Freedom is among the most basic human rights that very often people take for granted. It’s also the most powerful self-preservation instinct that can drive people’s creativity and imagination far above their limits. The place that freedom is the most discussed and dreamed-of subject? Prisons, of course. While some prisoners use the time in jail to think about the mistakes they’ve made in life and how to fix them, others spend it by making jaw dropping prison break plans that have inspired writers and film-makers worldwide. Here are 25 of the greatest examples.
1. The Stalag Luft Escape
Stalag Luft was a German World War II prisoner-of-war camp in which the Auxiliary Air Force pilot Roger Bushell convinced 600 other prisoners to dig three tunnels. In order to keep the plan hidden from prison guards, the tunnels were called Harry, Tom, and Dick. Not wasting any time to dig too wide, the men made a 30 foot deep crawl space which allowed a man to pass through. Almost 80 of them all tasted the freedom after Harry was finished, however, only 3 escaped for good. The rest of the men were caught.
2. The questionable escape of Sławomir Rawicz
After the German-Soviet invasion of Poland, the Polish Army lieutenant, Sławomir Rawicz, was imprisoned in a Siberian gulag, a labor camp maintained in the former Soviet Union from 1930 to 1955 in which many people died. In the book called “The Long Walk”, Rawicz claimed that he had escaped the gulag with 6 other prisoners, walking on foot and passing through the Tibetian Gobi Desert and reaching Britain India year later. However, in 2006 reporters released Soviet records proving that the escape to India never happened. Rawicz was actually released in 1942 as part of the amnesty of Poles and transported to an Indian refugee camp. Dates and facts contradict with the book’s storyline. Some of the evidence were statements written by Rawicz himself and the whole escape-story remains false.
3. The biggest prison break in British history
This story shows that human behavior can be very predictable if watched closely and persistently. Bobby Storey was an IRA soldier that was imprisoned in the British HM Maze Prison – the most escape-proof prison in Europe at the time. After months of planning, on 25 September 1983, Storey alongside with Gerry Kelly, also an IRA soldier, managed to seize control of H7 Block by taking the prison guards hostage. One officer took a shot to the head and many others were injured during the prisoners’ attack, making it possible for 35 men to escape dressed in the officers’ uniforms. Still the biggest in UK history, this prison break is now the true-events story behind the movie “Maze” (2017).
4. Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman
Considered the “most powerful drug trafficker in the world” and “the biggest drug lord of all time”, Joaquin Guzman, a.k.a. “El Chapo” was an extremely feared man. On 9 June 1993, Joaquin Guzman was captured in Guatemala, extradited to Mexico and sentenced to 20 years. However, being as powerful as El Chapo was, it was child’s play for the drug lord to hold his position even when imprisoned. On 22 November 1995, he was transferred to the maximum-security prison Federal Center for Social Rehabilitation No. 2 in Jalisco. In 2001, Guzmán bribed guards (with $2.5 million) to ensure his escape. After 13 years of hunting, he was caught again and transferred to the maximum-security prison in Almoloya de Juárez, State of Mexico, on a Federal Police Black Hawk helicopter. On 11 July 2015, Guzman escaped for the second time, but a year later on 8 January 2016, he was yet again arrested. Was this the final arrest of the most feared man on the planet? Only time can tell.
5. The 2010 Kingman Arizona State Prison Escape
In 2010, local law enforcement captured prisoners Daniel Renwick, Tracy Province and John McCluskey after their escape from the privately run Kingman Arizona State Prison. Renwick, Province, and McCluskey has been previously convicted of violent crimes. Two were imprisoned for murder . Due to security breakdowns, the three inmates escaped with the help of The an accomplice, Casslyn Welch, who was also arrested afterward. The escape was quite bold and well organized. On July 30, 2010, Welch parked a Chevy blazer behind the prison and tossed bolt cutters and pliers over a chain-link fence. The inmates cut a hole and escaped. After separating outside, Renwick vanished with the car. The other three walked almost 9 miles and took possession of a semi truck, shoving the drivers into the sleeper. After they were caught, McCluskey and Province received life imprisonment. Welch received a 20-year Arizona sentence and Renwick was consecutively sentenced to 48 years in Colorado state prison.
6. Henri Charrière
The autobiography “Papillon” and the autobiographical sequel “Banco: The Further Adventures of Papillon” are both books written by Henri Charrière, French criminal and a prisoner in French Guiana, in which he describes his lifetime adventures, imprisonments and escapes. A thief and a pimp in Paris, he was arrested in 1931, sentenced to life imprisonment and sent to Cayenne. He escaped three years later but was caught shortly after. He tried to escape eight more times and after succeeding on the last time, he became part of the Venezuelan society managing a restaurant in Caracas. In 1962 he wrote “Papillon” and in 1972 he wrote his second book. However, he was accused of making up most of his stories in the exposing books “The Four Truths of Papillon” and “Butterfly Pinned”. Both books contain evidence that Charrière took other prisoners’ stories and made them his own.
7. Captured after escape
On February 27, 2012, a tragic event took place at Chardon High School in Chardon, Ohio. T.J. Lane began a shooting in the school killing three male students. T.J. Lane was arrested and convicted to a life sentence. On September 11, 2014, the 19-year-old escaped with two other inmates. They used an improvised ladder to scale a fence during recreation hours. However, shortly after, all of them were captured.
8. The Texas Seven
On December 13, 2000, seven vicious criminals, referred to as The Texas Seven, made their escape from the John B. Connally Unit outside of Kenedy, Texas. This is a maximum-security prison for males in Karnes County, Texas. During the “slowest” period of the prison day, when there was less control of specific places, the group attacked and took as hostages nine maintenance personnel. The men stole clothing, credit and ID cards from the supervisors. They impersonated prison guards on the phone and made up stories to avoid suspicion from authorities. Shortly after escaping, they ran out of funds and they decided to rob a store. Thanks to the American TV show “America’s Most Wanted”,The Texas Seven were found and arrested nearby a gas station. One of the members of the gang shot himself during the chase.
9. The Famous Alcatraz Escape
Clarence Anglin, John Anglin and Frank Morris are the three Alcatraz prisoners that history will remember as the only prisoners who managed to escape the most escape-proof prison of all time. Tactics, bravery and creativity were needed more than ever in order to trick this prison’s security system. Well, they had it all. After using different kinds of tools, materials and digging holes throughout the prison, by forming dummy heads from a soap and toilet paper, colored with paint from the maintenance shop and hair from the barbershop floor, the men managed to escape with a float board over to Angel Island. On the next morning, June 12, the prison officers noticed their absence and started a huge search. Later that day, in the vicinity of the prison , workers on another boat found a wallet that contained names, addresses, and even pictures of the Anglins’ friends and relatives. No physical evidence of the men’s fate were ever found.
10. Vassilis Palaiokostas – The Greek Robin Hood
We all know the story of the humble and righteous Robin Hood who was motivated to do justice to the poor by stealing from the greedy men and handing it over to those in need. We also know that more and more people see the unfairness of the banks’ system while millions of people live in poverty. Vassilis Palaiokostas was one of them. He was fed up with modern-day slavery. Convinced that the banks are guilty for the entire economic crisis and determined to fix the problem, he started to rob different banks. What made him famous in his hometown was the fact that he has given most of the stolen money to poor families. This made him famous under the by-name “The Greek Robin Hood”. He was arrested and convicted of robbery and kidnapping and received a lifetime sentence. Using few men to take a helicopter, he escaped with their help. After another escape and still being on the run , he earned his place among one of the most intriguing criminals of all times.
11. Bruce Walter Keith or James Robert Jones?
Convicted murderer James Robert Jones had made his unauthorized exit from the prison located on Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, and started anew in Florida. He was living under the name of Bruce Walter Keith, he got married and was employed by a heating and cooling outfit. It all ended when Jones was found with the help of software that detected his face and matched it to the escapee from Leavenworth.
12. The Jew Savior, Alfréd Wetzler
Alfred Wetzler was one of the few Jews to have escaped from Auschwitz during the Holocaust. The history of the Auschwitz death camp is well known, for its notorious methods for murdering Jews, it also was highly protected, leaving no chance for anyone to escape. Wetzler made his way out by hiding under construction wood for four days and escaped at the perfect time when none of the camp’s guards were watching. After going back to Slovakia, Wetzler made a report from notes that he and his fellow escapee, Rudolf Vrba, had about the workings of Auschwitz, saving up to 120,000 Hungarian Jews.
13. The Case Of Charles Victor Thompson
Sentenced to death in April 1999 and currently residing on Texas Death Row, Charles Victor Thompson escaped the Harris County Prison. With a fraudulent ID badge, after a parole meeting, claiming to be with the Attorney General’s office, Thompson was out of prison. Three days later, he was captured outside a liquor store in Shreveport, Louisiana, intoxicated and using a payphone.
14. The chameleon
Frank Abagnale, an American security consultant, was arrested for fraud. He is famous for claiming to have assumed several identities, including an airline pilot, a U.S. Bureau of Prisons agent, a lawyer and a physician. Having the guts and expertise for deception, he escaped from police custody twice. One of them was from a U.S. federal penitentiary where he used a fake ID to prove his false identity and nonchalantly walked out of the Federal Detention Center.
15. The Libby Prison Escape
Disease, malnutrition and a high mortality rate was the reality in Libby Prison. It was built before the American Civil War as a food warehouse. The prison got famous for its harsh conditions and careless behavior towards the prisoners. One thousand prisoners were shoved into large open rooms on two floors, with open windows leaving them exposed to weather and temperature extremes. More than hundred of the prisoners could not take the conditions they were living in, so they dug tunnels and after a while, escaped.
16. The famous John Dillinger
John Dillinger is one of the most famous criminals of all time. His name is extremely well known worldwide for bank robbery and kidnapping. He is the kind of mastermind that will use every possibility to learn and become an expert at what he does. Even when put into a harsh situation, he will continue learning from it and use it to his advantage at the perfect time. On his first imprisonment, he was heard saying that he will be even more vicious a criminal than ever after he gets out. John Dillinger was paroled in 1933, after a nine and a half year stint.
Needless to say, he kept his word and continued with his craft. Using everything he learned from his time in jail, he started to rob banks. In June of 1933, he robbed a bank for the first time, making off with $10,000. Later in the same year, he was arrested. After searching him, the police discovered a paper that to be a prison escape plan, but he wouldn’t give away any details. Apparently, he knew what he was doing. Dillinger and his gang members tried to act like police officers but it didn’t go over so well, so they had to shoot the guards. Being out of prison again, he robbed more banks. Caught up and sent back to prison, this time he made a fake gun out of wood to frighten the security officers. In 1934, Dillinger was shot and killed in a setup by the FBI outside of a movie theater in Chicago.
17. Billy Hayes
Billy Hayes is an American writer, actor and film director. However, his early life was far from good. On October 7, 1970, Hayes was arrested for drug abuse in Turkey and was sentenced to life where he spent the hardest of his days. Although his time in prison was a misery, it seemed that suffering helped him put his life into perspective, making it clear what he was born to do. Eventually, his conviction was decreased to 30 years due to multiple prison transfers. He came to a point that couldn’t spend any more days in jail. Hayes used everything he learned about the prison’s security flaws and escaped. Shortly after, he shared his experiences in Turkey in the book “Midnight Express” that led him to a successful career.
18. Alfie “Houdini” Hinds
Alfie Hinds was an orphan who became a criminal at an early age. In 1953, he got arrested for a jewelry robbery. However, Hinds later escaped from the prison after sneaking through the locked doors and over a 20-foot prison wall for which he became known as “Houdini” Hinds. Breaking out was the kind of challenge that Hinds would easily deal with. He had a highly-functional mind that made it possible to see the legal system’s flaws and use them whenever was needed to avoid prosecution. It is not a surprise that Hinds could also see every small gap in the prisons’ security system, which got him out every time.
19. 2015 Clinton Correctional Facility Escape
In June 6, 2015, Richard Matt and David Sweat, two inmates at the Clinton Correctional Facility, а maximum security state prison for men located in the Village of Dannemora, New York, were found missing from their prison cells. Both prisoners were serving life for murder. Matt and Sweat had worked in the prison’s tailor shop from which they took their materials and tools for the escape. They cut neat rectangular holes in the steel at the backs of their cells. They made dummies from sweatshirts and put them into their beds to prevent discovery during regular cell checks by guards. With the help from a staff member, they crawled through a pipe when they made their escape in early June. Sweat was caught about 15 miles north. Matt was killed 30 miles away from the prison.
20. Sarah Jo Pender
Sarah Jo Pender is an American woman who was convicted of murder and imprisoned in the Rockville Correctional Facility. Rockville is a medium-security prison located about 50 miles from of Indianapolis. On the 4th of August, 2008, with the help of a guard from the facility, Scott Spitler Sr., and Jamie Long, her former cellmate Pender broke out. The escape was planned shortly before it happened with a cell-phone given to her by the prison guard. He also gave Pender clothing to change into and got her out with his personal vehicle – assistance that cost Spitler 8 years in jail. In September 2008, Pender lived in a North Side Chicago neighborhood using the name Ashley Thompson and was turned in to the police after a neighbor saw an America’s Most Wanted rerun with Sarah Jo Pender in their list.
21. Ted Bundy
Theodore Robert Bundy was а serial killer who had quite a creepy image in American society. He was also a kidnapper, rapist, burglar, thief, and necrophile with numerous victims. On June 7, 1977, Bundy was taken to Pitkin County Courthouse for a hearing. He chose to be his own lawyer, which allowed him to remove any handcuffs or leg shackles. He was also allowed in the courthouse’s law library to research a case. The whole time Bundy simply wanted to get to the library’s window in order to escape by jumping out. However, he was caught several days later. It was time for thorough tactics. Using a hacksaw blade, he dug a hole and sneaked through it into a crawl space. Then he waited until Christmas when the security is usually compromised due to staff holidays. Bundy covered books with a blanket in his bed and climbed into the crawlspace. He changed into civilian clothes and freely walked out of the prison.
22. Hollywood-style helicopter jailbreak
Famous for his fast and quiet prison breaks, Pascal Payet, a French criminal sentenced to 30 years in prison for murder, managed to escape twice, both times by a hijacked helicopters. Even the murder itself included a hijacked vehicle. This tendency created some sort of a Hollywood-like style that later has been the subject of a number of TV Show and articles.
23. The Glider Escape
One of the most clever prison break ideas was manifested in Colditz Castle, a Nazi military prison where the walls were more than 6ft thick, prisoners’ cells were built around a central courtyard and heavily guarded gates were blocking the only exit. The imprisoned soldiers made a glider out of bedsteads, floorboards, cotton sheets and oatmeal and most probably were going to succeed in their attempt to fly off the roof of the Castle if the Second World War wasn’t ended. Some say that it is questionable whether the two-man machine was actually going to fly but others were certain – it was going to work.
24. Out Of Jail Mail
Richard Lee McNair, a convicted murderer, earned his place in a highly guarded prison in America after numerous creative escape plans didn’t really work. All of the escape attempts deserve mentioning, though. In the first one, McNair used lip balm to force his hands out of his handcuffs. In the second one, he crawled through a ventilation duct. And the last and most famous one, he mailed himself out in a crate. Although brilliant, they never got him out for good.
25. Brian Bo Larsen
Brian Bo Larsen is the prisoner who is the living proof that freedom can be the best motivation for someone who has lost it. Like most locked-up men, the only thing he could think about was how to break free. The difference with this criminal was not only that he came up with varieties of methods, but he actually tried them all. Hacksaws, water hose, screwdriver, and ropes were in his “to-escape” list. Despite the 22 attempts, he still spent half his life behind bars. He also had used sheets, containers and trashcans but it seems that being active and on the move is not enough to get you out of jail.
As wise men say: “Freedom is born in our mind” and the more we chase it, the farther it gets, as freedom was never meant to be chased but to be cherished.