With the much-anticipated return of Prison Break on April 4, fans everywhere have been ecstatic that the beloved protagonist of the show, Michael Scofield, is not dead, after all. He has simply been holed up in a Yemen prison all this time, because why not? If you are a die-hard fan of the show that has been off the air for eight years now, and if you can suspend your disbelief, then the fact that Michael did not succumb to the brain tumor and that his gang somehow all got together across the ocean to break out of yet another prison will not bother you. All will be explained, it is promised, in Prison Break season five.
And while no one can compare to the legendary Michael Scofield with his good looks, impressive intellect, strong moral compass, and mad escape skills, there are some people in real life who possess one or two of those Micheal-esque qualities and who have managed to escape from prison themselves. They all have their own unique story of crime, punishment, escape, and sometimes, recapture (and sometimes, re-escape).
Who are these daring men? Some you have likely heard of before, but there are others whose stories, while jaw-droppingly amazing, are lesser known to the world. In honor of Prison Break’s long-awaited return and the show’s hero we once thought we would never watch break out of prison again, I bring you the real men who broke out of real prison, and who, combined, could have inspired the character of Michael Scofield.
15. A Laundry Basket and a Shower Tunnel
Jose Guzman Loera, a drug kingpin known better as “El Chapo,” escaped from two maximum-security prisons in Mexico, humiliating prison officials there. Most recently, in 2015, he broke out of Altiplano Prison through a one-mile tunnel dug through the showers. It led to a construction site, which El Chapo came up from under and escaped, but he was recaptured in January 2016. That summer, there were rumors he had made a third escape, but they were unfounded, and El Chapo remains locked up. But before any of this, his first escape happened in 2001, when he was smuggled out of Puente Grande maximum-security prison in a laundry basket. He was also aided by bribed guards, some of whom served jail time as a result. This was his most successful breakout, as he remained at large for 13 years.
14. 22 Escapes and Counting
Danish convict Brian Bo Larsen has escaped from prison an astonishing 22 times! He is considered the “escape king” of prison break history, and it is a well-deserved title. What is truly amazing about it is that Larsen has broken out of so many different prisons, holding cells, and juvenile facilities, with hardly the time to familiarize himself with any of them before managing to break free of them. He has utilized ropes, hoses, screwdrivers, sheets, dirt, containers, trash cans, hacksaws, etc. to aid in his escapes, which have lasted from a range of less than one day to several months. His last escape was in December 2014, and that time, he was free for 10 days before being discovered with a wrecked car, in the company of a prostitute, and high on hallucinogenic drugs.
13. The Robin Hood of Greece
Vassilis Paleokostas of Greece probably should have had his own television show, a la Michael Scofield. Known as the Robin Hood of Greece, he was loved even by the people he kidnapped because he was so nice to them. But he never hurt a single person during his crimes, making him even more like Michael. In 1995, he was arrested and sent to Korydallos Prison, one of the harshest in Greece. In 2006, Vassilis’s older brother (also a criminal — sound familiar?) commandeered a helicopter and landed it in the prison yard in broad daylight. At first, the guards thought it was someone official paying a visit, so by the time they realized what was happening and started shooting, it was too late. Paleokostas was recaptured in 2008 and was eventually sent back to Korydallos to await trial. The very next day, the helicopter returned, and Vassilis escaped, this time via a lowered rope ladder. Like Michael, he escaped two prisons. Today, he is still at large.
12. Two-Time, Two-Continent Escapee
Another two-time escapee to go along with Michael Scofield and Vassilis Paleokostas is American convicted killer Glen Stewart Godwin. He became one of the few people to ever escape Folsom Prison in California, when in 1987, he cut through security bars, crawled through a 1,000-foot drain, then cut through two more sets of bars. Then, he used an inflatable raft left for him in a nearby river, ditched his prison clothes, and followed the marked rocks. Godwin made his way to Mexico, where he was incarcerated for cocaine trafficking. Due to the Mexican authorities not releasing information about his escape, little is known about how he did it the second time. However, before he got away, he murdered a fellow inmate and member of a drug cartel. Still on the loose somewhere, he may have Michael’s propensity for breaking out of prisons, but he sure doesn’t seem to have his conscience.
11. Escape From Turkish Alcatraz
In 1970, Billy Hayes of New York got caught smuggling hash in Turkey, and his ensuing adventure would one day become the subject matter for the film The Midnight Express. In fact, his story was told countless times around the globe. He was sentenced to life in prison, and five years into his sentence, used a bribe to get transferred to an island prison where inmates were sometimes allowed to move about freely since only an idiot would try to swim to freedom. But Billy Hayes was a fit yoga enthusiast and skilled swimmer who knew he could do it. He waited until a storm ensured that the row boats that carried goods to and from the island were docked there overnight then made his move. He swam to the boats and made it to shore eight hours later. He then posed as a Turk, making his way to the Greek border and surrendering to the U.S. Consulate. Now he is 70 years old and a free man who has made a small fortune from his story that has been told in films and books ever since.
10. Frequent Flying Frenchman
Frenchman Pascal Payet was doing time for murder in 2001 when he escaped prison via a hijacked helicopter. Two years later, he helped three others escape in the same way from the same facility in a lesser-known French village. His third jailbreak plot (and the second in which he was escaping, himself) came in 2007 after having been recaptured. On Bastille Day, which celebrates the storming of a prison, another hijacked helicopter infiltrated the prison via the roof. In under five minutes, Payet was gone. He ended up being recaptured again, but over that six-year period, he had been the mastermind of three helicopter jailbreaks, and that makes him the world record holder for planning the most escapes by helicopter.
9. From Prison Escapee to FBI Consultant
One of the peculiar things about prison escapee Frank Abagnale is that now, he works as an FBI consultant — kind of like a real-life Raymond Reddington of The Blacklist or of course, Michael Scofield (in season four, when he was working on Scylla). A famous imposter and con-artist as a young man, he was imprisoned in several countries before ending up in an Atlanta prison. He fooled the guards into thinking he was a prison inspector sent by the FBI then used a phone to have his friend forge a fake business card to back up his story. The plan worked, and the guards even joked with him that they’d known all along he was just undercover. He was eventually caught and returned to prison, where he served four years before getting out and turning a new leaf in life. The movie Catch Me If You Can starring Leonardo DiCaprio is based on his life.
8. The Korean Houdini
A practitioner of yoga for 23 years prior to his escape, South Korean prisoner Choi Gap-bok literally slithered his way out of prison after having been there for only five days. He did this by applying skin ointment on his upper body, then slipping through the tiny food slot at the bottom of his cell in the detention center in Daegu, South Korea. He was being held on suspicion of robbery in 2012. He managed to fit through the slot and was out of his cell in just 34 seconds while the prison guards were asleep. This is quite impressive because the 5’4” Choi squeezed his whole body through an opening that was just 5.9 inches tall and 17.7 inches wide. He also left pillows under his blankets to look like he was still in bed to throw the guards off his trail. However, he was caught six days later and put in a cell with a smaller food slot. He said he escaped to prove his innocence.
7. The Escapee From the “Escape-Proof” Prison
John Dillinger was a notorious gangster imprisoned in Indiana for killing a policeman in 1934. Only months before being taken to Indiana from Arizona where he’d been captured, Dillinger had escaped an Ohio jail where he’d been doing time for bank robbery. The Indiana prison was alleged to be escape-proof, but it was as much so as the Titanic was sunk-proof, as it would turn out. There, Dillinger whittled a fake gun out of wood and used it to intimidate and imprison the guards, who thought it was real. He drove away in the sheriff’s car, but just four months later, he was shot dead outside of a theater in Chicago. Still, having the creativity (and the balls) to attempt to escape prison with a wooden gun sounds an awful lot like something Michael Scofield would do.
6. Dressed as a Woman
Dwight Worker was imprisoned in North America’s most dangerous prison, Mexico City’s Lecumberri Prison, also called the “Black Palace.” He had been caught at the airport trying to smuggle cocaine in 1973. In prison, he was isolated from the other foreign prisoners because he was seen as a resistance leader that would cause trouble. Because of this, he was alone with the gangs, and in this prison, there were 200 murders per year on average, so his outlook was grim, especially after several stab wounds and hospitalizations. Interestingly, in Mexico, it’s not illegal to break out of prison for as long as you don’t damage state property or harm anyone in the process. And Dwight did just that — dressed as a woman! With the help of his wife Barbara, two years into his seven-year sentence, he shaved, put on makeup and women’s clothing, and simply walked right out. He had said he would escape or die, and if he could not escape, he would try dying.
5. King Vaseline
Ananias Mathe from Mozambique became famous for escaping prison in Pretoria, South Africa in 2006. He was the only person to have ever escaped the maximum high-security C-Max Penitentiary. Found guilty on 67 of 71 charges of rape, murder, and theft, Mathe had received 54 years behind bars. His first escape from police custody happened in 2005 while he was awaiting trial for yet another crime, but then, when he was sent to C-Max, he escaped for a second time, this time by smearing his body with Vaseline and sliding out of his cell window. He was recaptured one month later. Following were three more escape attempts, and when the so-called “King Vaseline” died in the hospital last year from a digestive problem, people at first thought it was a ruse to escape once again. They even said he should be handcuffed in the mortuary.
4. Ted Bundy, the Two-Time Prison Escapee
The charming serial killer Ted Bundy is known more for his murders than anything else. But as it turns out, he was a skilled escape artist as well. His first escape happened during a preliminary hearing in Colorado. Acting as his own defense, he was granted permission to the law library during a recess, and that’s when he jumped out of a window and sprained his ankle. He stayed in the city of Aspen due to roadblocks, and after six days of no food, no sleep, and being in agony because of his ankle, Bundy was pulled over by police in his stolen car. Back in jail, he got hold of a hacksaw and $500 in smuggled cash, then lost 35 pounds to fit through the one-foot-square hole in his cell’s ceiling. It led to a crawl space, which led to the chief jailer’s apartment. The jailer was out with his wife, so Bundy changed into some of the street clothes that he found and walked right out the door. By the time his escape was discovered 17 hours later, he had stolen a car, hitched a ride after it broke down, taken a bus, and boarded a plane. He made it all the way to Florida where he continued to rape and kill, and it was there that he was sentenced to and put to death.
3. The Only Men to Have Ever Escaped Alcatraz
Everyone has heard of the miraculous tale made into the movie Escape From Alcatraz. There has been much speculation since their 1962 escape that Frank Lee Morris and the Anglin brothers are still alive somewhere in the world (Brazil has been one popular theory) since no bodies were ever found. A 2015 deathbed confession raised doubts about that, though, as the confessor allegedly helped them to escape and then killed them. So how did the three men pull off what could be argued is the greatest prison escape in history? Having planned the night for over a year in advance, the men escaped through the vents in Alcatraz Prison, then inflated a makeshift raft made from 50 raincoats. They had also made lifelike dummies to stuff in their beds to look like real people and delay the discovery that they were gone. The timing of everything from the guards to the current in the water had to be taken into account. And it worked!
2. Mailed Himself Out of Prison
After being arrested in 1988 as a suspect for murder, Richard Lee McNair escaped police custody for the first time when he was only being questioned. He lathered up his wrists with stolen lip balm from a guard and slid the handcuffs off. Police chased him all over the city and ultimately caught him. He was sentenced for murder and transferred to a state prison in Bismarck, North Dakota, where he attempted another escape in 1992 (his fifth by this point, all of which were unsuccessful). Too problematic for that prison, he was transferred again, this time to a federal prison in Pollock, Louisiana, where he spent 13 years preparing for his big escape. In 2006, he escaped by mailing himself on a pallet. He was cramped for three hours in a tiny box in high temperatures, breathing only through a straw. After he was free, he was met by officers near some railroad tracks, and even though he met the description of the escapee, and used his real name, the cops let him go. 18 months later, he was caught for the last time and now resides at ADX Florence Prison in Colorado, one of the world’s prisons most renowned for their supposed inescapability.
1. The Texas Seven and The Fox River Eight
The number one spot on this list goes to the men known as “The Texas Seven,” who can be likened to Prison Break‘s “Fox River Eight.” In 2000, in South Texas, seven convicts broke out of a maximum-security prison through the maintenance shop where they worked. (Sound familiar?). They stole clothing, guns, and a vehicle, and overpowered anyone in their way. Over the next month, they robbed different stores for cash and even killed an officer. They eventually fled to Colorado, where they bought a motor home and pretended to be Christian missionaries. Thanks to America’s Most Wanted, they were all captured and sentenced to death, except for the one who had committed suicide while surrounded by police. Hmm, sound familiar? A group of escaped convicts — some worse than others — who flee West and are hunted down one by one. It sounds like a real-life Prison Break to me.
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