A Short History of Baked Goods and Prison Escapes

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If you’ve been following the story about the prisoners who escaped from the Clinton Correctional Facility in upstate New York in June, you probably know that prison employee Joyce Mitchell used ground beef to smuggle tools to inmates. She’s hardly the first to think of using food to conceal items for prisoners.

Though it’s surely been a mainstay in prison escape schemes for centuries, the first recorded incident of a food-assisted escape occurred in 1804. William Blewitt was on board a prison ship when he heard that some of his fellow prisoners had smuggled files and saws onto the ship via gingerbread cakes, and planned to break out before the ship left port. Rather than join in on the scheme, Blewitt ratted out his companions and was pardoned as a reward.

In 1899, four inmates escaped from a prison in Maryland with saws that had been baked into pies. In 1921, Cook County Jail in Chicago lost a prisoner just before he was scheduled to be executed. “Lucky Tommy” O’Connor was able to break free thanks to guns and bullets smuggled inside of bread and cake.

But it’s not all baked goods and desserts. Like Joyce Mitchell, Robert Mais’ mother used meat to help her son escape from jail in 1934. She managed to smuggle guns inside the Richmond, Virginia jail where he was imprisoned by sealing them in cans of baked chicken. Other early vehicles for smuggling contraband included cans of peaches, frosted pound cakes, a package of cigars, and chocolate cake.

Some prisoners have gotten even more creative with their attempts. In 2008, instead of getting someone to bake them a tool-laced care package, prisoners in Denmark took matters into their own hands. They baked a cake and spiked it with a powerful narcotic—such a large amount, in fact, that a female guard was unable to feel her hands and legs just minutes after sampling the treat.