As I was walking north on Clark Street this morning on my way to the Daley Center to research some old naturalization petitions (I am sort of a genealogy nut), I passed by the Metropolitan Correctional Center (MCC) (the federal detention facility in Chicago), as I normally do about twice a week. Only this time, there were a couple of broadcast news vans and a few spectators looking up in the air. Well, we all know what we do when there is a group of people looking up right? We join the group and look up of course! When I did, I actually laughed out loud when I saw a handmade rope of what appeared to be bed sheets tied together with knots about every 6 feet hanging from one of the eight inch wide windows about 120 feet in the air and extending down along the side of the building to what appeared to be a landing to the attached parking garage! (I give them an A for effort!) It looked like the scene of a movie and so ridiculously stereotypical that I thought for a moment that it was faked or possibly a scene of a movie similar to what happened when the Chicago News Media thought an airplane had crashed in Chicago when they later found out it was just a filming for "Chicago Fire". I talked to one of the Chicago reporters who informed me that two individuals had in fact escaped earlier that morning. I grabbed a couple of photos with my cell phone and later found out that the two escapees were Jose Banks, 37 and Kenneth Conley, 39 who were both convicted bank robbers who had been transferred from federal prison to discuss possible other prison breaks with authorities! (You really can't miss the irony here!)
The other amazing tidbit is that in 1985 two other individuals had done the exact same thing! On May 14, 1985, Bernard Welch who was serving a 143 year to life sentence for murdering a Washington D.C. cardiologist who caught him trying to burglarize his home in 1980 and Hugh Colomb who was in prison for robbery and who had killed a fellow inmate and assaulted a prison guard, cut a hole in a sixth floor window of the MCC, lowered a floor buffer through the hole and climbed down the electrical cord (Really? Can we not use this creativity for good?)
This by no means was the first of jail breaks in Chicago history and probably won't be the last. In researching jail breaks in Chicago (not counting Penitentiary escapes) I came up with a very early (October 1859) escape from the Cook County Jail which was on the first floor of the Chicago City Courthouse. Sheriff John Gray (the first Republican Sheriff in Cook County) was not looked upon with much respect by the Chicago Tribune. The newspaper had brought Gray into the August term of the Recorder's Court and brought against the administration charges of abuses and gross immoralities which the newspaper claimed was due to a "laxity of jail management under Mr. Gray". The Sheriff requested that the matter be brought before the August, 1859 session of the Grand Jury. The Grand Jury found after an investigation that there was little or no regular system of discipline for the prisoners, that an indicted murderer had an extreme amount of liberty inside the jail and even had "females of a questionable character" visit him regularly in his cell without supervision, that criminals charged with the same crime are allowed to share a cell and that there is a common practice of allowing visitors to mingle with the prisoners "promiscuously" without the scrutiny and precautions afforded by other jails, and that prisoners have been allowed access to the area where the wood is stored which gives them access to axes and wood saws which could be used for escape or some violent action inside the jail itself. The Grand Jury called the abuses, "Monstrous and glaring" but not criminal so Sheriff Gray saw the findings as a "victory" and ignored everything.
Within two months after the Grand Jury's findings, five inmates with the use of digging tools and saws managed to dig through the floor of the jail cells and through the foundation of the jail itself to freedom. Sheriff Gray announced a reward of $150.00 for the recovery of John Gilmore, 25 years old arrested for larceny, Henry C. Hoffman, 40 years old arrested for larceny, Johnson, alias McCormick (no first name) arrested for stealing a pocket book, Frederick Columbus, alias George Ayers arrested for assault and highway robbery and William Spencer, 24 years old, arrested for larceny.
Jailer Hastings who was responsible for the prisoners entrusted to him was accused by the Chicago Tribune of being a relative of Sheriff Gray who was "unfit for the office" and "an imbecile". (Some things just don't change do they?)
After a full investigation it was determined that the jail had become "a lounging place of loafers, a haunt of low and over curious females and a card saloon." "Visitors came and went freely, unwatched and unchallenged and the head criminal, Henry Jumpertz, (On trial for poisoning his mistress, chopping her up, placing her in a barrel and shipping her to New York) was in charge of the keys leading to the upper wards of the jail!
As a result, Sheriff Gray fired one turnkey (not his relative Hastings) and maintained his job.
I'm pretty sure that none of the above abuses was taking place at the MCC but it appears that the human desire to escape captiviity has not really waned over the years.