The search continues today for two men who escaped from the maximum security prison at Dannemora, Clinton County. State Police say David P. Sweat (age 35) and Richard Matt (age 49) were both incarcerated for murder and are “very dangerous individuals”. They are asking that any suspicious activity be reported to (518) 563-3761 or by email to [email protected].
Governor Andrew Cuomo says the men had help. North Country Public Radio has been covering the story thoroughly, so I thought I’d add some background about Dannemora Prison.
Dannemora, known officially as the Clinton Correctional Facility, is the only maximum security prison inside the Blue Line of the Adirondack Park. The prison is New York State’s third oldest and the largest, holding about 3,000 prisoners.
When Dannemora was built in 1844 there were basically two types of prison systems. The Pennsylvania System, which focused on solitary confinement and penance through silent reflection, was the priority of the Eastern States Penitentiary (built in 1829). Dannemora was established on the Auburn System, which got it’s name from the older Auburn Prison (built in 1818) where prisoners were kept in solitary isolation and absolute silence, but also forced into prison labor. Prisoners at Dannemora initially worked at a mine on the grounds and those at Lyon Mountain. The use of prison labor angered many New York workers, but was supported by the conservative Whigs. The Auburn system was said to be less costly, in part because less individual attention was paid to prisoners.
You can find an outstanding history of Dannemora Prison at the website of the New York Correction History Society. Fires, riots, and rebellions at Dannemora are covered in this article by Andrea Guynup, including this riot in 1929, which along with similar riots around the state, was the impetus for some prison reform:
“…the largest riot in prison history occurred on July 22, 1929, when approximately 1,300 inmates charged the prison walls in a desperate escape attempt. After setting fire to lumber and buildings… three guards were shot and killed during the riot, while others were captured, stoned, and beaten. As the riot continued through the afternoon hours, prison officials called upon the help of state troopers and the 26th infantry. Many inmates surrendered after they saw the troopers arrive with a wide array of weaponry, including grenades, guns, and ammunition, while approximately one hundred inmates barricaded themselves in the tailor shop. Finally, when presented with a violent ultimatum from the warden, the inmates also surrendered before the guards needed the assistance of extra forces.”
Inmates at Dannemora have included: rappers Tupac Shakur, Ol’ Dirty Bastard, Maino and Hell Rell; beat poet Gregory Corso; mobster Charles “Lucky” Luciano; New York City “Club Kid” Michael Alig; the “preppy murderer” Robert Chambers; axe murderer Christopher Porco; Jesse Friedman, the subject of the documentary Capturing the Friedmans; David Gilbert, member of the Weather Underground; multiple cop-killer Ralph “Bucky” Phillips; serial rapist and murderer Robert Garrow; Carl Panzram, Joel Rifkin, “Brooklyn Strangler” Vincent Johnson, and a half-dozen other serial killers. You can search for prisoners in Clinton Prison, and New York’s other prisons, here.
For further reading about the prison and its impact with locals, check out this short history written by Rod Bigelow of Chazy Lake, which includes several unique photographs of the prison. There is also this piece by the son of Ernest Blue, an Adirondack forester who established a forestry program at Dannemora Prison in 1912.
Photos: Above, the two escaped convicts now being sought by authorities; middle, Seneca Ray Stoddard’s 1871 photo of the stockade wall and gate at Dannemora; and below, a photo of the prison taken during the 1929 riot.
Some of this story is drawn from a post first published in 2010.