Let me set the record straight. There has been at least one successful escape from our supermax prison. I was there when it happened... Eddie Griffin
Wednesday, May 27, 2009
President Barack Obama was wrong, factually and historically, when he proclaimed nobody has ever escaped from one of our federal supermax. El Presidente must have been about 13- or 14-years old at the time of the Great Escape from Marion Federal Prison. Nevertheless, he was President and should have had the keys to the closet where the real history is buried and hidden.
Marion was supposed to be as escape-proof as its predecessor Alcatraz. I distinctly remember it happened before the Bicentennial Hunger Strike at Marion on July 4, 1976. The reason I remember so well is because the escape almost disrupted our plans.
At the time, we needed a positive press and a sympathetic public. The government had characterized us as being “the worst of the worst” and this frustrated incarcerated Black Panther members who maintained that they were POW political prisoners.
“MARION is the most written-about prison in the world. One of the battle lines drawn in October, 1983, was for public opinion. The government is winning this battle hands down. The Bureau of Prisons utilizes a highly effective public relations strategy which revolves around the agitprop slogan ‘the worst of the worse’ to describe Marion prisoners,” writes Ray Luc Levasseur.
When the escape jumped off, we cheered, but we also held our breaths, hoping the escapees would not hurt anybody. A murder of John Q. Public would hurt our political image as POWs and undo three years of planning and peacekeeping among the inmates. But it was hard not to cheer them on. We were all POWs and, as POWs, we reasoned, that every man had a duty and obligation to escape if ever the opportunity presented itself. This was U.S. Military Code of Conduct, and many of us were ex-GIs. But there was also a greater code forged among inmates.
An ingenious inmate invented a magnetic device that could trip all the electronic gates inside the prison. He tried to get a patent for it and even offered it to the government through the Federal Bureau of Prisons. Everyone thought he was crazy.
But then, one night during a Historical Society meeting in the visiting room, where white inmates congregated with outsider patrons, the device was deployed. It was attached to the framework of the grill doors, half of which led to the outside, directly to freedom. The inmate triggered the device and announced, “Anyone who wants to go, let’s go.”
All of the grill doors were wide open, but only eight men bolted to freedom. They rest were dumbfounded and frozen in their seats.
The guard watching the Control Center monitor reported that when he looked up, all he saw were the feet of the last man out. This set off an area-wide manhood, first in the heavily wooded area of the prison, and later on the highways.
The eight men stuck together, one of the men I knew only as “Frenchy” because he was busted in the French Connection and spoke no English. The eight fugitives came up on a farm house, and found an elderly couple alone.
They took the couple hostage. In an interview afterwards, the couple testified that they were well treated by the escapees. They had cooked for the couple, cleaned the house behind themselves, and washed the dishes before they departed.
This was the code of conduct we had adopted, black, white, and brown inmates alike. We called ourselves Marion Brothers.
All eight fugitives were later captured, one making it as far as Canada. Throughout the manhunt, no one was injured.