There's a reason why this prison is the worst hell on earth... Hope. Every man who has ventured here over the centuries has looked up to the light and imagined climbing to freedom. So easy... So simple... And like shipwrecked men turning to sea water from uncontrollable thirst, many have died trying.
This prison doesn't need walls, or guards, or security cameras. No one's stopping prisoners from escaping. The jailor might even point them in the direction of the convenient escape route. The door's right there! It's not even locked
! Why doesn't everyone just leave?
Well, because escape would be suicide. The secure facility remains secure because it is located in an extremely
inhospitable environment. It might be in the middle of a vast desert or tundra, such that anyone foolish enough to leave would die of exposure. Alternatively, the surroundings could be populated by Super-Persistent Predators
or other deadly creatures. In extreme cases, the prison may be smack in the middle of the ocean, or at the top of a mountain with a hundred-foot drop on all sides. Needless to say, it's safer just to stay inside.
Often serves as an example of Morton's Fork
. May be how a villain carries out Released to Elsewhere
. If there's any chance at all of success, the escape route is likely to be a Death Course
; sufficiently Badass prisoners may theoretically win their freedom
. Being imprisoned in such a facility, however, may lead to the realization that Hope Is Scary
. Some prisoners may choose to commit suicide using the escape route, preferring death to imprisonment
See also Underestimating Badassery
, which is the common mistake made by people who design such prisons. Compare and contrast The Alcatraz
, which has all the conventional defenses (armed guards, electric fences, etc.) on top of
its inescapable location. Contrast Cruel Mercy
and Hunting the Most Dangerous Game
- The underground Klingon labor camp Rura Penthe where Kirk and Mc Coy are imprisoned in Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country has nothing preventing prisoners from escaping—except the extreme cold and storms of the surface, where death by exposure would be a certainty. In fact, prisoners are threatened with expulsion to the surface if they don't work.
- The Dark Knight Rises has two examples: Bane's prison has a gaping hole for a roof that only one child's ever managed to climb out of. Scarecrow's Kangaroo Court also offers the choice between exile (you walk on a frozen lake out of Gotham, fall through and freeze to death) or death (exile.)
- In A Game of Thrones, the Arryns' cells have only three walls...with a 600-foot drop off the side of a mountain on the fourth side. The Lord of the Eyrie also tries to force the imprisoned Tyrion to leave their castle via the Moon Door (again, with a 600-foot drop on the other side.) When Tyrion manages to get pardoned, Lady Lysa Arryn manages to do Death By Freedom again (he can now leave the castle via the road full of shadowcats and hostile tribes.)
- In Going Postal, when Vetinari is meeting his new Boxed Crook Moist von Lipwig, he tells Moist that if he doesn't like the offer he can simply walk out that door. When Moist goes to check, the door leads to a deep pit full of spikes.
- In the sequel Making Money, when placed in the same scene and offered the same choice, Moist theatrically goes to test the depth of the "alternative"...only to find that now it's an ordinary exit door, because this time Vetinari really is giving him the option to refuse.
- Holes. The juvenile detention camp "Camp Green Lake" has no guard towers or fences, and most of the counselors aren't even armed...but the camp is in the middle of the desert, and has the only water for 100 miles. Anyone who wants to leave can leave, only to die of thirst or be forced to come back.
- In The Stars My Destination, everyone can teleport, so criminals are kept in a location they don't know. You are welcome to Tele-Frag yourself whenever you want.
- Tribesmen of Gor. The salt mines of Klima are staffed entirely by male slaves. There are no guards, and you're free to leave at any time. But it's surrounded by hundreds of square miles of desert, and canteens are limited to small sizes; you'd die of thirst & exposure if you try to leave.
- In The Walking Dead, Rick chooses to allow one of the prisoners to escape into the walker-infested woods rather than wasting a bullet on him.
- Warhammer 40,000. The old Dark Eldar codex mentioned that slaves pens in Comorragh don't have walls to keep the slaves in. They can leave any time they want...and wander out into the Dark City where they're likely to suffer an even worse fate.
- The Elder Scrolls
- The prisons in the Shivering Isles in The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion. They do confiscate your stuff, but your cell is not locked and you are free to try and brave the dungeon creatures with your bare hands and spells.
- The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. The Chill, a prison in the Winter Hold runs on this. They do not confiscate your swag, they do not guard your cage, but it is located in an icy cave on a small island in the middle of the local Arctic. If you beat the ice elementals on the island and swim through the frigid ocean to freedom, no one is going to object.
- The prison camp in Final Fantasy VII is in the middle of a desert. You get there by being dumped down a chute from the Golden Saucer, and nobody bothers to guard the place because the desert is impassable. The other prisoners will all tell you that people who go into the desert don't come back. (However, to prevent the game from becoming unwinnable, if you wander out into the desert, first you get lost but after a while someone shows up with a chocobo stagecoach and takes you back to prison.)
- In Jedi Academy, Jaden is put into one of these prisons when he is captured by the Empire. The doors of his cell are open, but the prison complex is swarming with stormtroopers and their commander is fond of Hunting the Most Dangerous Game. Oh, and they took Jaden's lightsaber.
- There are multiple indications throughout the Portal series that the world outside the Aperture Science complex poses more danger to Chell than the tests endlessly invented by the murderous AI GLaDOS inside.