? The debt was increasing every day. It's gonna keep going on for life. If I got another $20,000 from this one, I'm done."

The Lake Havasu City branch of Wells Fargo is 58 miles past the Nevada state line, in Arizona. It was 8 July 2014. Sandeep Kaur walked into the bank wearing a skin-tight black dress, a flower-print scarf, her trademark sunglasses, and unusually for bank robbery, open-toe sandals. It was 5.30pm when she handed a bank employee a note which said she had a bomb and that she wanted $100,000. According to investigators, the note also claimed five men were making her rob the bank, and that she didn't want to do it. The cashier handed over the cash, and Kaur sprinted to her car. "I'd parked by [sandwich shop] Jersey Mikes," she recalls. "There's people that even saw me running from there. That day I just got lucky."

A terrific rainstorm hampered her getaway, she says, forcing drivers to pull over and wait it out. As the rain crashed against her windscreen, she counted the money and was frustrated to find it amounted to just under $2,000. She turned on the radio, and in the car parked next to hers, a man smiled at her. She politely smiled back. "I'm normal to the rest of the world," she says. "My mind just tells me it's OK."

The next day, Sgt Troy Stirling of the Lake Havasu City Police Department told the press he was comparing notes with other law enforcement agencies: "Typically some of these bad guys like to do the same thing in other areas," he suggested. The net was closing on the Bombshell Bandit.

The day after that, on 10 July, the Kaur cousins met for dinner. Amundeep was astonished at her cousin's weight loss. They often dieted together, sharing meal plans and encouragement. "How do you do it?" she asked, enviously. "She was 150 [pounds]… in a month she had gone [to] 115." Kaur said nothing about robbing banks and was clearly broke, Amundeep says. She couldn't even afford to pay for dinner.

But Kaur was already planning her third robbery, this time in San Diego. "I looked it up and there were already so many robberies there that people had gotten away with. They had this one guy called 'the Geezer' that had never been caught or anything. The people in San Diego were kinda for it," she reasons, because "nobody was telling on him."

The Geezer Bandit is San Diego's number one serial bank robber. Some believe he is a younger man wearing a Hollywood special-effects mask to disguise his age. After 11 successful heists, he has never been stopped, and Kaur was catching up on him. But was bank robbery getting easier, now that she was experienced? "Each one's like… different," she says. July 14 2014 was a Monday, the most popular day for bank robberies, according to FBI statistics. At approximately 2.50pm, she held up a Comerica Bank in San Diego's Midway District, her second robbery in six days. Again, she handed the teller a folded piece of paper, which demanded money and threatened a bomb. This time her disguise was a colourful headscarf.

"I got $8,000, and the next day I go see [the creditors] at the same place in Santa Monica," she says. "I gave them the money, but it was still not enough… They said 'You're running out of time. By 1 August, if you don't have the money, we are gonna take you. You're gonna work for us.' So then I said, 'OK, I'll go rob this last bank, and give them this money by the first of the month, get this over with.' I decided on Utah, I guess. I started to feel like they were going to keep increasing the money. The hole kept getting bigger and bigger." 

The US Bank in St George boasts a drive-thru teller, so few customers actually walk into the branch. Inside, the friendly staff keep bowls of sweets at the front desk. At 4.50pm on 31 July 2014, Sandeep Kaur entered the bank with a hoodie pulled over her head. Wearing sunglasses and a surgical mask, the manager's first thought was that she was a germaphobe. But quickly that thought turned to, "This is not good." Kaur passed the female cashier a note that read: "YOU HAVE TWO MINUTES TO GIVE ME 50K OF CASH OR I WILL SHOOT YOU. THIS IS NOT A JOKE." She did not have a gun.

The manager watched Kaur run to her car carrying the cash, and telephoned 911, with a description of her silver Nissan. The Bombshell Bandit was on the run, peeling out of the parking lot at top speed. Officer Mark Biehl of the St George Police Department was at a nearby fire station when the bank robbery call came in. His Dodge Charger patrol car roared towards the freeway. "Suspect possibly armed," said the dispatcher. Biehl staged his car at Exit 2 of the freeway, just as the promised silver car sped past, the driver too short to identify. "As soon as he was following me, I knew," Kaur says. "It was like, 'OK. It's the end of it.'" But she still didn't stop.

The police car followed her patiently across the state line into Arizona. Then two white local police Ford Explorers joined the chase, their blue and red lights flashing. The orange desert here turns almost Martian, as St George disappears, before the road is swallowed by the massive vermilion rocks of the Virgin River Gorge. The police radios died, and the caravan of vehicles became toy cars, dwarfed by the enormity of the canyon. "I thought about going off the side," says Kaur. "But I didn't know if I'd hurt others." 

When the pursuit raced through the dusty city of Mesquite, local officer Brad Swanson joined the chase. Three police departments were on Kaur's tail now, lights blazing. They sped past the casinos that line the freeway, offering "$10,000 LUCKIEST SLOTS IN TOWN," as Las Vegas approached. At 4.26pm, Kaur's car flew over the time zone into Nevada, travelling at 130mph. Officer Swanson alerted a police officer waiting ahead to deploy his spike strips. But Kaur swerved, and her tires survived. Then 25 miles later, the road narrowed to one lane, and a waiting Nevada Highway Patrol trooper slid out his spike strip to greater effect. At 4.48pm, Kaur's spree was over. Officer Swanson ordered her out of the car.

"Just shoot me," she begged.

More police cars arrived and a TV news helicopter buzzed overhead. Las Vegas Metropolitan Police officer Troy Benson shouted instructions at Kaur through the PA system in Swanson's patrol vehicle. The stand-off lasted two hours until the police persuaded the robber she was going to hospital, not to jail. But they lied.

Amundeep Kaur was on a treadmill when her phone buzzed with the text message:


She stepped off the treadmill and stared at the screen. Another green speech bubble appeared:


Transported to the Clark County Detention Center, Kaur sat in a bleak prison cell. "I'm back in this hellhole. I thought, I can't do this." She decided to slit her wrists. "I try... but my roommate told on me," she says, crying. "I got put in this psych [cell] where they strip away all your clothes, and you're just sitting there naked."

Special Agent Seth Footlik of the FBI interviewed a sullen Sandeep Kaur on 14 August. "Kaur was neither remorseful, nor completely honest in her interview," he told me. I asked if she told him about the loan sharks, and Footlik said: "Kaur has proven to be dishonest and could not provide corroborating information for her claims. This office has not conducted any further investigation into Kaur's claims of violent loan sharks." Because Kaur readily admits to living a life "full of lies", her story is hard to verify. However, I discovered that both her Arizona and Utah robberies coincided with the court's demands for restitution for her gambling debts. Whatever her real motives, this is a story of a woman desperately trying to hide her shame.

The Punjabi newspaper, Ajit, is read on the steps of the Sikh temple in Union City, California, before service. As her trial approached, it speculated that she faced up to 20 years in federal prison on each of the four charges against her, and fines of $250,000. Kaur says her mother read the story and collapsed. 

Court document - scan of notes recovered from Kaur.

Not one member of her family attends the Fifth District Court in St George, for her sentencing on 7 April 2015. Emotional letters from her brother Jatinder and cousin Amundeep are handed to the judge, begging for leniency. Moments before Kaur arrives, I hear the jangling of her arm and leg shackles. Then she shuffles into the small courthouse, wearing a bright orange prison jumpsuit with "small" printed on its back. She shoots me a nervous smile. At 2pm, her attorney, Jay Winward, a tall, court-appointed defence attorney, tells District Judge Ted Stewart, "There are good criminals and bad."

She was willing to gamble not only her money and money she won at the casino - she was willing to gamble other people's safety.
—Paul Kohler, Prosecuting attorney

He describes Kaur as educated and of "great worth to society", and says she was "trapped" by her culture. "Trapped?" returns prosecuting attorney Paul Kohler, who is wearing the snappier of the two suits. "Speak to those who were really trapped… The families travelling on the freeway when Kaur sped at 130mph… the bank employees... These are crimes of a violent, serial nature." Yet at times Kaur's actions were almost comical. The court hears how she robbed the bank in St George by pretending her finger was a gun. And then there was that ridiculous wig.

Next, the real courtroom drama begins. In an unusual move, the judge seals the courtroom and orders the press to leave. It is reported that "sensitive" evidence was heard relating to her treatment at the hands of loan sharks. If the FBI agent in charge of her case did not believe her, it appeared the judge did. "She amassed a large gambling debt and, in order to repay a loan shark, she robbed the banks," he concludes. "That conduct explains why she did what she did, but by no means justifies what she did... It cannot be used as an excuse in the court's mind." The irritated journalists are allowed back in time for the prosecutor's closing argument. "She was willing to gamble," Kohler says, "not only her money and money she won at the casino. She was willing to gamble other people's safety."

The judge sentences Sandeep Kaur to 66 months in jail, and orders her to pay back every dollar of the money she stole. Kaur wipes her eyes and thanks the judge, saying her arrest was "a relief".

During our prison interview, just before our time is up, Kaur tells me she has been helping other prisoners. Some are "in and out", often for the same small crimes, and Kaur says she urges them to change their lives while they still can. She also says she has rekindled her interest in religion - and that she had an epiphany that night in solitary confinement in the Las Vegas jail. "That's when I stopped the thinking of killing myself," she says. "OK, I did it to myself… Now, it's like, what can I do to help others? That's my motivation now."

And as the heavy door slams shut, and I watch through the reinforced window as Kaur shuffles back to her cell, I find myself wanting to believe her.