5 Surefire Methods to Escape From Prison

Okay, hear us out. Have you tried hiding in a cardboard box?
5 Surefire Methods to Escape From Prison

So, you’re part of the 92 percent of our audience who are currently behind bars. That sucks, but don’t lose hope. If you want to join the elite portion of our audience who aren’t incarcerated (“The Big 8,” as they call themselves), you just need to break out. For inspiration on how to manage this, look to successful fugitives from the past.

Of course, some would say these methods needn’t succeed again just because they succeeded once. Some might even say these methods say more about the negligence of specific prisons than about how you can escape from prisons in general. The people who say that are pessimists, and they’re the ones who should truly be locked up. For everyone else, we suggest you have a little faith and see what happens when you...

Eat a Bunch of Soap

Mike Kurtz participated in over 150 different robberies, stealing a sum equivalent to $150 million today. He spent some 17 years in prison, which sounds like a long time for some people but wasn’t all that much considering his résumé. One time, he was sentenced to 18 years but managed to appeal that and get out. Another time, he got caught but turned state’s evidence. Yet another time, the witnesses who identified him were asked to identify him again, now in his presence, and they decided it was wiser not to. 

His career almost got cut short fairly early on, when he was arrested in Boston for robbing a silk house. Boston cares a lot about its textiles, so “Sheeny” Mike Kurtz was sentenced to 12 years. While inside, he took to drinking soap water, either as step one of his escape plan or because it tasted better than the food they served. He also cut himself and made sure the wound got all gross with pus.

An illustration of Michael "Sheeney Mike" Kurtz,

Valerian Gribayedoff

We don’t know if the “Sheeny” nickname referred to the silk, the soap or the pus. 

Prison doctors couldn’t figure out exactly was wrong with Sheeny Mike, but they were convinced it was something serious he’d contracted from his incarceration. You might imagine that he’d get transferred to the prison’s medical wing, or to a separate hospital. Instead, Massachusetts Governor Benjamin Butler outright pardoned him. Did we mention that this happened in the year 1880? Back then, we were kind of still figuring out how this whole “prison” thing was going to work. 

Mail Yourself Out in a Box

A German prison in the town of Willich set its inmates to work producing stationery. They had to pack the goods into boxes, which measured 3 feet by 4 feet, and every week, a courier arrived to pile the boxes onto a truck. Some of the boxes contained merchandise, while others were destined to be recycled. 

cardboard box

Brandable Box

Still others were destined for greatness.

In 2008, one inmate figured he could insert himself into one of these boxes. This guy was a citizen of Turkey and had three more years left on his seven-year sentence for dealing drugs. Though police would later describe him as tall and broad-shouldered, he managed to fit, and the courier loaded this unusually heavy container in with the rest. We imagine the trick would have been discovered before the box went all the way to its final destination. But soon after the truck left prison grounds, the guy climbed out of the box, ripped an opening in the truck’s tarp and leapt out to freedom.

To prevent the situation from repeating, couriers have been warned to stab boxes at random. We don’t have a source on that last claim; we’re just basing that on several damaged packages we’ve received recently. 

Order Yourself Released by Fax

In 2007, Kentucky arrested 19-year-old Timothy Rouse for burglary and assault. They moved him to the Kentucky Correctional & Psychiatric Center for a a psychiatric exam, but they let him go when they received a fax from the state Supreme Court ordering his release.

There were a few reasons they should have questioned this fax. Despite claiming to be from the Supreme Court, it did not arrive on official letterhead. It contained misspellings and bad grammar. Plus, a mark indicated it had actually been sent from a nearby grocery store. Still, they felt the need to obey, because it’s not every day that you receive a fax. 

fax machine

Mr.ちゅらさん/Wiki Commons

If they received a telegram, they’d have to make Rouse chief.

It took two weeks for them to realize the fax had been sent by unidentified associates of Rouse. Eight officers now went out to rearrest him. They found him chilling at his mom’s house

Leave Using the Ride That Brought You

The shortest jail sentence ever might have gone to Joe Munch, a soldier arrested for being drunk and disorderly. In 1905, a judge sentenced him to 30 days, but in 1906, a higher judge amended this to one minute. A jailer took him in, watched the second hand of his watch make one full revolution then let him go. 

A close contender, however, for shortest prison stint comes from Julien Chautard, a man convicted of arson. In 2009, a security van dropped him off at London’s Pentonville prison. Soon after he exited the van, he climbed underneath it and rode it right back out of there. 

Prison labor at Pentonville in the 1870s.

John C. A. Lewis

Here’s the prison in the 1870s. We trust it hasn’t changed much, as it is located in England.

Police got their hands back on him the next day, when he phoned them on advice of family. He told cops they could pick him up in Piccadilly

Fake Your Own Death

Much like our friend Sheeny Mike Kurtz, convicted fraudster Steven Russell escaped prison by pretending to be ill. Actually, he escaped prison a total of four times, but the final escape was from pretending to be ill, and this took a little more effort than eating soap. In 1998, he decided to fool his Texas prison into believing he had AIDS. 

To get as thin as an AIDS sufferer, he starved himself over the course of 10 months. His prison then received a medical record saying he had AIDS — a record written by Russell himself and mailed from within the prison. The prison transferred him to a nursing home without ever running their own test. They knew he was gay, as he had a long-established romance with a man named Phillip Morris, whom he’d earlier met in prison. In fact, the previous times he’d escaped from prison, authorities always managed to find him because he kept going back to Morris. 

Russell’s whole story was largely covered, by the way, in the Jim Carrey movie I Love You, Phillip Morris. When some stories become movies, they get so famous that we assume everyone knows them already, but I Love You, Phillip Morris didn’t leave such a cultural mark. Many people who’ve not watched it have no idea what it’s about and assume it has to do with the tobacco company Philip Morris (they may be thinking of Thank You For Smoking). The con movie Catch Me If You Can made Frank Abagnale a household name — even though that guy never actually did the cons the movie credits him with — but this true story and weirder movie remain relatively unknown. 

I Love You Phillip Morris


Leo on a boat was more marketable than Jim Carrey pretending to pretend to have AIDS.

Russell was transferred to a nursing home, but that doesn’t count as escaping prison. No, the escape came when the nursing home released this apparently dying patient to the care of a doctor offering experimental treatment. The doctor was really Russell himself, who’d called the parole board from within the nursing home about a fake study. Then a few weeks after this release, he phoned again, from outside, informing the prison that his patient Steven Russell had died. 

Authorities believed him and labeled him dead. They only found out the truth later and rearrested him because he once again made contact with Morris. They now sentenced him to 99 additional years in prison for the escape, a stunning length of time that had to be motivated by their own humiliation rather than the severity of what he did. The movie describes this as a life sentence, and at the time, it presumably was. 

But last year, Russell was finally paroled and approved for release. At least, that’s what the parole site said at the time. The same page now lists his status as blank. It’s entirely possible that Russell edited the page himself.

Follow Ryan Menezes on Twitter for more stuff no one should see.

Scroll down for the next article
Forgot Password?