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Men Escape American High Security Prison

This combination made from photos released by the New York State Police shows inmates David Sweat, left, and Richard Matt. (New York State Police via AP)

This combination made from photos released by the New York State Police shows inmates David Sweat, left, and Richard Matt. (New York State Police via AP)

Two men escaped from a maximum-security prison in the American state of New York last Saturday, June 6. The escape received a lot of attention in American media and around-the-clock coverage on cable news networks.

It is hard to escape from prison in the United States. It is also fairly rare and getting rarer. The latest numbers show less than point two percent of the prison population escaped in 2012. That is about 2,500 people out of 1.3 million.

The number is not insignificant. But, it is a huge drop from twenty years earlier. In 1993, more than 14,000 prisoners escaped. And the entire U.S. prison population that year was about 780,000.

Some prisoners just walk away...

These numbers are for all prisons. In many cases, the prisoners walked away from work details or boot camps. Escapes are rare from prisons with the highest level of security, called maximum-security prisons. Only one maximum-security prisoner escaped in the years from 2009 to 2013.

The most recent escape was especially shocking. Two men escaped from the Clinton Correctional Facility, a maximum-security prison in Dannemora, New York. The prison was built in the Adirondack Mountains in 1845. There have been other escapes from Clinton prison. But none of those escapees were free as long as the most recent, convicted murderers, David Sweat and Richard Matt.

... While others have to dig through walls

Hole in the wall of one escapee's cell.

Hole in the wall of one escapee's cell.

The two men had cells next to each other. Each dug a hole through his cell and used power tools to cut through sewer pipes. On the night of the escape, they stuffed their bed coverings with clothes to make it look like they were asleep.

Investigators believe that the two travelled inside the walls of the prison along a narrow walk. Then they climbed down and made their way to sewer pipes and crawled to freedom through a manhole in a street in the town of Dannemora.

The men left a note on one of the pipes. It had a cartoon picture of an Asian person and the message, “Have a nice day.”

A Hollywood worthy prison break

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo stands along the path the escapees used to break out of the prison in Dannemora.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo stands along the path the escapees used to break out of the prison in Dannemora.

The governor of New York, Andrew Cuomo, the news media and others have compared the Dannemora prison break to the 1994 Hollywood movie, “The Shawshank Redemption.”

In that movie, Tim Robbins plays Andy Dufresne, a man found guilty of killing his wife and her lover. The character always says he is innocent of the crime. Andy spends many years in a prison in Maine before escaping through sewer pipes. And he also had a close friendship with another prisoner. But, unlike David Sweat and Richard Matt, Andy escapes alone.

Help from the inside

Police say Sweat and Matt had help from at least one prison worker. Joyce Mitchell is said to have developed a relationship with both men. She told police Matt made her feel “special.” And, police say, the prison in the last 12 months investigated a report that Ms. Mitchell and David Sweat had become close.

Police say prison officials reportedly separated the two but did not find enough evidence to take any action against Joyce Mitchell.

Investigators say Ms. Mitchell had planned to drive the prisoners away after they were out of the prison. But she reportedly had a change of mind. She went to a hospital instead, suffering from a panic attack.

Police say Joyce Mitchell is cooperating with them in their investigation. They also say their investigation shows that she did not provide the prisoners with power tools. But they say she did bring illegal material into Clinton.

Ms. Mitchell is married to another worker at the prison. Her family has strongly defended her, saying she would not assist the escape. But, her former husband says Joyce Mitchell was unfaithful during their marriage and expects she is cheating now.

Police continue to search for the escapees. Search dogs picked up the prisoners’ scent within a couple of kilometers from the prison. But it is not clear when in the last week the men might have been there.

I’m Caty Weaver.

Caty Weaver wrote this report for VOA Learning English. Hai Do was the editor.


Words in This Story

insignificant adj. small or unimportant

convicted v. to prove that someone is guilty of a crime in a court of law

sewer n. a pipe that is usually underground and that is used to carry off water and human waste

panic n. a state or feeling of extreme fear that makes someone unable to act or think normally

unfaithful adj. having a sexual relationship with someone who is not your wife, husband, or partner

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