Humans Of New York’s 11-Part Saga Features Prison Break, True Love, And Forgiveness

To read the Humans of New York Instagram is to love the Humans of New York Instagram. The people and their stories never cease to be fascinating, captured alongside photos there to remind us that what’s on the surface rarely gives any insight as to what’s going on underneath.

This week, one of the most remarkable stories yet was shared on HoNY’s social media. It’s the wild ride no one saw coming—so buckle in.

At the start of the 11-part series, a woman named Cheryl Love recounts how five years ago, she and her husband Bobby were starting their day as usual when twelve police officers barged into their home.

“They went straight back to the bedroom, and walked up to Bobby,” she says. “I heard them ask: ‘What’s your name?’ And he said, ‘Bobby Love.’ Then they said, ‘No. What’s your real name?’ And I heard him say something real low. And they responded: ‘You’ve had a long run.’”

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(1/11) “It was just a normal morning. Almost exactly five years ago. I was making tea in the kitchen. Bobby was still in bed. And we get this knock on the door. I opened it up slowly, and saw the police standing there. At first I wasn’t worried. We had this crazy lady that lived next door, and the police were always checking up on her. So I assumed they had the wrong address. But the moment I opened the door, twelve officers came barging past me. Some of them had ‘FBI’ written on their jackets. They went straight back to the bedroom, and walked up to Bobby. I heard them ask: ‘What’s your name?’ And he said, ‘Bobby Love.’ Then they said, ‘No. What’s your real name?’ And I heard him say something real low. And they responded: 'You've had a long run.' That’s when I tried to get into the room. But the officer kept saying: ‘Get back, get back. You don’t know who this man is.’ Then they started putting him in handcuffs. It didn’t make any sense. I’d been married to Bobby for forty years. He didn’t even have a criminal record. At this point I’m crying, and I screamed: ‘Bobby, what’s going on?’ Did you kill somebody?’ And he tells me: ‘This goes way back, Cheryl. Back before I met you. Way back to North Carolina.’”

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Cheryl was flabbergasted as they put her husband of forty years in handcuffs. “And he tells me: ‘This goes way back, Cheryl. Back before I met you. Way back to North Carolina.’”

Bobby takes over telling the story from there, admitting that his name wasn’t always Bobby Love. Before he was Bobby, he was Walter Miller.

Walter Miller began getting into trouble as a teenager. It started with a simple arrest for “disorderly conduct” in 1964 North Carolina as a 14-year old. From there, he recalls, it spiraled into theft, and Walter eventually got shipped off to juvie.

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(2/11) “Back in the day my name was Walter Miller. It was a pretty normal childhood. We grew up poor, but nothing really dramatic happened until I went to a Sam Cooke concert at the age of fourteen. I was excited to be at that concert, so I pushed my way to the front row—right near the stage. The crowd was really moving, because it was dance music. And Sam Cooke didn’t like that. He kept telling people to sit down. And after only two songs, he got so angry that he walked off the stage. So I screamed at the top of my lungs: ‘Sam Cooke ain’t shit!’ And in North Carolina, back in 1964, that was enough to get me arrested for disorderly conduct. Things went downhill pretty quick after that. My mother was raising eight kids on her own, so she couldn’t control me. I got into all sorts of trouble. I lifted purses from unlocked cars. I was stealing government checks out of mailboxes. I got bolder and bolder, until one day I got busted stealing from the band room at school. They shipped me off to a juvenile detention center called Morrison Training School. I hated everything about that place. The food was terrible. The kids were violent. I still have scars from all the times I got beat up. Every night, while I was falling asleep, I could hear the whistle of a freight train in the distance. And I always wanted to know where that train was going. So one night, when the guard turned his back to check the clock, I ran out the back door-- toward the sound of that whistle. And that was the first place I ever escaped from.”

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“I hated everything about that place. The food was terrible. The kids were violent. I still have scars from all the times I got beat up. Every night, while I was falling asleep, I could hear the whistle of a freight train in the distance. And I always wanted to know where that train was going. So one night, when the guard turned his back to check the clock, I ran out the back door– toward the sound of that whistle. And that was the first place I ever escaped from.”

Things started looking up for Walter after that, but then he fell in with a bad crowd.

“These guys were robbing banks—and getting away with it. So I decided to tag along,” he says. “And we got away with it a few times. After every score, we’d hang out on the strip at 14th and T, and act like big timers. We felt like gangsters. I have nobody to blame but myself. I just enjoyed the feeling of having money.”

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(3/11) “I followed those train tracks all the way to Washington DC. And for a minute, it seemed like everything would be alright. My brother lived in the city, so I started sleeping at his place. I enrolled in a new high school. I was going to class. Playing a little basketball. Things were going smooth. But I hadn’t learned my lesson yet. My old ways caught up with me, and I fell in with the wrong group of kids. These guys were robbing banks—and getting away with it. So I decided to tag along. We’d drive down to North Carolina because those banks had less security. And we got away with it a few times. After every score, we’d hang out on the strip at 14th and T, and act like big timers. We felt like gangsters. I have nobody to blame but myself. I just enjoyed the feeling of having money. But the fun didn’t last for long. Because one of those banks had a silent alarm. And while we were stuffing our bags full of money, the manager pulled the trigger. The police were waiting for us in the parking lot. All hell broke loose. I tried to get away, ducking and weaving, running through cars. But I got shot in the buttocks. The bullet went right through me. I woke up in the hospital-- with a hole in the front and back of my coat.”

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But eventually, the other shoe dropped, and Walter was not only caught, but woke up in the hospital after being shot by the police during a robbery gone wrong.

“It was all over for Walter Miller,” he says.

He was sentenced to 25-30 years in prison. After displaying good behavior, he was moved from a maximum-security prison to a minimum-security facility and fell into a routine that he said left him feeling “relaxed.” But when another inmate yelled at the prison captain and Walter wound up taking the blame for it, everything shifted.

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(5/11) “Everything changed for me when someone screamed ‘punk ass’ at the prison captain. He was walking through the parking lot. It was early in the morning, and it was still dark, so he couldn’t see who did it. I was working in the kitchen, so there was no way it could be me. But the captain said that he recognized my voice—and he wrote me up. After that he started picking on me. I tried to keep my head low. But the more I tried to do good, the more I got punished. He wrote me up for all kinds of phony things. He accused me of stealing a newspaper. He accused me of faking sick. The negative reports kept piling up, until I was one mark away from being sent back up the hill. And that’s when they started putting me on the road. It was the worst job in the prison. They’d call your name before sunrise, and you had to get on this bus. Then they’d drive you all over Raleigh to clean trash off the highways. It was awful. People would be throwing hamburgers and milkshakes at you. And it was almost winter, so it was starting to get cold. That’s when I started planning and plotting. I saved up my money. I memorized the bus route. I noticed that we always stopped at a certain intersection—right next to a wooded area. And I figured I could make that distance in no time at all. I also noticed that the guard who worked on Tuesday never searched the prisoners as they boarded the bus. So one Monday night, while we were watching the Colts game on TV, I made the decision. That was going to be my last night in prison.”

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“After that he started picking on me,” he recalls. “I tried to keep my head low. But the more I tried to do good, the more I got punished.”

Walter says he was one unearned negative mark away from being shipped back up to the maximum security prison when he was put on highway clean up duty, the worst job you could get. That, he says, is when he decided he was going to escape.

He memorized the bus routes and devised a plan.

One of the guards didn’t search the prisoners as the entered the bus, so one day, Walter wore the civilian clothes he was allowed for his other job working at the radio station on underneath his prison uniform. He walked to the back row of the bus and waited for the intersection stop he knew was coming — one right next to a densely wooded area he knew he could bolt towards before anyone could stop him.

“As we slowed down for a stop, I swung open the back door– and I was gone. I could hear the alarm blaring behind me, but I didn’t look back. I peeled off my green clothes and just kept running.”

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(6/11) “I cleaned out my locker before I went to sleep. I wanted to leave nothing behind. No phone numbers. No addresses. Nothing they could use to find me quick. Because I worked at the radio station, I was allowed a single pair of civilian clothes. I put those on beneath my prison garments and wore everything to bed. I didn’t sleep a wink that night. Every three hours the guards did a head count, and I kept seeing that flashlight shine on the wall. When the sun finally came up, I jumped out of bed and splashed water on my face. Then I glanced out the window. The careless guard was stationed at the gate. The one who never patted down the prisoners. So I said: ‘That’s it, I’m leaving.’ I got on the bus and went to the very back row, right next to the emergency exit. It was a five minute drive to the wooded area. As we slowed down for a stop, I swung open the back door-- and I was gone. I could hear the alarm blaring behind me, but I didn’t look back. I peeled off my green clothes and just kept running. The sweat was coming off me. I looked like trouble, so I did my best to keep out of the white neighborhoods. Every time I passed a brother, I asked for directions to the Greyhound station. Everyone kept telling me: ‘Keep going, keep going, keep going.’ When I finally got there, I found a brother in the parking lot who agreed to buy me a one way ticket to New York. I waited until the last minute. I jumped on the bus right as the driver was closing the door. Then I slunk down in my seat while we drove out of Raleigh. Once we got on the highway, the girl next to me started making small talk. She asked me my name. I thought for a moment, and said: ‘Bobby Love.’ And that was the death of Walter Miller.”

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“Every time I passed a brother, I asked for directions to the Greyhound station. Everyone kept telling me: ‘Keep going, keep going, keep going.’ When I finally got there, I found a brother in the parking lot who agreed to buy me a one way ticket to New York. I waited until the last minute. I jumped on the bus right as the driver was closing the door. Then I slunk down in my seat while we drove out of Raleigh. Once we got on the highway, the girl next to me started making small talk. She asked me my name. I thought for a moment, and said: ‘Bobby Love.’ And that was the death of Walter Miller.”

But upon arriving in New York, Walter — now Bobby — had nothing.

“I had to figure out a way to get a foothold in life. I wasn’t even a person. I had no papers, no ID, no nothing,” he says.

It was the kindness of strangers, over and over and over again, that allowed Bobby to assume his new identity and ultimately start his new life.

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(7/11) “Bobby Love arrived in New York in late November, 1977. I was glad to be free, but I was still in a tough spot. I had to build a life from scratch. All I had was $100 in small bills, a single pair of clothes, and a brand new name. I moved into a fleabag hotel, and for two weeks I survived on hotdogs and marijuana. Then my money ran out and I started sleeping on the trains. I had to figure out a way to get a foothold in life. I wasn’t even a person. I had no papers, no ID, no nothing. Believe it or not, the first thing I got was a social security number. I walked up to the window and told the lady a story about losing everything, and she gave me a card. On the spot. I still have it today. Next I got hold of an original birth certificate, scratched out the name, and typed ‘Bobby Love’ on the line. Then I took it to a print shop and copied it so many times that it didn’t look fake anymore. It didn’t take me long to find a brother at the funeral home who agreed to notarize it. He wouldn’t sign it, but he’d stamp it. And that was enough for me-- because I found a brother at the DMV who pretended not to notice. And that’s how I got my drivers license. Then I used all my new papers to get a job working in the cafeteria of the Baptist Medical Center. And that’s where I met Cheryl.”

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“Believe it or not, the first thing I got was a social security number. I walked up to the window and told the lady a story about losing everything, and she gave me a card. On the spot. I still have it today. Next I got hold of an original birth certificate, scratched out the name, and typed ‘Bobby Love’ on the line. Then I took it to a print shop and copied it so many times that it didn’t look fake anymore. It didn’t take me long to find a brother at the funeral home who agreed to notarize it. He wouldn’t sign it, but he’d stamp it. And that was enough for me– because I found a brother at the DMV who pretended not to notice. And that’s how I got my drivers license. Then I used all my new papers to get a job working in the cafeteria of the Baptist Medical Center. And that’s where I met Cheryl.”

“Cheryl was innocent. The opposite of me.”

Bobby admits he never told her anything about who he was, just that he’d come to New York City to “try something new,” which was the truth. They married in 1985, and raised four children together, but Bobby says that his whole time, his family in North Carolina was pressuring him to tell Cheryl who he really was.

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(8/11) “Cheryl was innocent. The opposite of me. And that’s why I was so attracted to her. I never wanted to date someone like myself: who drank, and smoked, and had a past. Cheryl was soft. Almost naïve in a way. I never told her about my history, and she didn’t really press me. I did tell her that I grew up in the South-- which was true. And that I’d come to New York City to try something new. That was true too. But I never told her about Walter Miller. I didn’t see the need. Walter died a long time ago, on that Greyhound bus out of Raleigh. I was a new man. I was Bobby Love now. And if that was enough for her, why complicate things? We got married in 1985. Time went by. We raised four children together. I just couldn’t risk it. My family in North Carolina kept telling me: ‘You’ve got to come clean. You’ve got to tell her.’ But they didn’t know my wife. Not like I did. Cheryl is a righteous woman. Most people, when they see a dollar dropped on the street, will put it in their pocket. But not Cheryl. She will stop everyone on the sidewalk, looking for the owner. She’s that kind of woman. And that’s not the kind of woman who could keep a secret like this. I’m not trying to say that she’d have called the cops on me. But she’d have made me call the cops on myself. She’d turn up the heat. So I just couldn’t tell her about Walter Miller. And there was no need. Bobby Love didn’t have a criminal record. Bobby Love was a family man. Bobby Love was a deacon at his church. Every Sunday our pastor would preach about forgetting the past, and forgiving ourselves, and looking ahead. And that’s exactly what I was doing. That part of my life was buried back in North Carolina. And it wasn’t coming back.“

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“But they didn’t know my wife. Not like I did. Cheryl is a righteous woman,” he says. “And that’s not the kind of woman who could keep a secret like this. I’m not trying to say that she’d have called the cops on me. But she’d have made me call the cops on myself.”

And the new life Bobby had forged for himself was a clean one, a good one. He was doing everything right. So he kept his secret past to himself.

But Cheryl says she always knew something was wrong.

“There was a piece missing,” she says now. “All these years I loved my husband. And he loved me—but something was missing.”

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(9/11) “There was a piece missing. All these years I loved my husband. And he loved me— but something was missing. First, he never liked to be in photographs. And he always thought people were watching him. But I just thought it was vanity. I kept saying: ‘C’mon, Bobby. You aren’t that exclusive.’ But then there was the deeper stuff. We had some beautiful love making. But other than that, there wasn’t much affection. Not many hugs. Not much cuddling. Not much communication. I could only get so close and he’d shut down. Sometimes, when we were arguing, I’d be pouring myself out to him. And he’d just sit there with a scowl on his face. I thought it was me. I kept thinking: ‘Maybe he doesn’t want to be here.’ But Bobby was a provider. He was always working two or three jobs. He’d cook, and do laundry, and spend time with the kids. I thought to myself: ‘Everyone is different. People have different upbringings. This might be how Bobby shows love.’ But it was hard. It wore me down. I cried so many tears about it. I remember during Christmas of 2014, I was on my knees in church, saying: ‘Lord, please, I can’t do this anymore.’ I begged God to change my husband’s heart. I’d reached the end of my rope. That was a few weeks before everything went down.“

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She recalls how he never liked to be photographed, and always seemed paranoid, and it was difficult to get close to him. Sometimes it made Cheryl wonder if he didn’t want to be with her, but he was always there, always providing, so she chalked it up to a difference in upbringings and tried to carry on.

“But it was hard. It wore me down. I cried so many tears about it. I remember during Christmas of 2014, I was on my knees in church, saying: ‘Lord, please, I can’t do this anymore.’ I begged God to change my husband’s heart. I’d reached the end of my rope. That was a few weeks before everything went down.”

“My world came crashing down.”

Cheryl says that when Bobby was arrested, nobody in their lives could believe that she had truly been in the dark for forty years of marriage.

“How could I be so stupid?” she asks. “I wanted to hide. I wanted to disappear.”

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(10/11) “My world came crashing down. Bobby’s arrest was all over the papers. It seemed like the whole city was laughing at me. People at church would pull me aside, and whisper: ‘You knew about this right? You had to know.’ But I never knew. Forty years of marriage, four grown children, and I never knew. How could I be so stupid? I wanted to hide. I wanted to disappear. When I went to work that first day, everyone was gathered around the front desk. And they got real quiet when I walked in. But I told them: ‘Don’t just stand there. I need some love. Give me some hugs.’ Of course I was embarrassed, but I was more hurt than anything. Bobby had deceived me for all those years. There was no truth in our house. I’m walking past this man every single day. We laughing. We joking. And he’s not telling me anything? I was so angry. But I never hated him. I wanted to comfort him. I wanted to hold his hand. I told Bobby later, ‘That’s how I knew I loved you. Because even in the worst of it, I was thinking about you.’ When I first visited him in prison, he broke down crying. His head was in his hands, and he told me: ‘I know, you’re going to leave me.’ I told him: ‘No Bobby Love, I married you for better or for worse. And right now this is the worst.’”

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But she credits the fact that even through feeling so embarrassed and betrayed, all she really wanted to do was comfort him with making her realize that she really did love him. 

“When I first visited him in prison, he broke down crying. His head was in his hands, and he told me: ‘I know, you’re going to leave me.’ I told him: ‘No Bobby Love, I married you for better or for worse. And right now this is the worst.’”

So Cheryl figured out how to get her husband back.

She gathered testimonials from everyone they knew. She wrote the governor, she wrote Obama, she spoke to the parole board on his behalf.

“I didn’t know a thing about Walter Miller,” she says. “But I told them all about Bobby Love.”

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(11/11) “I got to work. I wrote letters to the governor. I wrote letters to Obama. I gathered testimonials from everyone that Bobby ever knew: all the kids he used to coach, all the people at our church, all of our family members. I testified on his behalf. I didn’t know a thing about Walter Miller. But I told them all about Bobby Love. And the parole board took mercy. After a year in prison, they let him come home. The day after he was set free, I sat him down and asked: ‘What is it? Are we the Loves? Or are we the Millers?’ And he said: ‘We Love. We Love.’ So I had him change his name legally. And now we’re moving on. I still have my resentments. When we get in a fight, I’ll think: ‘This man better appreciate that I forgave him.’ But the thing is-- I did forgive him. And when I made that decision, I had to accept all the territory that came with it. I can’t make him feel that debt every day of his life. Because that’s not the marriage I want to be in. The whole world knows now. We’ve got no secrets. But I think this whole mess was for the better of things: better for me, better for the kids, and better for Bobby. He doesn’t have to hide anymore. He can look at me when I’m speaking. Not only that, he’s hearing me too. My voice is heard. I used to walk on eggshells. I used to just go along. But I told him one thing. I said: ‘Bobby, I’ll take you back. But I’m not taking a backseat to you no more.’ Because I got my own story to tell. I can write a book too. I might not have escaped from prison, and started a whole new life, and hid it from my family. But I forgave the man who did.”

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“After a year in prison, they let him come home. The day after he was set free, I sat him down and asked: ‘What is it? Are we the Loves? Or are we the Millers?’ And he said: ‘We Love. We Love.’ So I had him change his name legally. And now we’re moving on.”

It’s not all smooth sailing, but they’re putting the pieces back together.

“I still have my resentments. When we get in a fight, I’ll think: ‘This man better appreciate that I forgave him.’ But the thing is– I did forgive him. And when I made that decision, I had to accept all the territory that came with it. I can’t make him feel that debt every day of his life. Because that’s not the marriage I want to be in. The whole world knows now. We’ve got no secrets. But I think this whole mess was for the better of things: better for me, better for the kids, and better for Bobby. He doesn’t have to hide anymore. He can look at me when I’m speaking. Not only that, he’s hearing me too. My voice is heard. I used to walk on eggshells. I used to just go along. But I told him one thing. I said: ‘Bobby, I’ll take you back. But I’m not taking a backseat to you no more.’ Because I got my own story to tell. I can write a book too. I might not have escaped from prison, and started a whole new life, and hid it from my family. But I forgave the man who did.”