When we discuss the issue of prison escapees, our conversations can often gravitate towards sensationalised versions of stories of prisoners devising radical escapes from their respective imprisonments. These stories of prison escapes have long captured the imagination and attention of the public. The vision of prisoners defying the odds against them to escape and elude law enforcement has long been a recurrent theme in film, television, literature and real-life news headlines. Audacious attempts to escape prisons are not limited to any one country or any one gender and come from all around the world.
The attempts and successful escapes, reveal a unique set of challenges and circumstances that prisoners try to overcome. The motivation behind prison escapes vary from each situation, but an underlying desire for a pursuit for freedom is human nature. Regardless of the motives, challenges and circumstances, the planning and execution of any escapes are deeply risky endeavours that require a lot of resourcefulness, opportunity, intelligence and often a good amount of luck.
Arguably, one of the most iconic prison escape stories is that of Alcatraz. The notorious federal penitentiary located on an island in San Francisco Bay in the United States. In June 1962, three prisoners, Frank Morris, John Anglin and Clarence Anglin, executed their escape plan. The trio were assigned adjoining cells in Alcatraz and they began to hatch their escape plan, aided by another inmate, Allen West. Morris was credited by the FBI as being the brains behind the planning of the escape due to his high intelligence. During morning head count, dummy heads made out of skin tone plaster, paint and human hair were discovered and the prison went in to lock down. Many intricate homemade tools were discovered to aid their escape, items such as a crude periscope to keep watch, over 50 raincoats to make life preservers and a rubber raft. When the time came to make the escape, the three men climbed out through the ventilator, got on to the prison roof, made their way down the bakery smoke stack, climbed over a fence and snuck to the Northeast shore of the island where they launched their raft. The FBI, Coastguard and various other agencies never found any evidence that the men survived after their escape and were presumed to have drowned. Over 17 years that the FBI worked on the case, they never uncovered any evidence to suggest that the men made it to shore alive, however, no bodies were ever recovered.
In a much more recent case occurring in the present year (2023) in London, England, a 21-year-old man named Daniel Khalife escaped custody from HMP Wandsworth. Khalife escaped from the prison by hiding under a food delivery lorry. Strokes of luck, opportunity and no doubt some serious calculation from Khalife, made this escape a reality. For four days, Khalife evaded the police until he was captured by a plain clothes counter-terrorism officer, still in London. In England, prison escapes are not particularly common and Khalife’s escape is only the fourth time since 2017 that someone has escaped from a prison. Overcrowding and staff shortages no doubt play a significant role in all prison escapes and in Khalife’s case, certainly played a part. In a report from the Criminal Justice Inspectorates in 2022, the poor living conditions and overcrowding were noted, clear risk factors.
In the latest season of Netflix’s hit show, “Inside the World’s Toughest Prisons”, RRF Founder, Raphael Rowe visited Rove Prison in the Solomon Islands. The prison is renowned for housing the most serious of offenders, largely but not limited to, sexual offenders and murderers. During Raphael’s stay, he met an inmate called Frank Firimolea, “Frankie”. Frankie, 36, couldn’t remember how many times he has been to prison over the years and first entered the prison system at just 16 years old. He revealed to Raphael that he had just spent a brutal stint in segregation due to successfully escaping Rove prison. In this first-hand insight, Frankie revealed that a number of the men housed there escaped by using bolts off of the cell doors and padlocks to cut through the wires that comprised the roofing, they then proceeded to climb up and jump over the razor wire fence in their bid for freedom. Frankie was on the run from law enforcement for two months, when he was captured and sent straight to segregation. Security at Rove has been tightened and Frankie said that he will not be trying to escape again.
The pursuit of freedom can come at a very high cost, with escapees often risking their lives and jeopardising their freedom further if they are found, in their bid for freedom. Prison escapes raise ethical questions about the criminal justice system, security measures and the rehabilitation of prisoners. Prison escapes force us to consider the lengths that people will go to regain their freedom. Ask yourself, what would you risk to escape prison? It is an interesting thought. Ultimately, prison escapees personify the complexity of human grit and determination and the pursuit of freedom.