published Sunday, April 5th, 2009

James Slagle has seen a lot in 40 years

  • photo
    Staff Photo by Patrick Smith
    Brushy Mountain Correctional Complex prisoner James Slagle talks about serving his 318-year prison sentence on Friday. Mr. Slagle has served 41-years in the Tennessee Correctional system. The complex should be fully decommissioned in June, with most of the staff moving to the new Morgan County Correctional Complex.

PETROS, Tenn. — James Slagle came into the Tennessee prison system before Neil Armstrong landed on the moon.

He is still there.

He’s spent more than half that time at Brushy Mountain Correctional Complex, which will close this year. Mr. Slagle likely will move to the newly expanded Morgan County Correctional Complex.

“I hate to see Brushy close,” Mr. Slagle said in an interview Friday. “For the simple reason no one gets in trouble here. You’re still in prison ... but it’s a laid back way to do the time.”

Mr. Slagle was at the prison in 1977 when Martin Luther King Jr. assassin James Earl Ray escaped with six other inmates.

He said the escape had been planned for weeks and he was offered a spot on the break. He turned down the chance because he knew the manhunt for Mr. Ray would be extensive.

Besidess, he’d already escaped once.

Mr. Slagle mailed himself out of prison once by practicing yoga until he could fit in an 18-inch by 18-inch box he’d taped together from two cardboard boxes. Other inmates helped by loading him onto a mail truck.

He said he would have made a decent escape if he hadn’t run into a guard hunting in the forest near where he ran.

Mr. Slagle makes no excuse and asks for no sympathy. He killed a man in 1968 after he and a friend got into a fight. He says rage boiled out of him after hard time in the Indiana and Kansas prison systems, and when the man he fought with tried to strike him with an ashtray, he thought the victim had a gun and killed him.

He became so violent, he said, in prison — where he had to act tough, cold and mean.

“If you play a role long enough, you become what you are pretending to be,” he said.

Years later when he was allowed off site to attend college classes, he said, he found something worth pursuing.

“I learned to like myself again,” he said.

Mr. Slagle is eligible for parole in 2012; he will be 76 years old.

  • Prisoner tells his escape tale
    Watch as 41-year Brushy Mountain inmate James Slagle talks about his brief escape from prison.
about Todd South...

Todd South covers courts, poverty, technology, military and veterans for the Times Free Press. He has worked at the paper since 2008 and previously covered crime and safety in Southeast Tennessee and North Georgia. Todd’s hometown is Dodge City, Kan. He served five years in the U.S. Marine Corps and deployed to Iraq before returning to school for his journalism degree from the University of Georgia. Todd previously worked at the Anniston (Ala.) Star. Contact ...

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tnattysuck said...

From what I understand Mr Slagle has assisted many in the transition from outside in. He has probably helped to SAVE more lives than he took. Godspeed Jim !!!

April 6, 2009 at 10:42 a.m.
daxelberg said...

This is my Grandpa, and though I'm not at all proud of what he did I think its pretty crazy that he mailed himself out of prison... love ya Grandpa

April 11, 2009 at 5:02 p.m.
victumsadvo said...

For Daxelberg, I'm sorry for your misfortune that you couldn't have had a grandpa as wonderful as mine. For tnattysuck, you are correct about the corruption of our judicial system. If it wasn't for the clerical errors of the judicial system Slagle and his murderous partner Phillips would have never been up for parole. These two killers would be dead if it weren't for my christian grandpa, who stood up at thier trial and declared he was against capital punishment; for one man could not decide when another would parish, only God decides our fate. Therefore, each man would have to serve all thier days with no chance of parole. You see; these two men slaughtered my uncle John in the prime of his life in cold blood. John was a good person who; while working on a farm spotted his killers pulled to the side of a country road pretending to be having car trouble. When he left the hay feild to help them Slagle and Phillips attacked John. He fought them off, and ran to a nearby house in hopes of getting in a safe place, he was only 19, the 2 killers chased him fighting and shooting thier way in the house. They shot him multiple times, just after he hid several children who were in the house, the little boy under the bed was also shot. Slagle, Phillips then left in John's car, kidnapped a woman on her way back from milking cows, and treated her so badly she never spoke much of it again. You see, 3 adults know what happened that day, one is dead, and the other two have blamed each other since June of 1968. They seem to forget the 8 year old little girl hidding in the closet saw the entire thing, and the forensic evidence doesn't help them either. My grandma was a nurse, she arrived at the murder scene before the ambulance, could you imagine finding your own son knowing there was no hope. Why don't you donate a few of those 1000's of hours of research into the details of a case, and save you Godspeed for those children who survived the vicious attack, and the families who fight to keep the killers locked up. I'm sick of seeing Slagle promoted as the poster child for Brushy Mountain Prison.

April 13, 2009 at 9:35 p.m.
tslaglered said...

to victumsadvo Sounds a bit like you didn't learn much from your "wonderful Granpa".........instead you turned into a bitter and unforgiving person,would your uncle and Grandpa be proud of the person you turned out to be? And although I am sorry for your families loss, (you weren't even born yet.) And although I couldn't imagine coming to a crime scene and not being able to save my own son's life and the horror of it all, nor would I wish that on anyone. But I have learned in life that forgiveness beats the hell out of "anger and vengeance" because it will eat the hell out of any happiness you might have had. So maybe you need to think back to the lessons you learned from your Grandparents when you were a child, or is your life so empty and boring that you need something to keep you occupied?

December 26, 2009 at 11:38 a.m.
aec3313 said...

tslaglered: sounds like you are an ignorant human. Do you think you would be gratifying to someone that murdered a family member? Whether you were born or not. I was born many years after it happened (in 1992) and it STILL effects our family. You can easily forgive but NEVER forget and anger will still be present. After all Slagle did MURDER a good person. For no reason at all. He also did such things to a woman after he murdered someone, she never spoke of it. Before you speak of those Grandparents, Mister tslaglered, remember: They are the reason Ol Mister Slagle there is still alive. Nobody cares that he has been at Brushy Mtn. longer than anyone. Seeing on TV the good Ol Slagle does some good deeds, they don't mention he murdered someone in cold blood. After John tried to help them with their car troubles, with kids in the house they murdered him in.He is nothing to society. I will be attending his parole in 2012. He will stay there.

December 5, 2010 at 1:32 a.m.
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