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Identifier: WH2410

Scope and Contents

These papers were organized with the help of David Lee Anderson, David Hughes, and the Incarcerated Workers Organizing Committee of the Denver General Membership Branch of the Industrial Workers of the World. Most of the initial organization was retained during collection processing. The collection has a date range from 1867 to 2018, with the bulk of the material from 1955 to 2017. Papers contain information about David Lee Anderson's childhood and family, time spent in prison, legal materials, and his defense effort. In the Writing series, Anderson’s extensive writing on these subjects includes manuscripts and journals. The oversize scrapbook features newspaper clippings, correspondence, photographs, and drawings related to Anderson's time in prison and his aquittal.


The Personal series (1867-2018) includes genealogy research, information about the Iowa State Training School for Boys, family correspondence, legal documents, and information about Anderson’s life after he was released from prison. Included in the post-imprisonment subseries are timelines of David Anderson’s life and his resume.

SERIES 2 PRISON 1958-2015 BOX 1-2

Dating from 1958 to 2015, this series contains information about Anderson’s time at the Colorado State Penitentiary in Cãnon City, Colorado, including his escapes, involvement with prison reform, activism, and his defense effort. Materials include newspaper clippings, prison reports and policies, nametags, visitor records, Anderson’s writing, correspondence, legal documents, newsletters, photographs, minutes/agendas, and brochures.

SERIES 3 LEGAL 1958-2008 BOX 2-3

The Legal series contains legal documents, police reports, research, and correspondence pertaining to cases against Anderson from 1958 to 1983 and personal legal matters.

SERIES 4 WRITING 1955-2017 BOX 3-4

Anderson’s extensive writings about his life comprise this series. Ranging from 1955-2017, Anderson wrote book-length and shorter manuscripts about his life and experiences as well as fiction and poetry. The Big House Book details his time spent in prison and includes photographs and newspaper clippings. David’s Story tells about his life from childhood to being released from prison. There are handwritten and typed drafts and final versions of his work. Also included are journals, notes, correspondence, calendars, and research. The Oui Datebook 1980 in Box 4, folder 30 contains female nudity.


This scrapbook contains newspaper clippings about the Colorado State Penitentiary prison conditions, Anderson’s escapes, and his criminal convictions. It also contains correspondence to Greg Walta, photographs, and drawings by Anderson.


  • 1867-2018

Language of Materials

English, Swedish

Conditions Governing Access

The collection is open for research.


All requests for permission to publish, reproduce, or quote from material in the collection should be discussed with the appropriate librarian or archivist. Permission for publication may be given on behalf of the Denver Public Library as the owner of the physical item. It is not intended to include or imply permission of the copyright holder, which also must be obtained by the customer. The Library does not assume any responsibility for infringement of copyright or publication rights of the manuscript held by the writer, heirs, donors, or executors. Reproduction restrictions are decided on a case-by-case basis.

Biographical / Historical

Written by David Lee Anderson, Kelly Steingreaber, David Hughes, and the Incarcerated Workers Organizing Committee of the Denver General Membership Branch of the Industrial Workers of the World.

David Lee Anderson was born in East Des Moines, Iowa in 1939. He was the 11th of 13 children with loving parents (Axel Alvin Anderson and Nellie Marie Rose) who tirelessly worked to provide for their family. He cracked his first safe at the age of 13 and ended up in reform school in Eldora, Iowa by 1954. During his schooling, he perfected his “craft” by learning from other reform school students and he escaped on three separate occasions. In 1956, the reform school proposed to Anderson’s parents that he be released provided they relocate out of state.

The Anderson family moved to Colorado Springs in 1956. David married Mary Lou Rusk in 1959. During the next nine years, he was convicted twice for burglary, spent four years in Old Max (Colorado State Penitentiary Cãnon City, Colorado), had four children, and held a circulation district manager position for the Colorado Springs Free Press. After his second release from prison in 1968, Anderson committed to giving up thievery and to providing a stable family life for his wife and children.

This life imploded in 1975 when David Kuck, a jailhouse snitch, evaded prosecution by falsely accusing Anderson of stealing two snowmobiles and selling drugs. Although neither were found in his possession, he was convicted of theft and received his first life sentence based on Colorado’s “three strikes” law. He was further prosecuted and convicted for dispensing drugs and bribing a witness, receiving his second life sentence in 1976. Refusing to settle with life in prison, Anderson escaped in April 1977 but was apprehended in August while trying to see his family. He returned to Old Max and received his third life sentence for the escape.

Back in prison, he was placed in solitary confinement, or “the hole,” conditions of which he exposed to the Pueblo Chieftain, resulting in an article titled, “Newsmen Tour Prison and View ‘Living Hell’.” Anderson and other prisoners initiated a class action lawsuit against the warden Bill Wilson and Gov. Richard Lamm for inhumane prison conditions and violations of constitutional rights. Federal District Court Judge John Kane ordered that Old Max be closed unless immediate steps were taken to remedy the existing constitutional violations. Anderson also crafted the blueprint for an elected, interracial prisoner’s council, enlisting convicts associated with activist groups like the Black Panther and La Raza Unida Parties. They formed the council despite the firm resistance of the prison administration. His conduct resulted in many trips to "the hole."

Anderson escaped again in August 1978 but was caught in November. He received crucial changes of venue for his escape trial, first from Fremont County to Chaffee County (due to negative press concerning his escapes), and then to Denver County, appearing before the relatively impartial Judge Alvin Lichtenstein who coincidentally had just toured Old Max and the “dog cages” of the hole where David had been imprisoned. The judge reviewed Anderson’s file and asked the prosecutor, “He’s serving life for two snowmobiles?” Anderson was housed at the Denver county jail where he met some Rocky Flats nuclear protesters who learned of his prison activism. Upon their release they launched a defense effort on Anderson’s behalf resulting in his exoneration and release on April 29, 1983—his 44th birthday.

In 2018, Anderson lives in Denver as an activist on social issues such as prison abolition, homeless advocacy, repeal of the death penalty, police brutality, home foreclosure, and health care. He has maintained his freedom since 1983.


4 boxes

1 OVBox

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Gift, David Lee Anderson, 2018.

Jamie Seemiller
September 2018
Language of description
Script of description
Code for undetermined script

Repository Details

Part of the Denver Public Library, Western History and Genealogy Repository

10 W. 14th Ave. Pkwy
Denver CO 80204 United States