When Richard Matt and David Sweat escaped from Clinton Correctional Facility over the weekend, they left behind roughly 3,000 inmates. According to one of those inmates, life on the inside has been considerably more difficult since their dramatic exit.
A woman, who I’ll call Lindsay, contacted Gawker on Thursday to discuss what she’d heard from her father, an inmate at Clinton, about conditions at the jail this week. Nearly everything she’s learned comes from a letter her father sent on Sunday, June 7—the day after guards noticed the escape—and as such, should be taken with a grain of salt with regards to present conditions five days later. Lindsay asked that both her and her father’s names be concealed. She told us that in Dannemora, the tiny upstate New York village that houses Clinton, word gets around quickly. “Every officer has a family member there. Everybody knows everybody. So you can’t say shit up there about anybody,” she said.
Clinton has a reputation for roughness among New York state jails. It is “one of the last places you’d want to be in the state system,” Jack Beck of the nonprofit Correctional Association of New York told the New York Times. “Among incarcerated people it is notorious.”
Despite being in a different section of the jail from the “honor block” for well-behaved inmates, from which Sweat and Matt escaped, Lindsay’s father and his entire section were on lockdown as of Sunday, he wrote in his letter.
Update (4:12: p.m.): Linda Foglia, a spokeswoman for the New York State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision, confirmed that Clinton Correctional Facility was placed on lockdown status on the morning of Saturday, June 6, and “remains in that same status today.”
According to Lindsay, lockdown means that her father and his fellow inmates are not allowed out of their cells—which contain a bed, a sink, and a toilet—for any reason. Food is brought to them rather than served communally in the mess hall; time in the yard is canceled; prisoners’ in-house jobs are temporarily called off; showers are impossible. The New York State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision, which operates Clinton, has not yet responded to a request for comment on the current conditions of the prison.
Lindsay said that her father ordinarily calls her every other evening, but she hasn’t heard from him since the letter.
“The second he got out, he would call,” she said. Because her father is usually allowed access to a phone from 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. on weekdays, she’s spent the past several days waiting by the phone at that time, hoping to hear that the lockdown is over. “And when there’s no call, I end up crying my eyes out,” she said.
Lindsay’s father also wrote in his letter that he’d been told little about the escape itself, and that his usual access to media had been cut off. At first, his television was entirely disabled, but later he was given access to a few non-news channels. Local radio stations were scrambled, incoming mail was prohibited, and commissary was suspended. Lindsay said that she has called Clinton every day since the escape, and has repeatedly been told that no visitors are allowed.
Lindsay said that her father was able to glean that two men had escaped and that they might have had help, but was unsure of their names. He wrote in his letter that “hotshots” and “bigwigs from Albany” had been visiting the jail, the presence of whom may have alerted him to the gravity of the situation.
Guards were initially rough on the inmates on the day of the escape, but had softened up and were “actually...pretty nice,” by the following day, considering the circumstances, Lindsay said.
“I guess everyone was kind of on edge, because they all felt like ‘How could we have let this happen?’” she said. Her father wrote that he was surprised that no inmates in the escapees’ section had “ratted” on them in exchange for a deal for preferential treatment from officials. He was also incredulous that no guards heard the escape in progress. “‘I don’t understand how no one could have heard this,’” Lindsay read from the letter. “‘It gets so quiet over here sometimes that I can hear people farting.’”
An inmate visitors’ “festival” was scheduled for Saturday, June 6, which meant that Lindsay and many other family members of prisoners happened to be in or near Dannemora as officials were learning of the escape. Lindsay saw her father on Friday, and “everything was normal,” she said, but on Saturday morning, her car was searched and turned away at a roadblock as she approached Clinton from her hotel in nearby Plattsburgh. She learned from another visitor that there had been an escape—news that did not hit the media until hours later.
“A bunch of us—there were probably like 20 or 30 girls—we just hung out in the hotel lobby, trying to figure out what’s going on,” she said. “Everyone’s freaking out. First of all, we have no names, so it could be one of our loved ones, and we’d have no idea. It was just crazy.”
Lindsay believes it might be another week before her father is taken off lockdown.“It’s sucking for everyone in there,” she said. “No one is worried about everyone on the inside. A lot of people think inmates are scumbags, but I think they forget that they’re fathers, grandfathers, sons, brothers. It’s somebody’s loved one.”