McAlester News-Capital, McAlester, OK

Local News

July 28, 2013

Former OSP warden on corrections workers

McALESTER — Former Oklahoma State Penitentiary Warden Dan Reynolds — who was barely 16 at the time of the 1973 riot at Oklahoma State Penitentiary — ended up getting a first-hand look at the violent outbreak.

“I had just turned 16 and I was living in Norman,” Reynolds recalled Thursday.

“Me and a friend of mine were en route to spend a week at Lake Eufaula.

“I hear on the radio there was riot at Oklahoma State Penitentiary,” Reynolds said. That resulted in a temporary delay in his lake plans.

“I asked my buddy if he would like to go to McAlester and see the riot,” Reynolds said. When his friend agreed, they made a detour and headed south.

Reynolds said he had never been to the prison before, but he simply “followed the smoke.”

“I turned off and drove right up the east gate,” Reynolds said.

He’s never forgotten what he saw.

“I saw a large group of inmates clinging to the chain link fence,” Reynolds said. “Next to them was a highway patrol trooper and a man with a bullhorn.”

The man with a bullhorn called out the names of inmates, apparently trying to determine which ones were present at that part of the prison.

“We saw helicopters flying around the penitentiary and the buildings were still smoking,” Reynolds said. “I saw all of the military pup tents north of the penitentiary.

“I saw National Guard troops with rifles on the walls,” he said. Others were on the ground, marching in formation, he said.

“I had a 110 (millimeter) pocket camera and I started taking pictures,” Reynolds said. “We were there basically all day.

“I had no idea I would work there — much less be warden,” Reynolds said.

However, an interest in prisons stemming from an eighth-grade book report started him on the path to his later career with the Oklahoma Department of Corrections — and his eventual job as warden at OSP.

Reynolds has written about his experience in 1973, as well as what he’s observed during his career in corrections, in his book, “On the Other Side of the Bars.”

After starting his career in corrections, he became OSP interim warden in 1991, when then-Warden James Saffle was activated as a member of the Oklahoma National Guard and served overseas during Operation Desert Storm.

Saffle returned to his post as warden following the first war with Iraq and when he was later promoted to the post of DOC director, Reynolds returned to OSP to serve as its new warden.

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