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….

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