Photo: Esquire Magazine.
Steven Jay Russell in the Slammer thinking about his 144-year sentence.
Stuck In The Slammer
In early 1998, an emaciated Texas inmate named Steven Jay Russell was granted a special parole — one which put him in the custody of a hospice. Russell’s medical records spelled out the reason: he had HIV/AIDS, and wasn’t likely to survive much longer. Shortly thereafter, the Texas Department of Criminal Justice received a death certificate, alerting them that Russell had died.
A few weeks later, Russell was arrested.
Steven Jay Russell was born in 1957, if you believe his birth certificate. There’s no actual reason to doubt the veracity of the document, but a faked birthday or year would hardly be the most audacious lie Russell has ever told. His first major one — and his first known criminal one, for that matter — occurred in the early 1990s, when he faked a slip-and-fall, hoping for a pay day.
His ruse was uncovered and he was convicted of fraud, sentenced to six months in prison. That sentence was too long for him, though, so he left. Russell’s boyfriend was dying of AIDS (really) and Russell wanted to be with him during his last days. Four weeks in his prison sentence, Russell impersonated a prison guard — he had stolen some discarded street clothes and a walkie-talkie to use as a guard’s disguise to elude suspicion and break free — and walked out to freedom without much difficulty.
The guards thought I was an undercover police officer. It was such an adrenaline rush. Those first moments of freedom felt amazing.
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