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Crime News

The Truth Behind Joyce Mitchell's Intimate Relationship With The 2 Prisoners She Helped Escape

Prison seamstress Joyce Mitchell had talked to one inmate about murdering her husband, but couldn't go through with it.  

By Aly Vander Hayden
Five Things to Know About the Dannemora Prison Break

When police began investigating the 2015 escape of Clinton Correctional Facility prisoners Richard Matt and David Sweat, their efforts quickly focused on prison employee Joyce Mitchell. Mitchell, who worked as a seamstress, met the two convicts while they were assigned jobs at the prison's tailor shop, and she soon became ensnared in a complicated love triangle with Matt and Sweat. The married 51-year-old later told investigators she "enjoyed the attention, the feeling both of them gave me," and believed they could give her "a different life."

In interviews, Mitchell claimed Sweat was "very nice" to her, but they "never had a physical relationship." She did, however, admit to giving Sweat notes that "were of a sexual nature" and included "naked photos of my breasts and vagina." A few months before the escape, Mitchell claimed Matt had been sexually violent, kissing her and forcing her to perform oral sex. She said she complied out of fear. Later, Matt came to her desk and made Mitchell touch his genitals through a hole he had cut in his clothing. 

"This happened two or three times," she said. "The only other physical contact I had with Inmate Matt was when he kissed me ... . He never touched any of my private areas."

Mitchell also admitted to providing them with escape tools, which were sometimes snuck into the prison through hamburger meat. The tools included hacksaw blades, chisels, a steel punch and concrete drill bits. Matt eventually disclosed they were cutting holes in their cell walls and creating an escape tunnel. Mitchell said Matt had told her "they were getting out, and we were all going to be together."

"I believe I helped inmate Matt and inmate Sweat escape because I was caught up in the fantasy," said Mitchell.

In the weeks leading up the breakout, Mitchell agreed to meet and run away with Matt and Sweat once they had made it out of the prison. Along with smuggling in tools, Mitchell "agreed to be a conduit to obtain cash for Matt and gathered items to assist their flight, including guns and 5 ammunition, camping gear, clothing and a compass," said a report by the New York Office of the Inspector General. According to Sweat, Mitchell also spoke with Matt about murdering her husband, fellow prison employee Lyle Mitchell, after meeting them at the pickup point.

"The agreed upon meeting time was midnight. I was to drive my Jeep and bring my cellphone, gps, clothes, a gun, tents, sleeping bags, hatchet, fishing poles and money from a package I never picked up…,” Mitchell explained. “After I picked them up, the plan was to drive to my home and inmate Matt was going to kill 'the glitch.' Inmate Matt referred to Lyle as 'the glitch.'"

On the night of the escape, however, Mitchell did not show up to the rendezvous point because she had been rushed to the hospital following a panic attack. The prisoners then fled on foot and were on the run for the next 22 days.

Mitchell later told investigators, "I know I had agreed to help them escape and run away with them, but I panicked and couldn't follow through with the rest of the plan. ... I really do love my husband and he's the reason."

Twenty days after their jailbreak, Matt was shot and killed by authorities, and Sweat was captured two days later. He was sentenced to an additional seven to 14 years for charges related to the breakout. Mitchell pleaded guilty to a felony charge of promoting prison contraband and a misdemeanor charge of criminal facilitation. She was sentenced up to seven years in prison.

To learn more about the escape, watch “Dannemora Prison Break” on Oxygen December 15 at 7/6c.

[Photo: New York State Police]