Four-time prison escapee's story makes big screen

December 11, 2010 7:54:41 PM PST
Friday is the first night "I Love You Phillip Morris," Jim Carrey's latest movie, is playing in Houston. The movie is about a Houston con man and how love drove him to escape from prison time and time again.

The movie's tag line is "A story so incredible, it could only be true," and we talked to the real people the movie is based on.

When you meet four-time escapee Steven Russell in a Texas prison, it's a little hard to believe he's still there.

"Anybody can get out of prison if they want to get out of prison," he said.

Russell certainly proved that.

Russell's legendary escapes have been turned into a movie, now open in Houston.

But long before Jim Carrey ever heard the story, Houston reporter Steve McVicker did.

"I thought this is gold," McVicker said.

McVicker wrote I Love You Phillip Morris, the book detailing the lengths Russell, a world-class con man, went to be with the man he fell in love with inside the Harris County Jail.

Russell says he would do whatever he had to, to be with Phillip Morris.

"This wasn't a vendetta against the prison; it was an obsession with a relationship," Russell said.

Russell always escaped on Friday the 13th. The first time was from the Harris County Jail in December 1993. He stole civilian clothes, walked out the door, down the steps and right back to Morris.

"I just took a walkie-talkie and went 'bop bop,' went through there, dropped down to the first floor and ran out the front door," Russell said.

Three years later, Russell impersonated a judge from inside jail to lower his own bond, a phone call he still remembers.

"'This morning we had a bond hearing for Steven Russell. This is Judge Hearne,'" Russell recalled saying.

The next time, he used magic markers to dye his white prison uniform green and amazingly walked right out of a Texas prison posing as a doctor.

"I didn't think about the fence, 'cause I didn't use the fence. I walked out the front door," Russell said.

Three escapes and a lot of attention forced Russell to up his game.

"I had to lose all the weight and die," Russell said.

Russell lost 100 pounds, was released to a bogus treatment center and faked his own death from AIDS.

"There's nothing you can to do to stop somebody like that," Russell said.

But after that, the system had finally had enough, and even though he'd never physically hurt anyone, his escapes were his crimes. He was sentenced to 144 years in prison.

Today, he's nine years into his sentence and locked up 23 hours a day and changes cells every single week.

"I'll be a very old man, if I ever get out of here," Russell said.

Russell certainly tried to convince us he's done ditching prison; he hasn't convinced McVicker.

"I am sure he's hatching a new plot," McVicker said. "I fully expect him to escape again."

McVicker reminded us Russell did it all for love, and Russell told Eyewitness News that he still loves the man he left prison for, so maybe it is a little hard to believe he hasn't left again.

"You still in love?" we asked Russell.

"I won't stop loving him," he replied.

Russell was arrested for white-collar crimes. The worst was he stole $800,000 from a Houston business. Without the four escapes, he never would've been sentenced to 144 years in prison.


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