Another Report from McAlester State Prison

Welcome back. Thousands of tons of concrete were poured to build the walls of McAlester State Prison and this week my story on the execution of Julius Jones is not from inside those walls but rather from outside the walls where a huge crowd had gathered in protest. I was standing on the corner of Short Stonewall and West Street just a half block from the main gate of the prison when down the street four hundred people screamed in unison. Yes friends, at 12:10 PM just a few hours before Jones was scheduled for execution, Governor Stitt granted Jones his life to be served behind the walls forever. I’m sure you’ve heard this story so who’s up next on Oklahoma’s execution list and when? That would be Bigler Stouffer for the murder of Linda Reeves in Oklahoma County in 1985. Stouffer has been on death row for 36 years and I plan on bringing you his fate from the prison on his execution date, December 9th.

Now onto another story involving concrete but in a good way. I often write about interesting places I come across in my travels and here is one close by I think you might enjoy traveling to check out yourself. Located on the west side of Skiatook right on Highway 20 it’s called the Skiatook Statuary. Covered with all sorts of statues and lawn ornaments, this place sits on twenty acres plum full of everything you can imagine all in concrete. I can also tell you that the owners, Chet and Jeannie Reyckert, are making art in concrete and they have sold their works all around the world including Russia. With a ten-ton hippo along with well over four thousand other concrete sculptures Skiatook Statuary is the largest operation of its kind in the world. So even if you don’t need a bird bath or lawn ornaments, put on your walking shoes this place is worth a visit just to look around.

Another fun place to visit especially at this time of year is the Frank Phillips Home in Bartlesville and on December 5th they will be hosting the annual members only Christmas Party. Want to meet some of the people who make Bartlesville work?   Or how about hanging out and enjoying great food where Frank and Jane Phillips called home?  For as little as fifty bucks you’re invited and not just for Christmas, you can visit the home for free all year.

If you miss this party Woolaroc members have their own Christmas party coming up on December 16th.   The party is held inside the museum itself where you will be treated to a full dinner and some lively entertainment all in a setting like none other. Membership also gets you into dozens of other museums around the country.

A couple of great parties I guarantee you will like. I, along with all the hard-working committee and board members for both organizations, hope to see you there.

Till then I’ll see ya down the road…….

McAlester State Prison

Welcome back. Over the last three weeks you, my regular readers, have traveled with me to the state prison in McAlester, Oklahoma. Unless Governor Stitt grants clemency to Julius Jones it looks like I will be making a return trip on November 18th so I thought a little history about the prison might be in order.

Nick named “Big Mac”, the prison in McAlester first opened in 1908 to house 50 inmates who were transferred from Lansing Correctional Facility in Kansas. Situated on 1556 acres of land, the facilities were built with the same design as Lasing using prison labor. The West Cell House and Administration buildings were built first and the complex was known as the Territorial Prison. These early buildings have since been abandoned and are located on private prison grounds where they have been hidden from view for years.

The construction of additional cell houses soon gave the prison the capacity to hold up to 750 male offenders. Home to the baddest of the bad, the prison turned especially deadly during the early 1970s when 19 violent deaths, 40 stabbings and 44 serious beatings were reported there. In 1973 alone there was a prison riot during which 3 people were killed, 12 buildings were burned down and 21 inmates and guards were injured. Another riot took place in 1985 when inmates took over cell blocks A and C causing $375,000 in damage. Today however Big Mac is a different place with much less crowding and an industrial work program for inmates.

The history of imprisonment in Oklahoma didn’t begin in McAlester though. In the early days back when Oklahoma was known as Indian Territory convicted criminals were sent to the Lansing Correctional Facility which is still in operation.

Located northwest of Kansas City Lansing was established in 1859 and housed convicts from both Kansas and Oklahoma until 1908.

I’ve been behind the walls at Lansing many times doing research. Built by President Abraham Lincoln, the prison is laid out on 2,314 acres and many of the cell blocks still in use actually date back to the civil war era. The ethnic make-up of the prisoners usually runs around 54% Caucasian, 36% African American, 5% Asian, 2% Indian and 3% “other.” Although I haven’t been there for a few years, at the time David McKune was the warden and I found him to be very fair which the inmates I spoke with did also. I would imagine that opinion of him was very important in keeping order in the prison.

Lansing has four levels of custody; special management, maximum security, medium security and minimum security which is the level at which inmates are allowed to work and make money. There is a chemicals divisor, a metal shop and carpentry and embroidery shops. Pay is low but it does provide enough income for inmates to purchase essentials at the prison store. Like McAlester Lansing offers medical services to the inmates as well.

If you visit a prisoner at either Lansing or McAlester the procedures are the same, you must go through a series of pat down searches before passing beyond several locked doors. Once you are on the grounds inside the prison walls you are in their place as inmates walk around freely but always under the watchful eyes of the guards patrolling the walls.

Yes friends, this is the prison where Richard Hickock and Perry Smith spent their last days on earth before they were hung for murdering the Clutter family in 1965. Truman Capote made their story famous with his best-selling book  In Cold Blood. He frequently visited Hickock and Smith at the prison, sitting in the same cell where I have sat but that is another story for another day.

Till next time I’ll see ya down the road….

Behind the Walls at McAlester State Prison in Oklahoma-Part One

Welcome back.   Twenty-one-years and counting down to October 28th. It’s the day when Gay Carter ‘s family expects that justice will finally be done at the state prison in McAlester, Oklahoma with the execution of John Marion Grant. Executions have been on hold in Oklahoma for the past seven years following a botched lethal injection but now state officials believe the process has been perfected.

I have applied for a press pass to witness the execution but my thoughts about following the story are up in the air. I frequently turn to my book of epigrams that Waite Phillips and Will Rogers wrote for guidance on difficult issues but searching for their thoughts on capital punishment or justice in a matter of murder so far, I have found nothing to help me.

I’ve seen death before but to be a witness at a man’s execution is something different even though this is a man who was found guilty of a viscous murder that was witnessed by several people. He was also refused clemency by the Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board and at this point the victim’s family, the Assistant Attorney General Joshua Lockett and the Attorney General John O’Conner all want to see the jury’s death penalty sentence carried out.

With that said this part of the story will focus on Gay Carter who was a state employee in the cafeteria of Connor Correctional Center in Hominy when it happened. Sixty-year-old Gay was described as friendly and outgoing and someone who respected the inmates, always treating them fairly. On November 13, 1998 she was supervising inmate workers in the kitchen when John Grant stabbed her sixteen times resulting in her death. We will never know exactly why he did this because Grant has twice refused to appear before the Pardon and Parole Board and now unless Governor Stitt grants him clemency, he will be injected with a mixture of drugs causing his death.

My research indicates that lethal injection as a form of capital punishment was first developed in the United States but it has since been adopted by other countries. China, Thailand, Guatemala, Taiwan, Nigeria and Vietnam all employ lethal injection in death penalty cases although execution by firing squad or electrocution is not uncommon in[DL1]  some of these countries.

I have also learned that since 1976 Oklahoma has had the highest number of executions per capita of any state in the country and in 2010 was the first state and the first jurisdiction in the world to adopt lethal injection. Since 1990 Oklahoma has carried out one hundred and nine executions and according to the prison information website there are currently forty-four men scheduled to be executed in the near future. There have been a few cases when the Governor has granted clemency to an inmate but Governors rarely reverse the Pardon sand Parole Board. As the Board has already ruled against Mr. Grant any action by Governor Stitt is very unlikely. It is worth noting that the death penalty was approved by almost a 70% majority of Oklahoma voters.

Osage County D.A. Mike Fisher will be attending Grant’s execution and I have contacted him for his thoughts and advice. Look for a follow-up story from him and me after October 28th.

I’ll end this week on a brighter note which is the publication of a new cookbook by Ree Drummond which will be available on October 19th and she is having a book signing in Pawhuska on the 30th.

See ya there or till next time I’ll see ya down the road….