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The Prison Break Blockbuster of the Summer

Prison Break - David Sweat - Richard Matt - Seattle Criminal Lawyer Blog

Please tell me I’m not the only one.

I feel a bit guilty. A lot guilty to be honest. I mean, I know these guys are monsters. Especially Richard Matt, the one who killed and disemboweled an old man. David Sweat, also a convicted murderer, ain’t no sweetheart either. But I couldn’t help but get a little excited about the news when I saw the headline: PRISON BREAK FROM MAXIMUM SECURITY!

Three of my all time favorite movies are “The Great Escape”, “Escape from Alcatraz” and “The Shawshank Redemption”, a favorite TV series, “Prison Break” (at least for the first two seasons). Who can’t remember cheering for Steve McQueen as he gunned his motorcycle, gathering speed to jump that long barbed wire fence as he attempted to make his getaway from the Nazi POW camp, Krauts looking on, powerless to stop him, only to crash and be brought back once again to sit in the “Cooler” and toss his ball on the wall. Ah, prison life is the life for me. To escape from of course.


But I know it’s not just me. Just look at the language being used in the initial prison break reports:

“A daring weekend escape from a New York state maximum-security penitentiary”

“The escape of two prisoners from a maximum-security prison has all the makings of a hit movie plot – a seemingly impossible escape, insider help and few concrete leads on the escaped prisoners’ current whereabouts.”

And as the details started pouring in it just kept getting better:

“The convicted killers escaped sometime after they were last seen at bed check Friday night. In their place, the pair left decoys to trick guards into thinking they were asleep in their bunks — and a yellow sticky note with a smiley face on it. It read, “Have a Nice Day!”

Prison Break Note - Richard Matt - David Sweat - Seattle Criminal Lawyer Blog


“In a prison break likely to draw comparisons to the film The Shawshank Redemption, two convicted murderers have escaped from a maximum-security facility in upstate New York by cutting through steel walls, shimmying through a steam pipe and emerging from a manhole on the outside.”

Detailed descriptions and photographs of their actual escape route are all over the airwaves, complete with diagrams of their plan. This looks more like Escape from Alcatraz than Shawshank Redemption, to me.

To make it even more dramatic, according to reports, the pair apparently spent a month roaming around the ancient prison catwalks alone at night, the guards oblivious, until they could find a way out of there. Just like “Escape from Alcatraz”.

I mean you just can’t make this stuff up.

Oh wait, that’s backwards. Theoretically you can only make this stuff up. Because it’s not real. Only this time it is.

I immediately said, “inside job” to my law partner the second that I heard they had used power tools.

Not something normally lying around your average maximum security prison cell, even if they were “Honors Inmates”, a fact which merits its own separate post.

One interesting thing for me personally is that the prison is just outside Plattsburg, named for some of my ancestors centuries ago, their old stomping grounds. Funny how I keep seeing connections with my family and places in the news recently, like Fergusson, Missouri.

But my personal connection goes a lot deeper than that. I have spent time in jails and prisons from the little Black Hole of Calcutta excuse for a jail in Saipan, in Micronesia, to a dirt floor cell in the boonies of Morocco, to the largest, scariest prison in Europe, the one with “H Block”, where they held all the IRA guys, Wormwood Scrubs, in London. Not to mention every jail or holding facility in Western Washington.

No, I haven’t been in that much trouble. I’ve been in these places working, meeting with clients. Well, except for that place in Morocco, where we were briefly detained for the crime of “hiking in the mountains.” We had to bribe our way out of that one. Which brings us back to how these guys escaped: someone working on the inside was dirty.

You learn a thing or two about prison security when you regularly go into and out of this many lock ups. Simply put, it’s not what it seems. I remember the public’s shock and outrage when Richard Speck, the infamous nurse murderer, was featured in a video showing him snorting cocaine, having sex and bragging about his fun times in prison. He summed it up, “If they only knew how much fun I was having in here, they would turn me loose.”

I was personally outraged because I distinctly remember being afraid to go to Cubs games in Chicago when I was a kid because we were so afraid that this guy would escape and kill us. He had traumatized the entire State of Illinois with his crimes. But I was not surprised when I heard his claims. That’s because I know how it really works.

When I worked in London, back in the 80’s, I went to “The Scrubs” about every other day. With my raggy red hair and beat up Harris Tweed, the “Screws” gave me a close look over whenever I came and went, especially with half the IRA locked up inside. Our clients were all in “Max” so it took about a seven giant locked gate trip inside before I got to where I needed to be. But somehow one of my clients was caught with a kilo of Black Afghani Hashish, deep inside the cell block, dealing to the other inmates. Where and how did he get it?

Simple. A corrupt guard looking for a little supplement to his paycheck. As I drilled down on that case, I discovered something. There is an entire world inside, a completely hidden culture of favors and bribes and money flowing in from the outside to make life a little more bearable for the customers. Because that is how many guards see these guys. Literally a captive audience who have a high demand for some of their “favorite things”. Like weed and coke and access to cell phones, as in this case, to plan their prison break.

So I wasn’t surprised one bit when they identified a prison worker who was helping the bad guys escape. I have no idea who she is, but I know she is probably the type who is easily conned, like some of the prison officials in that show Prison Break. I’ll bet she is lonely and has low self-esteem and suddenly these rather larger than life figures were showing an interest in her… she was only too happy to help, until she apparently had second thoughts about helping them drive away and left them stranded.

You may be wondering what my point is by now.

To be honest, I don’t really have one, for once. I am just sharing my experience here. Because it is really fascinating to know that there is an entire world that most people know nothing about that I have first-hand experience with.

I will never forget my all time favorite experience along these lines. I was deep in the bowels of the Old Bailey, in London, the crucible of our modern criminal justice system. The dungeon is just that, a dungeon. You half expect to see Iron Maidens lining the walls or a “Rack” set up and ready to go. Instead you got smoke filled rooms and barristers running around in their wigs and gowns, prepping their clients for court.

We were late for our hearing after spending too much time with a particularly difficult client. He was scheduled to appear in the main courtroom, the one where famous folks from Oscar Wilde to the Yorkshire Ripper had once appeared. At the last second the guard grabbed my arm.

“This way,” he winked, pointing to a tiny doorway leading to some ancient stone steps beyond. As I approached, my client and trusty barrister behind me, (I was a “Solicitor’s Representative”, but that’s another story) I looked up the long, stone stairs into the gloom, a small light shining down from above. It was just enough light to make out the deep grooves, worn into the stone by centuries of shuffling prisoners, dragging their tired bodies up the narrow stairway. I couldn’t help feeling that poor Oscar’s ghost was right there with me, slowly ascending to emerge into the light.

When we reached the top the door opened, and suddenly I was blinded by the light, inside the cavernous Courtroom One, standing smack dab in the middle of the floor, surrounded on all sides by spectators looking down from the balcony at me, wondering if I was the Defendant, no doubt. For I was in the “Dock”, the little cage where Defendants are held during the proceedings, not allowed to be within speaking distance of their lawyers. I felt trapped. And scared.

But fortunately, a smiling guard brandished his ancient set of fancy keys and opened the gate, eyeing my client carefully to make sure he didn’t try to bolt. I was free. Maybe that is where I got this fascination with prison escapes…

Probably not. It was more Steve McQueen and Clint Eastwood, to be honest, but it does help me understand what was going on in New York. Now I just hope they catch these guys, before they can do any more damage. I mean, they aren’t in a movie at all.

Too bad the Media is so easily confused about that.

If you would like Craig Platt’s help with a legal issue, you can find his contact information here or fill out a confidential, easy form about your case.