Russell was born in California, moved to Tucson, Arizona in 1964. He attended the University of Arizona where he was a student poet. After the university he entered the food industry, first working as a retail meat cutter and later as a chef. Moved to Almaty, Kazakhstan in 1992 to work as an executive chef for a hotel. He started teaching English in 2003. Currently he is a full time Lecturer in the Language Center of the Kazakhstan Institute of Economics, Management and Strategic Research.