Both before and after it was a moderately successful TV show, prison breaks have captured the public’s attention — proving some criminals are both dumb enough to get sentenced and smart enough to escape from prison.
Such prison breaks often means that dangerous felons are on the loose, inciting fear, excitement, and impressive manhunts. Just as often, they make for a fascinating stories.
Here are some ridiculous ways inmates have been able to escape from prison.
Lubrication & flexibility
Jails and cuffs are designed to keep bodies contained, but #notallbodies are restricted successfully.
The most notable incident happened after South Korean prisoner Choi Gap-bok took to yoga during his imprisonment. After 23 years of this, the tiny and nimble man asked for some skin ointment and – discretely and incredibly – squeezed himself through a 6 by 18 inch food slot.
In 1988, prisoner Richard Lee McNair used similarly slimy technique, employing chapstick to slip out of handcuffs. In another break four years later, the same man used catlike contortion to escape through ventilation ducts, and in his third escape, mailed himself out of the prison.
Mind trickery & deceit
What better way to escape from prison than convincing the prison guards you aren’t a prisoner?
Frank Abagnale, the inspiration for Leonardo DiCaprio’s character in Catch Me If You Can, did just that. Through careful insinuation, he was able to convince his guards that he was an undercover prison inspector, and was eventually released to a friend disguised as FBI without a hitch.
Charles Victor Thompson pulled off a similar maneuver by changing into civilian clothes, flashing his prison ID to a guard with feigned authority, and walking outside to temporary freedom.
Physical and social slippery is one thing, but hardier prisoners have chosen craftier routes by building, digging, and more.
During a break from the Nazi prison camp Stalag Luft III in 1944 known as “the great escape,” prisoners dug 30 feet deep tunnels using stolen equipment. The tunnels were amazingly advanced: well-lit, ventilated, and employing railroad-like systems. Virtually all of the escapees were apprehended, but the feat was no less impressive.
In another act of craftsmanship, prisoners Clarence Anglin, John Anglin, and Frank Morris escaped the maximum security prison on Alcatraz Island in 1962 by fashioning dummy heads out of soap and hair, digging holes in the wall with spoons, and crafting a raft out of raincoats. They were never caught.
Another prisoner, British law prodigy and jewel thief Alfie Hinds, was able to craft a working key out of memory after seeing the guard’s briefly. He escaped a second time by locking the guards in a bathroom, and finally by exploiting a legal loophole.
Many prisoners have outside accomplices, some of which do the bulk of the work. In the 2015 prison break from the Clinton Correctional Facility in New York, prisoners Richard Matt and David Sweat had outsiders deliver tools in hamburger meat, with the help of alleged accomplice prison worker Joyce Mitchell. (Matt has since been shot and killed, while Sweat was shot and is back in custody.)
But perhaps the best friend is one with a helicopter. French inmate Pascal Payet escaped three times using a helicopter, and Greek inmate Vasilis Paleokostas twice.
Lastly, could there be any better (or more embarrassing) accomplice than one’s own mother? Jay Junior Sigler was lucky enough to have a mother willing to mastermind an escape, for which she followed a big-rig truck through four prison fences.
Both mother and son were unlucky enough to be caught shortly after their escape from prison.