Any mention of a prisoner escaping from their cell evokes an immediate connection to the classic film, The Shawshank Redemption.
Not only is it one of the best films of all time, but it is one of the most iconic representations of a prison break. Except, in the film, it romanticizes the idea of a lowly, fed up prisoner escaping incarceration.
We rooted for Andy Dufresne. We wanted him to win. Of course, the film’s narrative led us to believe he was innocent, and the officials manning the jail were vile and corrupt. It wasn’t a very tough choice.
That being said, real life prison escapes usually are the complete opposite of somebody digging through prison walls with a rock hammer, crawling through a sewer pipe and then fleeing the country with millions of dollars unlawfully accrued by the prison’s warden.
In reality, a prison escape is a guy getting 10 feet beyond the fence before he gets shot.
So when two prisoners escaped from the Clinton Correctional Facility in upstate New York — the state’s biggest prison — earlier this month, it was only inevitable that people would immediately hear about it and say, “Shawshank.”
Only in this case, when you read about it … it was pretty much Shawshank.
David Sweat and Richard Matt were on the run for 23 days after escaping on June 6. They didn’t end up crossing any borders — in fact, they didn’t get more than 40 miles from the facility — but they hid out from police in swamps and forests, and certainly caught national, if not international, attention.
But what is most strikingly similar to the 1994 film is how they escaped. After putting sweatshirts under their sheets to resemble a human body, they tunneled through the walls with power tools, and emerged from a manhole some 400 feet outside the jail before guard even knew they were gone.
That’s, uhh, pretty Shawshank-like. Not even Tim Robbins could deny it.
But that’s where the similarities end. Both men were convicted murderers. They had no right to earn public sympathy. And police were certainly not going to give them any, which was demonstrated when they shot and killed one of them, Richard Matt, on June 26. Three days later, they shot the other one, David Sweat, and detained him.
Had Shawshank ended that way, something tells me it wouldn’t have been remembered beyond 1995.
So the point is, in some instances, real life does resemble to the movies. And it gives us hope that one day our toys will spring to life, or a theme of park of dinosaurs will be publicly unveiled, or, just maybe, a secret platform in a London train station will magically take us to a school for witchcraft and wizardry.
Two murderers in upstate New York have inspired us to believe again.