Former warden writes of four outbreaks at state's prisons

Dan M. Reynolds brought his unique perspective to his new book, "Oklahoma Prison Riots"

By James Beaty
McAlester News-Capital

MCALESTER, Okla. — Dan M. Reynolds knew something had gone awry May 19, 1985, when two recreational supervisors rushed into his office at Oklahoma State Penitentiary in McAlester.

“They asked me what was going (on) because they saw the chief of security getting some shotguns,” Reynolds said.

Reynolds, serving as the administrative assistant to then-Warden Gary Maynard at the time, soon learned the horrific answer when he met with the warden.

“I could tell something was wrong by the look on his face,” Reynolds said.

Rampaging inmates had injured several correctional officers, grabbed them as hostages and were trying to take control of the prison’s A and C units.

Reynolds later served two stints as the warden at OSP. He’s had an involvement, either directly or indirectly, with the four major riots that have rocked the Oklahoma Department of Corrections.

He’s brought his unique perspective to his new book, “Oklahoma Prison Riots.” In the book, Reynolds covers all four of the major prison riots in Oklahoma, including the 1973 and 1985 riots at OSP.

Reynolds will have his new book, as well as his six previous ones, available at a book-signing event, set from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m. Saturday at Harbor Mountain, the coffee house at the corner of Third Street and Wyandotte Avenue.

He said profits from “Oklahoma Prison Riots” will benefit the Oklahoma Correctional Employees Association Foundation.

“I hope it will go to the children of Department of Corrections employees who were killed in the line of duty, said Reynolds, who also plans to donate profits from some of his other books to charities as well.

In addition to the two OSP riots, Reynolds’ new book also covers the 1988 prison riot at the Mack Alford Correctional Center in Stringtown and the 1983 riot at the Dick Conner Correctional Center in Hominy.

Along with Reynolds’ account of the riots, the book is filled with historical photographs.

“It has 200 pictures,” Reynolds said. “A lot of those came from the Oklahoma National Guard and the Oklahoma Highway Patrol.”

The DOC also released its photos for the book, Reynolds said.

Reynolds spent some time writing the book and tracking down the photos inside it.

“It took about three years to do it,” Reynolds said. In addition to the photos from the DOC and OHP, he included some with a more personal touch. “Some of the photographs I took myself,” Reynolds said, recalling how as a teenager he had been on the scene of the devastating 1973 riot at OSP.

Reynolds had raced to the scene after hearing about the riot on the radio while driving toward eastern Oklahoma from Norman.

“I had just turned 16,” he said. “Me and a friend of mine were going to a lake and we heard there was a prison riot in McAlester.”

When Reynolds heard the news flash over the car radio, he decided to head to McAlester. Although he didn’t know his way around the city at the time, he had no trouble finding the prison.

“I just followed the smoke and ended up right outside the east gate,” he said.

“I saw buildings set ablaze; smoke was coming up; National Guardsmen were on top of the wall with rifles and there were helicopters flying overhead.”

Some inmates had been rounded up by officers and were against a fence on the prison’s east side.

Reynolds, who had a 110 camera with him, snapped away.

It made a deep impression on the thenteenaged Reynolds — who would have no doubt been bewildered if he had known he would be working with the DOC in a few more years and eventually become the warden at OSP.

Seven years after the OSP riot, Reynolds began working for the DOC as a case manager at the Joseph Harp Correctional Center in Lexington.

During his first stint as OSP warden, he served for seven months in 1991 when then-Warden James Saffle was deployed overseas as part of the Oklahoma National Guard during Operation Desert Storm. Reynolds later served as OSP warden in his own right from 1991-1994.

When Reynolds retired from the DOC in 2011, he was serving as the administrator of Community Corrections where he oversaw approximately 30 community correctional centers, work centers and halfway houses from around the state.

In addition to “Oklahoma Prison Riots,” profits from two more of his books will go to benefit others, according to Reynolds.

Profits from “The Other Side of the Bars” will go to benefit food banks, he said, and profits from “What God Wants You to Know” will benefit the Correctional Officer Chaplaincy Program.

Other books Reynolds has written and will have available Saturday include “The Most Hilarious, Bizarre and Unusual Correctional Stories Every Told.” In the book, Reynolds relates unusual and sometimes humorous stories from prisons and correctional facilities from across the United States.

In another book called “Caged Wisdom: Learning to See Through the Bars,” Reynolds has collected scriptures that he has selected to show where it’s easy to go wrong — and he also relates scriptures of encouragement to show that all is not lost, for even the most wayward of individuals.

All books are either $15 or $10 each, with a special available for those who make multiple purchases.

In addition to the five books he’s written himself, Reynolds has also reprinted two smaller booklets of Oklahoma Department of corrections regulations, one from 1909 and another from 1935.

Books are also available at Reynolds’ Web site at dan1reynolds.tictail. com.

Reynolds said one of his friends has promised to buy a regular cup of coffee to the first 25 people who attend the Saturday book-signing event at Harbor Mountain. 

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