INSIDE GRANITE: Behind the walls of Oklahoma State Reformatory

OSR story

GRANITE, Okla. (TNN) - One of the most truly unique prisons in our state sits right here in southwest Oklahoma.

The Oklahoma State Reformatory in Granite earned a reputation for being one of the toughest prisons in the state, but those times are long gone as OSR moves from a life of incarceration to one of rehabilitation.

In 1901 the Oklahoma State Reformatory was built in Granite. Since then, they've housed all types of inmates, including the worst of the worst. The outside of the building looks extremely intimidating but just beyond the walls on the other side, you'll find the exact opposite. A constantly changing group of inmates simply trying to find a way back to society.

For decades, the inmates lived in cells, similar to something you’d see right out of a movie, like Shawshank Redemption.

"This was medium security so everything from life all the way down to property crimes all the way up to murder,” said Chief Kerry Kendall with the Oklahoma State Reformatory. The OSR has held just about every type of inmate.

"Forever and ever we were the place where you stayed until you died,” Kendall said.

In the early 2000s, it was a maximum-security prison, creating a reputation for somewhere an inmate really did not want to be.

“We were running 3 to 5 serious incidents a week here with our facility, but they were running 0 across the rest of the state. Because people didn’t want to make a mistake and end up in OSR,” Kendall said.

Now, it couldn’t be further from that, serving as a community facility for inmates ready to go home. "Imagine you’re doing a life without as opposed to I’ve got 1000 days.

So, what the inmate has to lose, that light at the end of the tunnel is there now. It wasn’t there when we were medium,” Kendall said.

But that doesn’t mean Granite doesn’t have problems.

"An inmate is an inmate is an inmate. We have drugs, we have assaults here, we have everything else. But the level of violence and the type of violence changes because they don’t want to get more time. They don’t want to get stuck here. They don’t want to end up back, going backwards, we’re the door out. That’s what we do. We discharge inmates and we are very good at it,” Kendall said.

They do that by teaching the inmates how to be productive members of society, in a much different way than you might expect just by looking at the prison.

"All they see is what you see out in the front and the cell houses we just walked in. What they don’t realize is some of the newest buildings in DOC are right here,” Kendall said.

Those buildings offer an experience similar to what you find outside of prison.

"Everything that happens inside the town of Granite happens inside these walls, on these grounds, on these 40 acres. We have electricity, water, gas, sewer, all of the utilities. Roads, maintenance, medical, dental, psych, school, programming, jobs. You name it. If it happens in the community, it happens here,” Kendall said.

Inmates have the freedom to use all of those services on the inside.

"The only time they have to be in their cells is for counts. From 6 am to 9 pm they have free run of the whole compound, except for count times. And from 9 pm to 6 am they have free run of the yard except for count times. As far as locking down, there is no lockdown. This is just like a college dormitory,” Kendall said.

That freedom comes at a cost.

"With freedom comes responsibility. You have to live up to that responsibility. These inmates learn to be responsible for themselves,” Kendall said.

Including attending programs offered by OSR.

"From anger issues to the substance abuse issues to cognitive behavior, changing the way they are thinking. Every little bit of that plays into substance abuse. Then you have parenting classes here, most these guys have kids, families, marriage prep classes,” said Case Manager Jason Allen.

For some inmates, their biggest responsibility is getting a diploma from the prison school known as Lakeside High School.

"You know as well as I do that there are very few jobs anymore that you can get without a high school diploma so it’s very important for them to try to acquire it while they are here. Because once they leave here, the probability of them going back to school or to a program that will help them is very low,” said Correctional Teacher Sherri Toole.

Not every inmate needs schooling or substance abuse treatment. So instead, they learn a skill, like welding or carpentry. One program prepares students to go to work in a warehouse or a distribution center, teaching things like forklift training.

"We want them to go back out and be successful. Everything we do here has a purpose. It’s to get them back out there and get them ready for society,” said Deputy Warden Tissa Williams.

They rehabilitate thousands of inmates each year.

"Last year, we had 3,600 inmates come through these walls. The majority of them discharged but about 400 decided they would rather be convicts for life, criminals for life, gangsters for life. So, they end up in our TDU and we ship them. But 3,200 of them did right,” Kendall said.

TDU is the transit detention unit, where you are put if you get in trouble at OSR.

"I put you in there, I have two weeks to investigate. If the investigation goes good, you come back out you get another chance. If it goes bad you have to transfer, and you have to go to higher security. There’s no other out,” Kendall said.

That choice to do right falls solely on the inmates, no more second chances.

"You had your chance. And you blew it. So, we’re going to give your bed to someone that wants to use that opportunity,” Kendall said.

Every inmate on the inside hopes that one day, they’ll get to walk out the door and back into society. But, just as soon as they get out, there is another group of inmates waiting to take their place. The staff welcomes the challenge that that constant turnover brings and adds that any inmate who truly wants to be successful and change their life can do so at the Oklahoma State Reformatory in Granite.

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