Breaking Out For Love


By Steve McVicker

As I prepared to interview Russell for this story, I had to laugh out loud when I thought back to the first time we met, in January 1997. Russell had just been captured following his escape by dyeing his prison uniform green. I was at the prison when Russell arrived. After processing him back into the system, prison officials allowed me and another Houston reporter a few minutes to interview him. Russell denied that he had escaped. 'I didn't break out,' he said. 'I asked if I could go home, and they opened the door.'

Following that encounter, we traded a few letters. I couldn't help but want to stay plugged in to the story of this man I suspected would find another uncanny path to freedom. And true to form, after convincing prison officials he was dead and subsequently being captured in Florida, Russell called me at the Houston Press, where I was then working, to gloat about the great scam he had pulled. 'This was a masterpiece, wasn't it?' he'd laughed.

'If they hadn't had Phillip, they would have never caught me,' he'd said at the time. 'But they had Phillip, and they knew that was the key to getting me.'

Law enforcement officials refuse to reveal any secrets or techniques they have employed to repeatedly capture Russell. But it's plain the authorities knew -- and know -- that, sooner or later, Russell will always come back for or contact Morris, who is now 49 and lives with his family in Arkansas. It's a flaw that former Texas prison fugitive tracker Terry Cobbs has been able to count on.

'At heart, he is a crook and a thief who doesn't care what he does to other people,' says Cobbs. 'But when you sit down and talk to him, he's a personable guy. And when he's comfortable with you, you can readily see how he could con people who are a little bit vulnerable, because he does have that air of confidence about him.'

Morris dreams that a relationship can still be a reality.

'I still miss him,' Morris said recently during a phone interview. 'We have a connection that I've never had with another human being. A lot of people search their whole lives for that and never find it. So that's something to me.'

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