Steven Jay Russell's prison breaks and how they inspired Jim Carrey's movie

Ashley Bautista April 7, 2022
Steven Jay Russell's prison breaks and how they inspired Jim Carrey's movie
Lou Toman/Sun Sentinel/Tribune News Service via Getty Images

Born on 14 September 1957, Steven Jay Russell is an American con artist known for escaping prison several times. We take a look at his life and the movie starring Jim Carrey he inspired.

Despite his years in prison, Steven Jay Russell became a well-known figure; he even had a book written about him. But he was willing to risk it all for love.

First, let’s look at Steven Russell’s background.

Who is Steven Jay Russell

People Pill reports Russell started his con journey at the age of 41, when he posed as a millionaire from Virginia to take out a $75,000 loan from a bank in Dallas.

When the bank cottoned on to his intentions, they called the police but Russell faked a heart attack and, after being taken to hospital, was discharged. How? He impersonated an FBI agent and called the hospital to give himself permission to leave!

Despite that cunning manoeuvre, he was caught on 5 April 1998 while trying to retrieve a fax, of all things. Now Russell is serving a 144-year prison sentence for his crimes.

That seems a lot for a con that went wrong but there’s a lot more to those 144 years. For a start, they are split into 99 years for his prison escapes and 45 years for scamming.

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The full story of Steven Jay Russell’s prison breaks 

Since his story went public, books and movies have been made about his life. The public has been especially interested in the lengths he was willing to go to reunite with the love of his life. Here’s the story of his jail breaks.

Escape number one – takes a stroll

His lover, Phillip Morris, was diagnosed with HIV which, in the 1990s, was a life-threatening condition. That made Russell determined to break free.

To escape, he kept an eye on the guards’ movements and, when the opportunity was right, he changed his clothes and casually walked out of prison.

Escape number two – impersonates a judge

Russell was back on trial and things didn’t look promising for the con artist. The judge set a price for his bail at the then massive sum of $950,000.

However, Russell used a familiar trick and, using a cellphone, he called the clerk, impersonating the judge’s voice and cutting his bail to $45,000. Russell had access to that particular amount of money, paid his bail the next day and walked free.

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Escape number three – impersonates a doctor

Russell was recaptured during his attempts to locate his lover, Phillip, and, naturally, he was put in prison – again.

His sentence was increased by 45 years so this time, using green marker pens, he dyed his prison uniform and strolled out again after pretending to be a visiting doctor.

Fourth and final escape – feigns death

To get out this time, Russell pretended to have HIV and falsified documents to ‘prove’ it. For ten months, he pretended to be sick, losing weight and telling doctors he was approaching death.

He was admitted to a hospice on special parole but, yet again, impersonated a doctor and proclaimed ‘himself’ dead.

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I Love You, Phillip Morris was inspired by Steve Russell

The movie tells the tale of Russell who falls madly in love with fellow inmate Philip Morris. Russell wants them to build a perfect life together outside prison and will do anything to achieve it.

Directed by John Requa and Glenn Ficarra, the movie was released in 2009. Jim Carrey and Ewan McGregor portrayed Russell and Morris respectively.

Watch the trailer below:

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Ashley Bautista is an Audience Content Writer at GRV Media writing across different sites such as Reality Titbit, HITC, and The Focus. Always keen to learn about celebrity news and the entertainment world, she loves turning these into stories to share with the readers. Graduating from Kingston University with a BA (Hons) in Journalism in the middle of the Coronavirus pandemic, she found herself Keeping Up With The Kardashians more than anything else. Fun fact, it has turned into Ashley’s favourite topic to talk about these days - that and the members of BLACKPINK.