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5 Prison Breaks from History

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Two convicted muderers have this week made a 'Shawshank' style escape from a high security prison in the US. Richard Matt, 48, and David Sweat, 34, escaped from Clinton Correctional Facility in Dannemora on Friday 5th June. They used power tools to cut through the steel wall of their cell to a catwalk that leading to a series of pipes and tunnels, finally escaping through a manhole into a nearby street. For those who do the crime but don’t want to do the time, there’s no such thing as inescapable. Here are five more prison breaks from history.

With a little help from a helicopter

Killer ‘Kalashnikov Pat’, aka Pacal Payet, twice escaped from high security jails using helicopters. His second attempt in 2007 was more like a break in. Three gunmen hijacked a helicopter, landed it on the roof of his prison, and forced their way in. They emerged with Payet and took off. Not only had he already escaped by helicopter in 2001, he’d also organised a helicopter escape from the same prison for three other prisoners in 2003. He’s since been recaptured - so it remains to be seen whether he’s hatched a third helicopter exit for himself.

The Maze

Called ‘The Maze’ after a nearby local town - and not because it was in any way labyrinthine – this Belfast prison was considered escape proof. But 38 IRA prisoners proved otherwise when in 1983 they broke out in the biggest prison escape in British history. Guns were smuggled into the prison and used in the breakout that killed one guard.

Did they? Didn’t they?

Alcatraz, an island surrounded by fast flowing and freezing San Francisco water, was meant to be inescapable. But the bodies of three escapees were never found. In June 1962, three men tunnelled out with a spoon and used papier-mâché dummies as decoys. It inspired the Clint Eastwood film, Escape From Alcatraz. The film ends ambiguously so the viewer isn’t certain if Clint escapes. And the US Marshall Service still has an active file on the three real life escapees...complete with age progression photo IDs of how the men would look.

A Great Escape?

In 1944, Allied prisoners of World War II dug three tunnels, ‘Tom’, ‘Dick’ and ‘Harry’ out of their German camp. Under constant machine-gun scrutiny, 600 Americans and British secretly shifted 130 tonnes of material in just five months. Of the 200 expected escapees, 76 made it out and only three evaded recapture. In retaliation, the Germans executed 50 escapees. Revisionist history has been quite critical of the escapees saying it was ultimately unsuccessful and wasteful of lives. But recent critics have suggested that by momentarily diverting Hitler’s attention – he personally ordered the escapee executions - from the D-Day preparations, their sacrifice wasn’t in vain.

The Jesuit Jailbreaker

John Gerard was a Jesuit priest in Elizabethan England. Being a Catholic spy meant he was no stranger to prison, but the Tower of London was his first exposure to torture. He was hung from the ceiling by his hands but never gave up any information. Instead, he used orange-juice invisible ink to plot his escape. Despite his hands being mangled from the torture, he was able to climb along a rope, strung across the moat, and escape in a waiting boat. And being one of life’s genuine good guys, he even brought along his jailer knowing that the man would be blamed for the escape. Despite the threat of being found and returned to the Tower – and being tortured again - Gerard continued to spread his faith in England for another eight years.