Texas newsman McVicker unconvincingly attempts to paint con man and prison escape artist Steven Russell as an engaging rogue.
Currently serving 45 years for embezzling $800,000, plus another 99 years for his four breakouts from various Texas jails, Russell is impressively bold, but not exactly the master of “flamboyant, nonviolent brilliance” that McVicker depicts. Most of his escapes speak volumes more about the mind-boggling ineptitude of prison security than they do about the brilliance of Russell: for one, he dyed some prison whites with Magic Markers to impersonate a doctor; in another, he spent months faking a last-stage case of AIDS to get transferred to a nursing home (the jailhouse doctors never bothered to do a blood test); in a third, he changed clothes and convincingly played with a walkie-talkie to walk right out the front door. He was determined, but little more. Russell's criminal activities also fail to justify McVicker's fascination. If he’d been the genius the author thinks, he wouldn’t have kept getting caught for passport fraud, embezzlement, bid-rigging, insurance fraud, and felony theft. Sure, he displayed even greater determination and persistence as a crook than as an escape artist, but he wasn’t very successful as either. His love for fellow thief Phillip Morris is hardly the stuff of great romance; often enough, Morris wants to be rid of Russell, who once got him thrown in jail for a crime he had nothing to do with. (There's love for you.) Russell is no picaresque, and his escapes have netted him exactly nothing except a long stay in solitary confinement at considerable taxpayer expense. At least he’s remained true to his code of making others pay his way through life.
There’s less to this story than meets the eye.