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Veteran Oklahoma journalists recall 1973 prison riot in McAlester

The 1973 prison riot in McAlester remains one of the most memorable stories for Mike Shannon, managing editor of The Oklahoman.
by Phillip O'Connor Modified: July 28, 2013 at 12:26 am •  Published: July 27, 2013

Mike Shannon was a 25-year-old reporter covering the police beat for the Oklahoma City Times newspaper when a deadly riot broke out at the Oklahoma State Penitentiary in McAlester on July 27, 1973.

On Friday, Shannon, now the managing editor of The Oklahoman, sat in his sixth-floor office and recalled covering his first big story four decades ago.

“If I ever was in McAlester before that I don't remember it,” Shannon said. “I didn't even know where the prison was.”

His editor told him he couldn't miss it. He was right.

“You could see the flames, it seemed like, 20 miles away,” Shannon said.

Shannon spent that first night of the riot on the prison warden's front lawn, waiting for occasional updates from a scene that resembled a war zone. Behind the high prison walls, inmates carrying makeshift weapons could be seen silhouetted against blazing buildings that officials let burn.

“It looked like some medieval castle being besieged,” Shannon said.

The next day, Shannon was among a group of media members escorted inside the smoldering prison to listen to inmates' grievances, part of a bargain prison officials struck to obtain the release of 11 hostages. He was accompanied by Jim Argo, an Oklahoman photographer, who retired as photo editor in 2003 after 40 years at the newspaper.

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by Phillip O'Connor
Enterprise Editor
O'Connor joined the Oklahoman staff in June, 2012 after working at The Kansas City Star and St. Louis Post-Dispatch for a combined 28 years. O'Connor, an Oklahoma City resident, is a graduate of Kansas State University. He has written frequently...
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