You’d almost think it was a movie.
Two inmates in New Jersey escaped from jail a few days ago. Prison escapes are hardly common, but you hear about them often enough to supply TNT with enough “Based on a True Story” movies for the rest of eternity.
However, in this case, the method of escape is worth noting. The inmates, jailed for robbery and manslaughter, managed to remove two cement blocks from their cell and crawl out, then scale a 25-foot fence to freedom, even if that freedom was, on first glance, New Jersey. And how did these two inmates manage to conceal their escape route? They covered the holes with posters of scantily clad ladies.
In some sense, one wishes these two were in jail for things like embezzlement or petty theft, because you have to hand it to anyone as inventive as, say, a Hollywood scriptwriter to make such a daring and convenient escape. It’s a shame not to throw a few kudos to these fellows, except for that whole killing someone thing.
Elaborate prison escapes are a staple of armchair tacticians and overly creative dullards, the stock plot of countless movies and detective fiction. Fox’s Prison Break is a hit show about just that. Well, about a long, winding and boring lead-up to it, and then a complex and artificial set of plot lines to prop it up for a few additional seasons, but, hey, when you’re in the clink, what else you got to do? But when one of the scumbags actually pulls off such a stunt, we’re all outranged because he might hide out around in the woods and disturb the livestock or something. But back in our minds, we just got to hand it to the guys for pulling off a fast one in a compound specifically designed to prevent it. It’s kind of like the guy who mistakes an unprovable proof on the blackboard as a homework assigned then goes home and solves it, only with a lot more gunshots and profanity and a lot less never getting laid in college.
Even in the world of music, prison escapes are a popular theme, somewhere between the ingestion of LSD and detailing the heroic efforts of the crews of sinking freighters in the Great Lakes area. Elvis has a hit with “Jailhouse Rock,” which raised some eyebrows at the time. It was bad enough he was thrusting his pelvis and putting pressure on guys world-round to buy more brylcreem, he was glorifying criminality and, by extension, trying to overthrow the Pope and put fluoride in the water. Even Johnny Cash was fond of prisons, garnering a hit song from “Folsom Prison Blues,” which he wrote in honor of the one thing he cared about the most—Reese Witherspoon’s ass. Thin Lizzy and AC/DC also have jailbreak anthems befitting their repertoire, though one is remarkably less than surprised about that.
Still, despite the repugnance that street criminals are roaming about after being justly convicted, many of us hold a kind of latent feeling of awe at the prospect. There isn’t a much more stark contrast between authority versus subject in society than prison, and many of us can relate. Sure, we’re only talking about how our bosses make us work late or how our mothers forced us to wear ridiculous things to school no one this side of the western world has ever conceived of wearing, but we can relate at escaping the fascist grip of authority from our lives. Most of us take a pee-in-the-swimming-pool passive aggressive approach to sticking it to the man, but you gotta have brass one to accept the Physical Challenge when you’re up against government-contracted masonry, Homeland Security-funded security systems, and guards with personality issues and lethal weaponry.
And so it goes with our love-hate relationship with the prisoner. On one hand, they’ve broken the law, and most of them are violent thugs with little regard for law, life or, more importantly, private property rights. On the other hand, though, many people feel that most criminals are simply victims of circumstance, creatures to be pitied and rehabilitated rather than mocked and dismissed. In psychological terms, these people are known as “pussies,” and will forever remain as such up until the point when someone siphons the gas out of their hatchback. Then all of a sudden it’s a clarion call to plug in Ol’ Sparky.
The two fellows who pulled the Shawshank certainly had something going on besides bucket-headedness and adrenaline-based excuses at failing life. Most prisoners, given to their own devices, would simply stage a riot, taser a guard, or throw food loafs at the warden, usually with the end result of getting thrown in solitary or be forced to live off of paint flakes and mouse urine for nutrition. The criminal element is not usually made up of potential Jeopardy contestants. And yet there has to be a certain level of cognitive genius to pull off an escape, so making a blanket statement probably is a disservice to, uh, criminals. Of course, the mark of a true genius is not to be put in jail in the first place.