Living and Dying with Jim Carrey and Ewan McGregor Over Sundance

How I turned some newspaper stories into a book which became a movie that caused those two guys to kiss

Somehow Russell had managed to gain access to a nonsecure phone line. He used that line to call the Harris County District Clerk's Office, and proceeded to tell the person on the other end that he was state District Judge Charles Hearn and that he was lowering Mr. Russell's bond from $900,000 to $45,000. The clerk bought the story. Russell then wrote a hot check to a bail bondsman. He also persuaded the bondsman to drive him to his NASA-area home and to stop and buy him a soda on the way.

By the time the mistake was discovered, Russell and Morris were off and running.

Russell was soon captured in Florida while attempting to rendezvous with Morris. I tried to contact Russell, but he didn't respond, so I moved on to other stories.

Steve McVicker, left, played a judge to Jim Carrey's character in I Love You Phillip Morris.
Steve McVicker
Steve McVicker, left, played a judge to Jim Carrey's character in I Love You Phillip Morris.
(L-r) Ewan McGregor, Jim Carrey and Rodrigo Santoro, who starred as Russell's first boyfriend, got together prior to the screening of the film at Sundance.
Steve McVicker
(L-r) Ewan McGregor, Jim Carrey and Rodrigo Santoro, who starred as Russell's first boyfriend, got together prior to the screening of the film at Sundance.

By the end of the year, Russell was back in the news. After pleading guilty to the embezzlement charge, for which he had accepted an unusually stiff 45-year sentence, Russell was transferred from the county jail to the Estelle Unit, a state prison near Huntsville, Texas. Russell would admit later that he had been quick to take the 45-year deal in order to expedite his transfer to state prison, where officials were unfamiliar with his propensity for escape.

And soon after settling in to his new confines, Russell began working on his next plan. He acquired several green felt-tip pens, as well as a second white prison uniform, all of which he kept secreted from prison guards.

In December 1996, Russell put his new escape plan in motion. In his cell, Russell broke open the green felt-tip pens and immersed them in a sink full of water. He then soaked his extra prison whites in the sink until they had been dyed green. Once the uniform dried, it resembled a set of medical scrubs. Wearing the homemade scrubs, along with a fake medical identification badge he had also manufactured, Russell simply walked out the front gate of the prison.

Russell's freedom lasted only ten days. He and Morris were arrested in Biloxi, Mississippi. However, when he was returned to the Texas prison system on a bitterly cold night in January 1997, Russell finally agreed to be interviewed.

After being processed back into the system, with great sincerity Russell attempted to persuade me that he hadn't really escaped.

"I didn't break out," he explained. "I asked if I could go home, and they opened the door."

From that point on, Russell and I began developing a relationship. He had grown up in Norfolk, Virginia, where his family had a prosperous produce business. He was also, surprisingly, involved in law enforcement, serving as a reserve deputy in the Chesapeake area, and then later as a full-time officer in Boca Raton, Florida. He played organ for his church's choir, and even married the Norfolk police chief's secretary. He satisfied his secret side by frequenting men's rooms in public parks.

But even as we spoke, Russell was already working on the details of his next escape. Indeed, it was his desire to be with Morris that led to his most ingenious plan — one that would also again lead to his eventual capture.

During the next ten months, Russell ate almost nothing and began to look emaciated. Although Texas prison officials never ran their own tests on him, Russell persuaded authorities that he was dying of AIDS, and arranged for a transfer to a private nursing home near San Antonio.

Once there, he received permission from parole officials to take part in a nonexistent experimental AIDS treatment program. A few weeks later, he phoned the authorities to tell them that, regrettably, Mr. Russell had died during the treatment. Once again, Steven Russell was a free man.

And he probably would still be if not for his obsession with Morris.

After persuading state officials that he was dead, Russell obtained a Texas State Bar card. He then arranged to have Morris transferred from a state prison, where he was serving time for his part in the embezzlement, to the Dallas County Jail. There Russell visited his lover several times over the next few weeks while posing as his attorney.

But, as if he had some kind of sixth sense, Russell realized that the authorities were on to him. He stopped visiting Morris and headed, again, to Florida.

Authorities decline to say how they eventually caught up with and captured Russell, but apparently he continued to phone Morris while on the run. Fugitive trackers apparently followed those calls.

Despite his arrest, Russell could not have been more pleased with himself, and he couldn't wait to share his exploits. In early May 1998, I received a collect phone call from the Broward County Jail where Russell was being held.

"This was a masterpiece, wasn't it?" exclaimed Russell, laughing so hard he could barely speak.

"The reason they caught me is because they got lucky," Russell added. "As smart as I am, they always get a lucky break, and that's what happened this time."

My collection of Steven Russell exploits was growing, and I began to think that I might have enough material to at least start a book.

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