The Local Angle: Dannemora Prison Break

AP Photo/Mike Groll

AP Photo/Mike Groll

When I was a kid, I remember watching a sitcom on TV and a character, a bad guy, was bragging about the prisons he’d broken out of. He named Alcatraz and Sing Sing and then proclaimed, “Why, I even busted out of Dannemora”!

I grew up on a farm about 8 miles away from the town of Dannemora, NY, the home of a New York State maximum-security prison. Now called Clinton Correctional facility, the walls of the prison dominate the tiny town of Dannemora, towering up one side of the main street. Some of America’s worst felons have made this prison their place of residence.

As kids, we weren’t at all nervous about living so close to the prison. When we heard that TV character boast about breaking out of Dannemora, we just laughed because we knew NOBODY ever escapes from Dannemora.

In the years since it opened in 1865, there had never been an escape from the maximum-security facility.

Until now.

Last Saturday, two convicted murderers made a kind of crazy, really bold, breakout from Dannemora. They are still at large and the world is kind of weird where we live.

I now live about 25 miles from the prison but, since no one seems to have any real idea where the two men are, we’ve been locking the doors more carefully than normal.

The woman who cuts my hair was late yesterday because she was stopped so officials could search her car. The ladies at the quilt guild meeting last night came from Dannemora and all the small towns along the way—Saranac, Cadyville, West Plattsburgh.

They’ve been dealing with having their homes searched. By the time they went home, police were closing the road they would’ve traveled, because they had gotten a tip of men sighted.

Schools are closed. People are told to stay inside but to leave their outside lights on. Everyone here knows somebody who works behind those walls, so rumors are flying.

The human drama is intense. The escapees are scary, scary dudes, convicted of killing law enforcement officials and dismembering old men.

Their escape plan was so elaborate and well-planned, we all figured they must’ve had help.

And now the report is that a female prison employee may have been charmed, and used, by the men. She got cold feet at the last moment, the reports go, and didn’t show up with the get-away car. If this proves true, how humiliating for her family, her husband, the son who has defended her . . .

All of this has me thinking about how different news is when it affects us “up close and personal.” I am interested in news of other places but I admit that, the further away it is from me, the less real it seems. I have a hard time imagining, really understanding, the horror of a tornado tearing through that town in Oklahoma or a school shooting in Scotland or an earthquake in New Zealand.

But then one of you writes about something that affects your world and I feel closer to the event . . . because I know you. I guess we all respond to this need to have events made, somehow, personal.

So far, there’s been no present-day horror associated with this prison break. A lot of people are unsettled and there’s a lot of angst and uncertainty but no new violence.

So far. We’re all paying attention to the news and keeping our fingers crossed that this ends as well as it can, with the men back behind bars, under close watch forevermore.

And that we can just amend our old statement slightly and go on saying, “Nobody ever SUCCESSFULLY escapes from Dannemora.”

70 thoughts on “The Local Angle: Dannemora Prison Break

  1. Thank God for the founders who gave us the Second Amendment. Of course, in New York “gun” is a dirty word. And that’s too bad.
    Because if that situation ever occurred in my area, there’s an element of confidence in knowing that my wife and I have more than just locked doors and windows. We have a way to defend our home–and each other–should those doors or windows be bashed in by a dangerous lunatic.

    • I think you’d feel very much at home in rural NY right now–lots of guns around! I think it’s a miracle there’ve been no accidental shootings so far!

    • I’ve been reading a lot about the spot, about 20 miles away, where the focus of the search seems to be right now. I take it no one is sleeping at all these days, with the helicopters and flashing lights!

  2. yikes – I didn’t realize this was near you. You are right, knowing people living through/with these “news items” makes them more real.

    I’ll watch the news a little more carefully now, and hope they catch them soon, so you can all ease back a bit on the lights and locks.

    • I would feel better if they just had a confirmed sighting. Since they haven’t, no one knows if the cons are still here, or in Canada, or where they are! Right now, the focus of activity seems to be about 20 miles from here–the people who live there must be going crazy.

      • Yes, I imagine that it would be nice to have some idea where they are. I was thinking about it today and wondering if they are even still together. Just scary.

  3. I’ve been thinking of you since the news broke. I looked on the map so I knew the prison was relatively close to you. Hope this is over soon without incident.

    • I hope it’s over soon, too! I feel so bad for the folks right at the heart of the search area–they’ve lived under lock-down conditions for days. And this is in spite of there being no confirmed sightings of the escapees. For all we know, really, those guys could be hundreds of miles away by now!

    • That’s part of the problem–no one knows where they are. I just read a report that they think they’ve had a sighting not far from the town of Dannemora . . . but they thought they had one a couple days ago 50 miles away and that turned out to be a false lead.

  4. Hi. Just a slight correction: It’s not a federal prison, it’s a NYS prison, 3rd oldest prison in the state system. That’s why Gov Cuomo arrived on the scene. As to your point about the closeness of the event and actually being in the area, I cannot agree with your more. I’ve spoken to friends and family in the North Country and they are all concerned, more so as each day passes. Thanks for your insightful post.

  5. Truer words were never written. All that daily news about “out there” becomes immensely different once it enters our own neighborhood (either geographically or relationally). Prayers for everyone involved, including the 2 who escaped. May wisdom be used by all. Hugs….

  6. Up close and personal indeed! It makes it all different! Scary situation ad I hope they catch those criminals soon. Stay safe, dear Kerry! xo Johanna….
    ps I hope your husband is doing well?

    • My husband’s doing fine, Johanna! They’re still trying to find out why the blood clots formed but he seems healthy and is following doctor’s orders! Thanks for asking. The escaped convicts are still at large . . . although most recent reports are that they have been sighted. But, really, who knows!?

  7. It’s an alarming way to experience the ‘up close and personal’ aspect of a newsworthy event. It’s also important to remember that as rumours fly and fear mounts, most of it is in peoples imaginations. Keep doing the sensible things, but don’t let the drama rule your life!

    • There are tons of rumors–I went to a couple garage sales this morning and it’s all anyone is talking about and they all have opinions! People are getting very tired–the police and the people who live in the primary search zone. Exhausted people can be kind of scary . . .

  8. So glad you posted on this. I have been thinking about you, since I knew they were near the lake. Goodness. I hope they’re captured soon as they sound like evil people…who should indeed be in an inescapable place.

    • They’re still out there and the area is still in quite a state of anxiety. Facebook is going haywire with opinions and rumors–really, I don’t think it’s a positive thing at all! One thing that makes me a little happy–it’s black fly season so, if those guys are still in this area and outside, they are being eaten alive!

  9. That prison really is in the town. My husband said it’s because flat land is at a premium in your parts, and the flatest land was in Dannemora. I see a future made for TV movie about this incident. Please be careful as you go about your life.

    • Right past the prison the road goes straight up Dannemora Mountain–it’s very dramatic. And, yes, it’s got TV movie written all over it–daring escape from the inescapable, grisly pasts, love-sick accomplice . . . yikes. Let’s hope the movie, and real life, have a happy ending!

  10. Ah, I wondered how close this prison break-out was to you. Now I know; it’s very close. Yikes! The closest I have been to a similar state of community fear was in New Delhi after the assassination of the Prime Minister, Rajiv Gandhi. Most of the fear came from an absence of official information, and the community’s fear of a repeat of the horrors that came following his mother’s assassination. In the end, all was calm and we resumed our daily routines. I hope your area won’t have to stay in a state of anxiety and uncertainty for long. What I wonder is why the authorities have not spoken about the possibility of someone breaking in, to help them break out. Seems logical to me that a person could get to them via the way they came out. Then what do I know! 😉

    • I doubt anyone would’ve been willing to try to get in the way they got out–it involved power tools and a long belly crawl through a pipe that was only something like 20 inches in diameter. They had help, without a doubt, on the inside. And still we wait for any sort of resolution . . .

  11. In the wake of this event and speculation about the accomplice, I was listening to a radio talk show about the characteristics of women who get involved with prison inmates. From a distance, it’s an interesting story – but to be close by must be nerve-racking indeed. Take as many precautions as you can to stay safe!

    • The woman who helped them out is going to live the rest of her life in hell, I’m afraid. It’s really a very sad aspect of the whole thing. And the people who live in the area where the search is centered are getting very exhausted–they’re basically completely locked down in their homes!

    • One of the women at our church has recently started dating an ex-con. And my wife and I are a little concerned that he might have some “ulterior motives”.
      Can you remember any particulars about the radio show so that I can search for it on the Web? The name of the program, the radio station, how long ago you heard it?
      Thanks for any help you can provide. 🙂

    • We keep hoping! It’s been a week already–I find it hard to believe that the guys are still in the area but someone claims to have seen them this morning . . .

  12. Thinking of you, your family & community. I agree, the longer it takes to recapture them the more stress everyone feels. It will take a toll. Try some therapeutic stitching & stay safe.

    • The worst of the stress is happening about 15 miles from here–the folks there have basically been prisoners in their own homes for a couple days, as police comb through the woods. I feel so bad for them all!

    • All of the frenzied activity is focused about 15-20 miles from where we live–the people in that area are under incredible stress, pretty much prisoners in their homes. The creepiest part is that we don’t know much of anything–no one is SURE the two are still even in this area.

      • What I don’t understand is what gives authorities the right to keep citizens in their homes. Disturbing. However, you’ve used the black flies to restore some levity, which seems to be a talent of yours, Kerry. Sendingmy best wishes. –Aggie

        • I don’t know that the authorities ORDERED people to stay home. I think it was requested and I think a lot of people feel safer at home. Plus, some of the roads were completely closed down so getting to and from home became dicey. I went to quilt guild on Wednesday and the roads were open but, by the time we were heading home, some main routes had been closed–I worried about the quilt ladies who lived that direction!

      • In response to Aggie:

        Kerry has stated that she’s not sure whether the citizens have been “ordered” to remain in their homes (I’m sure the answer is somewhere out there in Cyberland). But if they have been mandated to remain inside, it is because the government is allowed to suspend ordinary law, and yes, even in America, Martial law can be used by governments to enforce their rule over the public. Among many other reasons, it may be declared in cases of major natural disasters or imposed during conflicts or in cases of occupations, where the absence of any other civil government provides for an unstable population.

        Typically, the imposition of martial law accompanies curfews, the suspension of civil law, civil rights, habeas corpus, and the application or extension of military law or military justice to civilians. Civilians defying martial law may be subjected to military tribunal (court-martial).

        I hope that helps.

  13. I composed an entire reply earlier on my tablet but it wouldn’t let me post. If it shows up somewhere in the ether, you’ll know why.

    As I was saying, this reads like a suspense novel. You’ve really captured the tension of the week. I’ve followed along on NPR, but had no idea you lived in the heart of the place where the drama continues to unfold.

    It’s true that when a bit of news becomes personal through the telling or living first hand, that it all seems more real, more intimate. Thanks for sharing your feelings and for conveying the sense of tension and fear gripping the area.

    I too hope that gun owners will keep level heads. I fear for the safety of everyone under the circumstances.

    On the brighter side of things, I’ve just today noticed your Etsy shop and had a good look around. And after a good look around…well you know what comes next. I can’t wait to see the vintage sixties table cloth up close and personal.

    • I saw your purchase! Thanks–it’s a very fun and funky tablecloth–I hope you’ll love it!

      Nothing new on the escaped convicts–there was a big flurry of activity in one small town yesterday and the rumors were flying on Facebook but then it seems to have come to nothing. I don’t think anyone is quite certain the guys are even still in the area. If they are, i’m pleased to say they must be miserable–it’s been raining hard and this area is notorious for particularly nasty black flies and mosquitoes. Of course, law enforcement guys are dealing with the same nastiness . . .

    • They’re still on the run–there was LOT of police activity two days ago and then yesterday . . . nothing. It’s kind of spooky, since no one knows, at all, where they are!

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  15. How alarming for you and everyone Kerry – I guess they could be anywhere by now. I did catch something on the news here about it. I hope they are apprehended again very soon take care 🙂

  16. Oh gosh, Kerry! Like all the previous friends who have commented, I’ve been listening to the news and following the story on NPR. The start of your post says it perfectly … we never think that bad things will happen in our town and why should you worry … no one EVER escapes from Dannemora.
    I’ve not heard the news today but I’ll hope that the men are found soon and as you said, no new violence.
    Thinking of you and all those in the vicinity

    • I think folks are beginning to think that these guys are long gone from the area. It’s been 10 days or more?) and there’s been no sign of them. I wonder if we’ll ever know the end of the story . . .

  17. Pingback: Dannemora Prison Break: The Denouement | Love Those "Hands at Home"

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