The Marshall Project

The Curious Case of the Prisoners in the Wrong Cellblock

A mystery unfolds during an urgent phone call.

This article was published in collaboration with Vice.

The female robot voice recording begins:

“Press one for English. Para Español oprima el dos.”

Life Inside Perspectives from those who work and live in the criminal justice system. Related Stories

While pressing one, I notice two guys — from a different housing unit — walking into our cellblock. Both are young white men covered in tattoos, one with scraggly red hair and two-day-old whiskers, the other a clean-shaven blond. Suspiciously, they are wearing winter coats during the hottest stretch of summer.

When I make this call, Oregon is in a state of emergency. It’s been 49 days without rain, and over half a million acres of forest are burning. The nearest inferno is 59.8 miles away and has turned Salem’s air quality hazardous, while depositing

You're reading a preview, sign up to read more.

More from The Marshall Project

The Marshall Project4 min read
Being A Prisoner Is Like Being A Ghost
I still remember that moment six years ago when I became a ward of the state—a federal inmate. Shackled hand and foot, I arrived by bus at the penitentiary and was ordered to send my clothing and other personal effects home in a cardboard box. I had
The Marshall Project7 min read
The Never-Ending Drug Hustle Behind Bars
“While I went to high school with casual weed smokers, and worked at various jobs with weekend coke snorters, I was entirely unprepared for what I’ve seen in state prison.”
The Marshall Project4 min readSociety
My GPS-Tracked Life on Parole
“Even in prison, I didn’t feel so overwhelmed with worry about doing something wrong when I’m doing everything right.”