Breaking Out of the Joint – 3 Unbelievable Escapes from Prison

Ian Harvey
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If you do the crime, you should do the time, right? Sometimes, however, prisoners have other ideas, and a lot of, well, time to do nothing but think.

Below are three stories of different men from different countries who felt the need to fly the coop, and did it remarkably well.

Richard Lee McNair

Richard Lee McNair U.S. Marshal’s Service mug shot

Richard Lee McNair killed one man and injured a second while attempting to rob a South Dakota grain elevator in 1987. When he was convicted, he received two life sentences for his crimes, but keeping him where he was supposed to be was pretty difficult.

During the next twenty years, he escaped not once, not twice, but on three different occasions. Two of his escapes were from different prisons, and one was from a county jail.

Behind bars

The first time he made his break for freedom was shortly after he was first apprehended. Police had him handcuffed to a chair, and he used the lip balm in his pocket to grease his wrists and slip out of the cuffs. Although he did get out of the building, he was caught again very quickly when he hurt his back jumping off the roof of the jail.

In October 1992, McNair was at the South Dakota State Penitentiary when he and two fellow inmates found a way to get out through the ventilation ducts. That time McNair was out for a year before he was found and returned to prison.

View of the South Dakota State Penitentiary in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, USA. Photo by AlexiusHoratius CC BY-SA 3.0

After that, he was sent to a prison in Louisiana to finish the remainder of his sentence — but he was soon plotting how to escape once again. This time, while working in a manufacturing area in the prison which repaired old mailbags, he made himself a small pod and hid inside it under the pile of finished bags.

The routine mailbag collection had lifted him by forklift into the waiting truck before the alarm was raised. He again managed to keep his freedom for about a year, but then was recaptured. This time he was sent to a supermax facility in Colorado, and there he remains.

Alfred (Alfie) George Hinds

British criminal Alfred George Hinds (1917 -1991) speaking to members of the Mensa Society in London, UK, 6th November 1973. (Photo by Reg Lancaster/Daily Express/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

Burglar and safecracker Alfred (Alfie) George Hinds was one of Britain’s most notorious prison escapees. Like McNair, Hinds managed to escape from prison a remarkable three times, all in the name of proving his innocence to the British legal system (I wonder why that didn’t work?). Hines was born in 1917 and grew up in an orphanage.

According to Prison History, he began his career as a thief very young, and the home punished him severely. He ran away at the age of 7 and continued his life of crime. After spending some time in a home for delinquent boys, and a few years in the army, Hinds was arrested for jewel theft in 1953, and was sentenced to 12 years in prison.


Two years into his sentence, he got past a locked door and climbed the 20-foot-high prison fence to make his way to freedom. He was then given the nickname of “Houdini” Hines, and it stuck with him the rest of his life.

He was apprehended after being out for about eight months and sent back to prison. He filed a complaint against the officers who arrested him, however, and during a court hearing about the complaint, Hines managed to get hold of a padlock and locked his prison escorts in the restroom. He slipped out of the courthouse, but was found a few hours later at the airport.

A year into his imprisonment at Chelmsford prison, which was a high-security facility, he escaped again. He was a free man for the next two years, during which time he repeatedly pleaded for clemency from the authorities, playing up his life story to the public as a way of gathering support. He failed and ultimately finished his sentence, but his attempt to achieve celebrity status was a success and he had many sympathizers. After his release, Hinds became a public speaker, primarily criticizing the English law system.

Pascal Payet

Pascal Payet was involved in the 1997 attack on a Banque de France armored car. During the robbery, a guard was killed, and Payet and another conspirator were arrested. When he was convicted in 1999, Payet’s sentence was set at 30 years.

On October 12, 2001, he escaped prison in a hijacked helicopter, according to Revolvy. Several years after his own escape, Payet arranged for another helicopter-assisted prison break, this time for three inmates who had been incarcerated at the same time he was in 1999. Those three men were recaptured about three weeks later.

When Payet was likewise caught, he wasn’t just returned to prison but transferred from prison to prison nine times in the span of two and a half years. He went on a hunger strike to protest all the moves, and later he published an open letter on his blog about the conditions of imprisonment.

In 2007 he confessed to organizing the 2003 escape of his friends, and had an extra seven years added to his sentence as a result, plus an additional six years for his own escape in 2001. His co-conspirators were each given three extra years on their sentences.

By July 2007, Payet was the most closely watched prisoner in France, and he was never left in any one facility more than six months. He was kept in solitary confinement. Even with all those measures in place, on July 14, 2007, Payet was broken out of jail by four men with a hijacked helicopter.

He was found and captured in Spain, in September 2007, and returned to France for the completion of his prison term, along with two of his co-conspirators. He was moved to an undisclosed location for security reasons — probably so no one knows where to take the next helicopter.

Read another story from us: Convicted Criminal Escaped Electric Chair, Then Electrocuted Himself in his Toilet

As a result of various robberies and assaults he committed while running from the law, he had 15 more years added to his original sentence, with no chance of early release, plus an additional five years for his last escape.