Award-Winning Reporter Chronicles the True Transformation of Notorious Texas Inmate
NASHVILLE Rickie Smith was called the most violent inmate in the Texas prison system. “Real Prison Real Freedom” is Smith’s story from birth to the present told by renowned reporter Rosser McDonald, who met Smith 30 years ago.
Rosser McDonald had a long career in broadcasting. He and his wife, Glenda, honor their roots in Oklahoma. They’ve lived longer in Texas than in the Sooner state, but, are proud “Okies.” Their four children were born Okies, too.
School was not a priority in Rosser’s life, to his mother’s dismay. Her reaction to many report cards was, “You can do better than that!” His best grades, and the most interest were in speech and drama classes, including the debate team. There was an academically wasted freshman year at Oklahoma Baptist University. Rosser says he got everything he needed that year — Glenda. She gave him new purpose for his life.
The attraction of radio and TV was growing and two months after the wedding, he announced he was quitting his job at a seismograph company so he could find one in radio or television. He had barely even watched anything on television because there was not one in the house. (His dad wouldn’t buy a TV until color came out.) This was in 1956 when television was nothing like it is now. Two weeks after leaving the blue-collar job, he went to work at a radio station for half as much pay, beginning the lesson that glamour and big bucks in the broadcast industry are limited to a few top personalities.
The fastest way to progress is to change stations, so after two years of radio, Rosser began a string of five-year jobs in different TV stations. The first was in Ada, the only channel that half its viewers in Southeastern Oklahoma could receive. It was great experience, doing news, weather, sports, even a farm show and commercials. The next stop was Tulsa, concentrating on news. Then to “the big time” – Dallas, becoming state government and political reporter.
In-depth coverage appealed to him and he began adding documentaries to the resume, several receiving awards, including a study of Texas Prisons. Documentary work added experience and skills needed for the next move. When significant changes in the WFAA-TV News Department occurred, Rosser accepted a position as Television Producer with the Radio and Television Commission, SBC, in Fort Worth, Texas. That ended the five-year cycles. He retired from that job 28 years later.
The author’s interest in penology began long before he met the people in his book “Real Prison Real Freedom.” He interviewed two men the day before their executions. The first was in “Big Mac” the Oklahoma prison at McAlester. The other was in Texas. Prison life became a solid interest in 1990, while researching a documentary for use on NBC stations about prison ministry. Tom Landry, the newly fired coach of the Dallas Cowboys, was host of that program. Landry had been personally involved in prison ministry many years.
“Real Prison Real Freedom.” is not a critique or a how-to volume, according to the author, “it’s just a complex, compelling story that needed telling.”
Rickie Smith went to prison with a 10 year sentence for a drug charge. He could have been released in a few years. Instead, he went to war with the Texas Prison System. He stabbed or speared numerous officers, some injured seriously. In three attempted murder trials he received 99 year sentences. With 300 years accumulated, many other charges were ignored. Rickie was involved in another war. Racism had him join the Aaryan Brotherhood and fighting the Mandingo Warriors, principle black gang. The attacks and other violence earned Rickie the label ‘Most Violent Inmate’ in Texas Department of Corrections. After the wars had taken a significant toll, Rickie was caught by one word, ‘rest’. That put him on track to change and live 180 degrees, the opposite of before.