Steven Jay Russell: the artist who escaped from prison through the front door – many times

When thinking about escaping from prison, most criminals’ plans include running or even digging tunnels. Steven Jay Russell, however, decided to make things easier for himself, so he got out of prison multiple times by impersonating a prison guard, a doctor, a judge and other crimes of this kind.

Apparently, Russell’s motivation for the first escape in 1992 was his lover, Jimmy Cambell, who was soon about to die from AIDS. After 4 weeks since being arrested for various small crimes, Russell got dressed in civilian clothes and got a walkie talkie. This way, the guards thought he was an undercover policeman.

Steven Jay Russell photographed in Huntsville Prison, January 1997. Photograph: George Hixson George Hixson/Public Domain
Steven Jay Russell photographed in Huntsville Prison, January 1997. Photograph: George Hixson George Hixson/Public Domain

After spending nearly 2 years on the run while taking care of his boyfriend, Russell was arrested again. A few weeks after this event, Jimmy Cambell died. While in prison, the artist fell in love with Phillip Morris. After they were released from prison, Russell got a job at NAMM (North American Medical Management) as the chief financial officer and stole more than $800,000.

Once again in prison, Steven Russell called the Harris County Records Office and set his bail to $45,000 from the initial $950,000 by pretending to be a judge and a couple of friends gave him the money. Not long after this event, though, he got sent to Maximum Security Estelle Unit, but not even the guards here could stop him when he walked right through the front door dressed as a doctor.

Con man Steven Russell. Image by NPR/Pat Dowell
Con man Steven Russell. Image by NPR/Pat Dowell

After making a small fortune at a Biloxi, Mississippi casino, Russell was noticed by a policeman and sent back to the Texas prison. Finally, he faked AIDS symptoms as well as paper who were supposed to be doctor’s examination and was soon released.

Now Steven Russell is in prison and got a 144 years sentence.

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