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In late January 2015, Clinton Correctional Facility inmate David Sweat was transferred to a cell next to friend and fellow convict Richard Matt. According to The New York Times, Sweat "almost immediately" began cutting a hole in the steel wall at the back of his cell with a hacksaw blade that had been smuggled into the facility by prison employee Joyce Mitchell. Night after night, Sweat carved the opening, and once he was finished, he sawed through the back of Matt's cell.
When spring hit, an 18-inch steam pipe used to heat the Dannemora prison began to cool off, and Sweat realized it led through a concrete wall to a manhole on the street about 400 feet beyond the prison walls. It took Sweat more than four weeks to cut a hole in the pipe, but by June, their escape tunnel was complete.
During a later interrogation with law enforcement that aired in Oxygen's two-hour special "Dannemora Prison Break," Sweat opened up about the night he and Matt made their daring escape. Following their evening bed check, the two left dummies made of clothes in their beds and snuck through the sawed-out holes. Sweat explained that he took a guitar case filled with supplies because he "figured well if somebody sees a guitar case, they're not thinkin' you escaped."
The two inmates, who were both serving lengthy sentences for murder, made their way through the prison's interior catwalks and tunnels before reaching the steam pipe.
Sweat, who was younger and more agile than Matt, explained, "I went through the pipe first. I knew I was probably gonna have to pull him. ... So I knew he wouldn't be able to pull himself through. So I threw the sheet down to him, and I just pulled him through. About halfway through his hat fell off, got stuck on his stomach. He got all scared."
By midnight, they had reached the manhole. Sweat crawled up the ladder and opened the cover to look for their accomplice Mitchell, who had agreed to meet them with car and supplies. What they did not know, however, was that the married 51-year-old prison worker had no intention of meeting them at the rendezvous point.
That night, Mitchell had suffered a panic attack and checked herself into an area hospital. She would later tell NBC she feared the convicts would murder her and her husband after she outlived her usefulness, and that she "panicked and couldn't follow through with the rest of the plan."
Once he realized Mitchell was nowhere in sight, Sweat said he had "an 'oh sh*t' moment."
"We told her, 'Listen, if you're not there, then we're f*cked because they're gonne be comin' to kill us," explained Sweat.
Sweat and Matt decided to make a break for it and ran through a man's backyard before cutting into the dense forest and swamps surrounding Dannemora. Without Mitchell, the two decided to flee on foot to the Canadian border. Over the following three weeks, a massive manhunt ensued that cost the state of New York $23 million and resulted in the killing of Matt, capture of Sweat and arrest of both Mitchell for her role in the breakout.
To hear more about Sweat and Matt's escape, watch "Dannemora Prison Break" on Oxygen.
[Photo: Getty Images]
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