By Kevin S. Giles
A friend called me recently to ask if I had seen a Travel Channel feature about the 1959 riot at Montana State Prison that aired that night.
“Tell me it’s not the urban myth about Jerry Myles and the cement shoes,” I interrupted.
Sure enough, that was the one, contrived and cartoonish straight through to its overwrought (but merciful) ending 3:31 minutes later. This Mysteries in the Museum stinker surely provided entertainment value to some viewers. Who wouldn’t marvel at watching an angry convict start a prison disturbance because guards made him wear shoes with heavy cement soles?
Quite a story – but not true.
The film’s producer, aware that I had written Jerry’s Riot: The True Story of Montana’s 1959 Prison Disturbance, asked me to help with narration. When I told him I no longer lived in Deer Lodge, Montana, the small town where the riot occurred, he said he would find someone else. That person, Jamie Davyous Owens, is identified as “Tour Guide” in this flick. Don’t be fooled. A genuine tour guide at Old Montana Prison would know that Deputy Warden Ted Rothe’s name is pronounced Roth-E, not Roth. An Internet search also identifies Owens as a narrator for hire.Take me to Kevin's books: One Woman Against War, Summer of the Black Chevy, Jerry's Riot
When the producer told me he wanted to build the film around Jerry Myles wearing cement shoes, I pointed out that no such thing happened. I had researched thousands of pages of documents and interviewed hundreds of people before I wrote Jerry’s Riot and didn’t come across a single mention of cement shoes. Not one.
Why would Myles wear cement shoes while locked in a cell, inside a prison with a 22-foot wall? Wouldn’t he unlace them and step out of them? Shoes shown in the film, taken from a display at Old Montana Prison museum, probably had a use in some fashion a half century before Jerry Myles turned the prison topsy-turvy in 1959. They’re crudely made, probably by a prison cobbler, and I doubt they were terribly effective even in the old days.
The film has other off-putting scenes as well, such as actors shown in 70s-era clothing and hair styles. One scene shows long-haired inmates in orange jumpsuits running through a hallway. (Inmates in 1959 wore blue trousers with stripes down the side, some wore khaki, and guards ordered anyone with long hair to the prison barbershop.)
Scenes depicting Myles in a big cell, with a big window, aren’t factual. Like every other inmate he lived in a tiny windowless cell that didn’t resemble a dorm room.
For the record, Myles started the deadly disturbance because he was a confirmed psychopath, a graduate of four federal prisons including Alcatraz Island, and he wanted to show the new warden he was boss.
If for nothing else, the film is worth watching for its inclusion of historical photos, one of which shows wives of guard-hostages staring from the warden’s house at the prison across the street. Except for the cement shoes, the story line is mostly accurate. Listen for the reference to Myles committing a burglary to deliberately get into Montana State Prison. That’s straight out of Jerry’s Riot. It’s a fact that I uncovered after considerable detective work, but in the film it’s tossed out as general knowledge with no mention of the source.
Soon after this film aired, and aired again, I noticed several visitors arrived at my website using the search term “Jerry Myles and cement shoes.” Perhaps they saw the film’s finale in which it’s said that when people hear noises in the old prison they’re hearing Jerry Myles clomping around with all that concrete underfoot.
The boots, like the film, would be enough to wake the dead.
Kevin S. Giles, a Montana native, authored Jerry’s Riot: The True Story of Montana’s 1959 Prison Disturbance, the only comprehensive book about one of Montana’s most unsettling and iconic events.