Prison towns: What it's like to live in McAlester, Lexington

Residents of McAlester and Lexington talk about maximum security prisons in their towns and what it's like to live and work next to them.
BY TIFFANY GIBSON and MATT PATTERSON Staff Writers tgibson@opubco.com, mpatterson@opubco.com Modified: December 11, 2011 at 10:29 am •  Published: December 11, 2011


photo - Lexington Assessment and Reception Center  Oklahoma Department of Corrections - Courtesy of 
 Lexington Assessment and Reception Capacity (Maximum Security) 
 
 
 
     Unit 1 
     158 
 
 
     Unit 2 
     460 
 
 
     Unit 9 
     100 
 

 
     Total 
     418 
 
 
 

 Lexington Correctional Center Capacity (Medium Security) 
 
 
 
     Unit 3 A 
     79 
 
 
     Unit 3 B 
     80 
 
 
     Unit 4 D 
     80 
 
 
     Unit 4 E 
     80 
 
 
     Unit 5 G 
     80 
 
 
     unit 5 H 
     80 
 
 
     Unit 6 N 
     86 
 
 
     Unit 6 O 
     88 
 
 
     Unit 7 East (RTMU) 
     134 
 
 
     Unit 7 (RTMU) 
     133 
 
 
     Unit 8 
     100 
 
 
     Total 
     1,020
Lexington Assessment and Reception Center Oklahoma Department of Corrections - Courtesy of

Lexington Assessment and Reception Capacity (Maximum Security)

Unit 1 158
Unit 2 460
Unit 9 100
Total 418

Lexington Correctional Center Capacity (Medium Security)

Unit 3 A 79
Unit 3 B 80
Unit 4 D 80
Unit 4 E 80
Unit 5 G 80
unit 5 H 80
Unit 6 N 86
Unit 6 O 88
Unit 7 East (RTMU) 134
Unit 7 (RTMU) 133
Unit 8 100
Total 1,020

MCALESTER — Sonya Davis grew up with family ties to the Oklahoma State Penitentiary.

Many of her family members worked at the maximum-security prison in McAlester for years and she grew up to do the same.

"You just get used to it," she said. "Property taxes are cheaper here."

Davis, 50, of McAlester, worked as a correctional officer at the prison for a year. She still lives nearby and said she never wonders about the safety of her neighborhood.

Sometimes she'll even forget and leave one of her doors open, she said. Her thinking is that if someone wants to escape from the penitentiary, they'll travel as far away as they possibly can instead of terrorizing nearby residents.

"Most people around here don't think anything about it," she said, adding that most residents work at the prison.

She said there are also a lot of families who move next to the penitentiary to be close to their husbands while they're serving time.

If an inmate wants to escape, Davis said, he'll likely have a ride to pick him up. But as a safety precaution, she said she pays attention to any new faces in the neighborhood.

"I think we're more aware of who's walking down the road," she said.

Resident Malinda Dobson, 37, said she moved near the prison a few years ago with her husband Daniel and they haven't had any problems with the penitentiary.

She said police have had to search back behind their house in an alley once to find an escapee, but Dobson said she wasn't sure if the escape was from the penitentiary.

Jerry Massie, spokesman for the Oklahoma Department of Corrections, said there haven't been any escapes from the state's three maximum-security prisons in the last five years.

History of the penitentiary

Construction began on the penitentiary in 1908. Steve Adams, local historian and former correctional officer at the prison, said it started out as a stockade with electrified razor wire. He said they returned prisoners from Lansing, Kan., to house there.

Dale Cantrell, disciplinary hearing officer, said those inmates in 1908 helped build the 30-foot walls that are still intact today around the facility.

Another cell house was added in the 1930s and the first escape sign went up in 1951.

Adams said it read, "Beware of escaping convicts." The sign was later taken down.

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