‘Trump is a bigger conman than me’: Gay four-time prison escapee and fraudster Steven Russell on life after I Love You Phillip Morris
Steven Russell is a gay, four-time prison escapee, conman and thief, currently serving a 144-year prison sentence for non-violent crime, at a maximum security prison in Texas.
The first half of his life was made into the 2009 film I Love You Phillip Morris, which starred Jim Carrey as Russell and Ewan McGregor as his boyfriend, Phillip Morris. Steven Russell’s new book Life After Phillip Morris, which carries on from where the film ends, was published on July 13, and is available to buy exclusively on Amazon.
Russell spoke to Laurence Watts — the co-author of his new book — for PinkNews.
Tell us about the book Life After Phillip Morris. What does it cover and why did you write it?
The book covers my life in solitary confinement, how prison officials treated my subsequent to my last escape, the world inside of a maximum security prison, death-sentenced prisoners and their behaviour, the many suicides that occur in solitary and why they occur, Phycor’s bankruptcy (the victim of my embezzlement crime), falling out of love with Phillip Morris, how the U.S. film rights to I Love You Phillip Morris were accidentally sold to a conman, and the cat-and-mouse game between prisoners and prison officials.
Altogether you’ve bee in solitary confinement now for more than 22 years. How have you coped?
By reading and writing, the love of my family and friends, the many visits to the prison by my daughter and friends, never giving up on life, always smiling even on the bad days, maintaining a positive outlook, prayer, God’s blessing in my life, my Bible correspondence courses, and waiting for the glorious day when Donald Trump is finally exposed to the entire world for the conman he is.
Did you ever get to meet Jim Carrey, Ewan McGregor or Rodrigo Santoro (who all appeared in I Love You Phillip Morris)?
No. Phillip took the lead on all of that and was present during all of the filming and consulting with the scriptwriters. I’ll visit all of them after I make parole.
How much fan mail did you receive when I Love You Phillip Morris came out?
Thousands of letters, some gifts, lots of books and magazines, and a few metric tons of love. I am so grateful for the outpouring of love and kindness.
What is it like being housed on Death Row even though you’re not in danger of being executed?
It’s surreal, especially on an execution day. They stop all movement in the building at 12 noon. All of the officers that are to escort the prisoner to the waiting van are dressed in SWAT-type clothing. They bring the prisoner from a pod to one of the large cages in the hallway where he is given an intrusive strip search. He’s then given new clothing and escorted to the van outside of the building. The officers, warden, major and captain all walk single file behind him all of the way to the van. A medical stretcher is pushed down the hall in case the prisoner refuses to walk. The van is driven by officers from the Office of Inspector General. The van is escorted by a police car in front and behind. The prisoner is then driven to the Walls Unit in Huntsville where the killing machine is housed (i.e. execution chamber). By 1 or 2 p.m., life in my building resumes.
You’ve escaped prison four times. If you were in charge of a prison, what would you do to stop prisoners from escaping?
First off, I would keep the front door locked. If they need further advice, they can hire me as a consultant after I’m paroled.
How is your health?
Prison has not been kind. I have severe osteoarthrosis in my pelvic joints, hip and knees. Degenerative disc disease in the L3-L5 lower spine. As a result, I use a wheelchair to get around the pod. Hopefully, the spine and hip doctors at the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston will be able to resolve these issues when I see them in August. Other than that, I feel great.
What ambitions and goals do you have left in your life?
I would like to write a book about another prisoner that was close to me that ended up killing three men after he was paroled. I also plan to teach fraud detection for the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners based in Austin, Texas.
Are you still in love with Phillip Morris?
Are you offered any perks in prison in light of your celebrity?
No. I did, however, become a charter member of the ‘high-profile list’ when TDCJ (Texas Department of Criminal Justice) started shining a spotlight on a small group of prisoners within the system.
What advice would you give to someone contemplating whether or not to commit an imprisonable offence?
Please consider. There are churches and other non-governmental organisations that will steer you in the right direction to prevent you from committing a criminal offence. Work hard. Take any job. Swallow your pride. Being a prisoner in almost any prison in the United States is humiliation beyond your wildest imagination.
- Jim Carrey as Steven Russell in I Love You Phillip Morris (EuropaCorp)
Is President Donald Trump going to win a second presidential term?
No. I’m fairly confident that he will self-destruct before 2020. It eventually happens to every egomaniac. I’m also confident that [special counsel Robert] Mueller either has him by the balls or is about to have him, with the help of Trump’s former lawyer, Michael Cohen. A crook knows a crook when he sees one. Trump is a bigger conman than me!
I understand that gay prisoners share cells in the U.S. for their own protection. Is that a good idea?
Texas houses their gay prisoners in what’s called Safekeeping Protective Custody. While they are housed together in the same buildings and pods, they work, go to school or church and the dining hall with others in general population. Texas has this figured out quite well. Placing gay prisoners in solitary confinement, however, is not a good idea.
What was harder, impersonating a judge or impersonating the CFO of a public company?
Being the CFO of a public company. While I’m capable of reading and understanding financial statements or instruments, the technical knowledge was very difficult. As a result, I was constantly in bullshit mode. As time progressed, I got better and better at the job though.
Is Brexit a good idea?
No. Everyone has to adjust to globalisation. People are just too lazy to retrain and move to where the new jobs are located. Trump is making a huge mistake giving the coal miners hope. I can’t figure out what the Prime Minister of the UK is trying to accomplish. Trump is trying to make America white again like we were in the 1950s.
Do you think you will ever make it out of prison legally?
Yes! 25 years of flat time is the sweet spot for release for most violent prisoners. With 22-plus years now complete and a non-violent record, I’m almost there. I also have a parole attorney that is working with the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles on my release/parole. He’s doing an excellent job.
Gay marriage is now legal. Given your years of solitary, how important would a relationship be when/if you get released?
I’m concerned that I would be unable to enter into a relationship with anyone. I’ve spent so many years alone in this 54 square foot concrete box that being around other people makes me anxious/nervous. The TDCJ has turned me into a hermit.
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Should readers buy a copy of Life After Phillip Morris?
Of course they should! If I don’t die in here, I’m going to be 65 years-old when they eventually let me out. I’ll be too old and too dysfunctional to work. So, I need as many contributions to my retirement fund as I can get. Seriously though, it’s a book that should make you smile. You can’t look back at all the shit I’ve been through and not laugh.
If people want to write to you, what address should they use?
Steven Jay Russell, Polunsky Unit, #760259, at 3872 FM 350 South, Livingston, Texas, 77351-8580, USA.
Life After Phillip Morris is available now.