The Norman Transcript

Local news

July 28, 2013

Oklahoma State Penitentiary still open after violent events on July 27, 1973

NORMAN — Forty years ago, a pent-up rage among inmates at the Oklahoma State Penitentiary in McAlester erupted in murderous violence.

On July 27, 1973, “Big Mac,” became a mini-hell of fire and black smoke, stabbing victims, beatings, hostages and looting. The National Guard and Oklahoma Highway Patrol were called in. Gov. David Hall implored rioters to give up and met with some to hear their demands.

When the siege ended three days later, three inmates were dead, more than 20 people had been injured and 24 buildings had been destroyed. Total damage was estimated at more than $20 million.

An outside consultant brought in by the governor to advise on how to rebuild the facility after the riot called the incident “one of the most disastrous events in American correctional history.”

The McAlester riot also highlighted issues that had been brewing for years behind the gates of the state’s oldest prison, built in 1908. Overcrowding, filthy and degraded facilities, untrained and low-paid guards, bad communication and other factors had combined to sow the seeds of the revolt.

 

The riot: Earlier in the year, prisoners organized a three-day hunger strike protesting poor health care, racial discrimination and censorship of mail, according to “History of Corrections in Oklahoma.”

Nineteen violent deaths and 40 stabbings occurred in the three years preceding the riot.

Lionel Johnson, now 71, worked inside the penitentiary for two years, supervising inmate cooks, when the violence erupted.

“I didn’t know what was going on,” he said. “Looked out the door and everyone was running every which way.”

According to news reports, several inmates drunk off homemade alcohol collected long knives and stabbed two correctional officers. From there, the mayhem spread to the entire prison, with inmates taking prison employees hostage and using the public address system to announce a “revolution.”

An inmate held a butcher knife to Johnson’s throat and took him to a cell along with several other prison staffers. The riot erupted around them.

Text Only | Photo Reprints
Local news
  • Junior Police Graduation First Junior Police Academy graduates

    The room went dark and a slideshow flipped through photos of children participating in the first Junior Police Academy as kids chattered excitedly, remembering what they had done over the past two weeks. Norman Police Department hosted ...

    July 25, 2014 1 Photo

  • Officials say transparency lacking in Wal-Mart zoning

    Norman city staff recently admitted to withholding information from the public regarding a controversial zoning change in southeast Norman. If approved by the city council, the proposal will allow a Wal-Mart supercenter at Cedar Lane and ...

    July 25, 2014

  • Nonprofit raises $3.9M-plus for new center

    The Center for Children and Families, a United Way of Norman partner agency, announced Thursday that it exceeded its public fundraising goal of $3.5 million and raised more than $3.9 million to complete the purchase and renovation of a ...

    July 25, 2014

  • Police log

    Police responded to the following incidents Wednesday: · 5:58 a.m. indecent exposure, 100 block of West Comanche Street · 6:08 a.m. burglary in progress, 100 block of West Hayes Street · 8:09 a.m. larceny report, 100 ...

    July 25, 2014

  • Felonies filed

    The following people were charged with felony counts in the Cleveland County Court Clerk’s Office: · Angela Beth Mendinghall, 36, unauthorized use of a vehicle; driving with a canceled, suspended or revoked license · Daniel ...

    July 25, 2014

  • Grad to serve as delegate at camp

    William Long, 2014 Norman North High School graduate, recently represented Oklahoma as a delegate at the 2014 National Youth Science Camp. Long joined 100 other top high school graduates representing the United States and eight other ...

    July 25, 2014

  • Healthplex, EMSStat recognized

    Norman Regional Health System’s Healthplex and EMSStat teams were recognized Thursday by the American Heart Association, receiving a Silver Plus Quality Achievement Award. Living in a state where one in four deaths are due to heart ...

    July 25, 2014

  • Crime news

    Norman man charged for possession of child porn A Norman man was charged with possession of juvenile pornography after law enforcement tracked an IP address that child porn had been downloaded from....

    July 25, 2014

  • Shop couple charged again

    A Norman couple whose felony charges were dropped last year for intent to distribute synthetic marijuana out of their aromatherapy shop were charged again Thursday in Cleveland County District Court. Dennis Kirby England, 42, and Christie ...

    July 25, 2014

  • Norman native reflects on winning Emmy Award

    Norman native Kevin Hurley won an Emmy Award last month for his work as a producer on Steve Harvey’s daytime talk show. Hurley has come a long way from home, but still remembers his Norman roots. NTown caught up with him to pick his brain ...

    July 25, 2014