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Searching for Oklahoma prison escapees: A look at how inmates escape, are recaptured

A former prison escapee, warden and state officials discuss Oklahoma escapes over the years and how agencies work together to apprehend inmates.
BY TIFFANY GIBSON and MATT PATTERSON Staff Writers, Modified: December 11, 2011 at 10:22 am •  Published: December 11, 2011

John Goodin recalls he had only one goal after fleeing from the Jess Dunn Correctional Center in 1980 — to kill his then-wife and be reunited with his son.

Authorities caught up with him before he was able to carry out his plan.

Seventy-seven Oklahoma offenders still at large escaped from state prisons or walked away from community correction centers and halfway houses. The fugitives range from murder and drug trafficking convicts to freed inmates who missed appointments with their parole officers and then disappeared.

Oklahoma has had no escapes from maximum security prisons in the last five years. Most Department of Corrections escapes are from community security facilities, halfway houses and minimum security prisons.

Goodin, now 53, pleaded guilty to rape in 1979 and was serving a five-year sentence at a minimum security prison in Taft when he escaped. Officers found him a few hours later at the home of his sister.

Planning breakouts

Goodin, who finished serving his sentence in 1982, said most inmates who plan an escape fail to consider what they will do once outside. He said he once helped two men escape and they were found shortly afterward, sleeping under a railroad bridge.

DOC spokesman Jerry Massie said most are relieved to be caught.

"We'll start contacting family members and before long they run out of places to go and resources," he said. "They usually find out it's not as much fun as they thought it would be."

Looking over your shoulder every minute of the day can be exhausting, said Deputy U.S. Marshal Chad Hunt. "Once they cross those walls and they're on the lam it becomes much harder for them.

"Some ... will flat out tell you it was exhausting being on the run. They become extremely paranoid, especially after the first couple of weeks."

On the lam

Goodin said he decided to escape after his then-wife threatened to divorce him. "She said, ‘if you give me any problem over it, you won't see your boy no more.'"

He said he was so upset that he downed a few pints of Everclear and smoked some marijuana, which he obtained in prison, and devised an escape plan.

"I knew where the training director's state-issued car was, and I knew that every time they used that vehicle they filled it up," he said. "And I knew where the keys were."

Goodin broke into the training academy during the early morning hours and took the car, driving north to Dewey. He stopped at a lounge before walking to his sister's house nearby.

"I got my 9mm and a box of shells," said Goodin, adding his sister didn't even know he was at the house.

Authorities surrounded the sister's home. "I stepped out on the front porch and it lit up like daylight out there," he said.

Goodin was slapped with two additional charges, escape and unauthorized use of a motor vehicle, and was sent to a medium security prison. He completed his sentences in November 1982.

Now remarried, Goodin lives in Canyon, Texas, and is in the process of starting a rehabilitation program for recovering addicts and inmates.

Oklahoma escapees

Oklahoma prisons house about 25,000 convicted offenders. The three highest-security prisons are Lexington Assessment and Reception Center, the Oklahoma State Penitentiary at McAlester and Mabel Bassett Correctional Center, McCloud.

The DOC also contracts with private correctional facilities in Holdenville, Cushing and Lawton to help handle its overload of medium and maximum security offenders.

In 2008, there were 145 escapes from DOC facilities. The number dropped to 122 in 2009 but increased to 173 in 2010.

Those numbers do not include parole absconders but do include escapes and walk-aways from community corrections facilities, halfway houses and community work programs.

Private Prison escape

Two inmates, Charles McDaniels and Tony Ellison, escaped from the private medium-security Great Plains Correctional facility in western Oklahoma in 2007. The facility is now closed.

McDaniels was in prison for first-degree murder. Ellison was serving time for auto theft and a previous escape attempt.

After breaking into homes in Hinton and Oklahoma City and abducting a woman, they made their way to Tulsa where police gave chase. The escapees abandoned their car and fled on foot. Moments later, Tulsa police began getting reports of burglar alarms going off.

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