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 Project5 min read
Can You Hear Me Now?
Prison officials tout video visitation’s convenience. Families say they’re paying high rates for second-rate service
The Marshall Project5 min read
The Hidden Cost of Incarceration
Every month, Telita Hayes adds nearly $200 to the commissary account for her ex-husband, William Reese, who has been in the Louisiana State Penitentiary for 28 years. Each prisoner there is given three meals a day and some personal hygiene items, lik
The Marshall Project2 min read
How We Investigated Mississippi’s Modern-Day Debtors Prisons
The tip we got at Mississippi Today seemed a little unlikely: a woman in state prison was also working at McDonald’s—and not voluntarily. But sure enough, we found Dixie D’Angelo, a woman with court-ordered debts of $5,000 because she damaged a frien