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Legendary OK aviator finds redemption in prison

Friday, September 27, 2019

GRANITE, Okla. -- Oklahoma State Reformatory is where many felons find R & R – remorse and rehabilitation. 

Over the years, thousands of criminals have been locked behind the cinder block and steel bars of the Oklahoma prison.  

And there is only one name in the registry that captured our hearts with his adventurous spirit. One of these dingy cells was briefly home to Oklahoma aviator, Wiley Post. Author Bob Burke said, “The story of Wiley Post I believe is the ultimate redemption story. The ultimate rehabilitation story in Oklahoma.” 

In his early years – Wiley Post was hardly a famed American flyer. No, he was an infamous armed robber. Burke said, “At the age of 17 he left home and decided to go to the world of crime. He would hold up cars and rob the occupants at night. He would throw tires out into the road at night. And when the car stopped he robbed them. One Sunday night in 1921, his tire tool was overpowered by four guys with a shotgun. They were returning from a quail hunting trip.” 

One month later, Post was sentenced to 10 years at Oklahoma State Reformatory in Granite. OSR Chief Kerry Kendall said, “This is the original cell house that was built in 1909 to 1914 when they built the rotunda and cell house. It’s a very good possibility this was the cell house he lived in.” 

Wiley post was diagnosed with “severe melancholy” and paroled from OSR after serving only 13 months. 

The former Department of Corrections inmate had a passion for aviation. He set out to restore his reputation and earn enough money to buy an airplane. Then came another debilitating setback. “On the first day of his new job a coworker hit a piece of steel and a sliver went into Wiley’s left eye. It became infected and had to be removed,” Burke said. 

But Wiley Post refused to let his misfortune and failures define his future. In the next five years he became the world’s most famous pilot – the first pilot to fly around the world. 

In the middle of the great depression, the world had a hero. An Oklahoman with enough personal baggage to fill the belly of a Willie Mae. According to Bob Burke, “The Wiley Post rehabilitation story has never been told widely. But it’s one where a 6th grade dropout, young self-taught scientist with a depression problem but with a prison record overcame all that and became the world’s greatest pilot.” 

Who knows what greatness may be behind bars at OSR today, waiting for his own redemption story to take flight.  

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