Created By: Angewomon on July 25, 2011 Last Edited By: Angewomon on January 29, 2013
Troped

Prison Escape Artist

A character who is an expert at escaping from prison.

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So you have a criminal. They have been caught, and they are going to the slammer. Justice has been served. Right?

Well, not if the criminal is a Prison Escape Artist. To them, prisons might as well be made of cardboard. They can wiggle their way out of anything. Yes, even The Alcatraz. And if you try to build a Oubliette just for them, it will fail. Several methods can be used to achieve their escapes, including digging their way out, making use of air vents, and having some friends come in disguised as guards, among others.

Needless to say, they often play a role in a Great Escape, and may lend a Wrongly Accused protagonist a hand if they aren't evil and happen to like said protagonist. If they never get caught again, they might organize escape attempts for other prisoners. Compare and contrast Play-Along Prisoner, as a Prison Escape Artist doesn't necessarily have to be able to escape at any time. Some may just seek out opportunities.

Note: This trope is not simply someone who escapes from prison. This is someone who has escaped and/or has helped others escape more than once, either prior to or during the story.

I don't think we have this one, but I could be wrong. I have a feeling that it's quite common (though I could be wrong about that, too), but unfortunately I can't think of many examples at the moment. I bet there are some Real Life examples too.

Index: Prison Tropes, of course.

Examples:

Anime And Manga
  • Gunther Milch from Monster. Dude escaped twelve times prior to when he was introduced.

Comics
  • The Spook from the Batman comics. His original shtick was offering criminals incarceration insurance: promising that he could break them out of any prison if they were caught.
  • The Dalton Brothers from Lucky Luke are this in most of the stories their appear in. They are best known for being Tunnel King but they have tried quite a few other methods as well: cut throuh the jars at the window with a file, use a broken file to make four extra doors (one for each brother) in the cell, make a hole in the wall with either dynamite or with their mattocks, set the prison on fire, hidding in the waggon with food (comic) of dirty clothes (cartoon)... In fact this have become so much of a Running Gag, that the creators in some of the later stories will simply just skip the escape part, since the readers already know easy it is for them.

Film
  • The Great Escape, the Film of the Book based on the Real Life event. The inhabitants of the Nazi prison camp are the best escape artists among captured Allied soldiers, and Roger Bartlett (AKA "Big X") is the best organizer of escape attempts among them.
  • Both Pour Elle, a french thriller about a man attempting to break his wife out of jail and its English-language remake, The Next Three Days, feature one of these characters. In the latter, he's played by Liam Neeson.
  • Frank Morris in Escape from Alcatraz.
  • I Love You Phillip Morris is based around Steven Jay Russell, a real life conman who has escaped prison multiple times in increasingly creative ways.

Live-Action TV
  • The Space Precinct episode "Two Against The Rock" featured a psychic alien Prison Escape Artist, who was rather inconspicuously named Houdini.
  • River Song in Doctor Who. In the 2011 series so far, she has been shown exiting and entering Stormcage prison at will, even stopping to pick up a phone and holler over the klaxons, "Oh turn it off, I'm breaking in, not out!"
  • Parodied with Major Errol Phipps in the Ripping Yarns episode "Escape from Stalag Luft 112B".
  • Michael Scofield from Prison Break.

Newspaper Comics
  • The Spook in Wizard Of Id is always escaping, but he's always caught again soon afterwards, usually because his plan backfired on him.

Tabletop RPG
  • Traveller Classic adventure 8 Prison Planet. One of the prisoners, Axel Herrmon, has escaped from the Imperial prison facility on Newcomb and another prison as well.

Video Games
  • Anne from Dubloon mentions that she has experience breaking out of jail before offering to help Russel break out in the beginning.

Real Life
  • As dramatized in Escape from Alcatraz, Frank Morris is a Real Life example, rendering every single prison he was held in as cardboard, including, you guessed it, Alcatraz. As despite what prison officials said (that he and his two co-escapees drowned) they Never Found the Body, we can only assume that he's gone straight and is living a normal life under an assumed name... assuming he's still alive, that is (he did escape in June 1962, after all).
  • Roger Bushell, the man who inspired The Great Escape.
  • Steven Jay Russell, as mentioned above.
  • Jack Sheppard was a thief in 18th century London, who was arrested and imprisoned four times, but always escaped. This made him a hero among the poorer classes. Eventually, he was caught for a fifth time and hanged.
Community Feedback Replies: 37
  • July 25, 2011
    KageNara
    Busmalis from Oz had dug at least 4 tunnels, escaped once, would have escaped more but the other prisoners ruined it for him the rest of the time, and he destroyed another by himself so he could get married, when he could have escaped in those two easily.
  • July 25, 2011
    KevinKlawitter
    Both Pour Elle, a french thriller about a man attempting to break his wife out of jail and its English-language remake, The Next Three Days, feature one of these characters. In the latter, he's played by Liam Neeson.
  • July 25, 2011
    foxley
    The Spook from the Batman comics. His original shtick was offering criminals incarceration insurance: promising that he could break them out of any prison if they were caught.
  • July 26, 2011
    Koveras
    Live Action TV
    • The Space Precinct episode "Two Against The Rock" featured a psychic alien prison escape artist, who was rather inconspicuously named Houdini.
  • July 26, 2011
    Arivne
    Seconding Prison Escape Artist.

    Film
    • The Great Escape, the Film Of The Book based on the Real Life event. The captives in the Nazi prison camp are the best escape artists among Allied POW's, and Roger Bartlett (AKA "Big X") is the best organizer of escape attempts among them.

    Tabletop RPG
    • Traveller Classic adventure 8 Prison Planet. One of the prisoners, Axel Herrmon, has escaped from the Imperial prison facility on Newcomb and another prison as well.
  • July 26, 2011
    ryanasaurus0077
    As dramatized in Escape From Alcatraz, Frank Morris is a Real Life example, rendering every single prison he was held in as cardboard, including, you guessed it, Alcatraz. As despite what prison officials said (that he and his two co-escapees drowned) they Never Found The Body, we can only assume that he's gone straight and is living a normal life under an assumed name... assuming he's still alive, that is (he did escape in June 1962, after all).
  • July 26, 2011
    HiddenFacedMatt
    Dufresne. He carved away at his cell for years, hid the increasingly big hole he was making behind a big poster, and one day crawled through that hole to get to a sewer pipe, slammed a rock against said pipe to break it open, then crawled through said sewer pipe until it reached where the sewage meets the river, far from the jail.
  • July 27, 2011
    Angewomon
    Anyone have a good picture for this? I think it's begging for one.
  • July 27, 2011
    Frank75
  • July 29, 2011
    Angewomon
    Dang, I found a brilliant image for this, but I'm not sure if I could get away with using it due to copyright (you have to pay to download it without the watermark, and even then the license is only good for three years):

    Jail cell answering machine...
  • August 25, 2011
    HiddenFacedMatt
    Oh, and the toys from Toy Story 3 also arguably count.
  • August 27, 2011
    Josech
    River Song in [[Doctor Who]]. In the 2011 series so far, she has been shown exiting and entering Stormcage prison at will, even stopping to pick up a phone and holler over the klaxons, "Oh turn it off, I'm breaking in, not out!"
  • August 27, 2011
    JohnDiFool
    Comics Strips: The Spook in Wizard Of Id is always escaping, but he's always caught again soon afterwards, usually because his plan backfired on him.
  • August 27, 2011
    jatay3
    Of course a real prison escape artist would be one that no one knew about. After all he never got caught.
  • August 28, 2011
    Prime_of_Perfection
    That doesn't make much sense. If they've not been caught, then they aren't a prison escape artist because they aren't escaping prison. If they do escape prison, people are going to know they ran away.
  • August 28, 2011
    Angewomon
    EDIT: Never mind. This comment does not exist.
  • August 28, 2011
    foxley
    Played For Laughs with Major Errol Phipps in the Ripping Yarns epsiode "Escape from Stalag Luft 112B".
  • August 29, 2011
    whereismytea
    It feels strange giving an example for something I've never watched, but here it goes:

    • I Love You Phillip Morris is based around Steven Jay Russell, a real life conman who has escaped prison multiple times in increasingly creative ways.
  • August 29, 2011
    cityofmist
    John Dillinger. At least, as dramatised in Public Enemies; I don't know much about the real John Dillinger.
  • August 29, 2011
    DannebrogSpy
    The Dalton Brothers from Lucky Luke are this in most of the stories their appear in. They are best known for being Tunnel King but they have tried quite a few other methodes as well: cut throuh the jars at the window with a file, use a broken file to make four extra doors (one for each brother) in the cell, make a hole in the wall with either dynamite or with their mattocks, set the prison on fire, hidding in the waggon with food (comic) of dirty clothes (cartoon)... In fact this have become so much of a Running Gag, that the creators in some of the later stories will simply just skip the escape part, since the readers already know easy it is for them.
  • August 29, 2011
    crazysamaritan
    Wait, is this "someone who breaks out of prison" or "a prison break expert"?
  • August 29, 2011
    snowmanbz
    You can't make this one without including Michael Scofield of Prison Break
  • August 30, 2011
    Aquila89
    Jack Sheppard was a thief in 18th century London, who was arrested and imprisoned four times, but always escaped. This made him a hero among the poorer classes. Eventually, he was caught for a fifth time and hanged.
  • August 31, 2011
    Angewomon
    @crazysamaritan: I mostly had "prison break expert" in mind. After reading your comment, I realized that I had been adding examples without much thought, and I decided to narrow it down by saying that they had to have escaped more than once. Thanks for bringing it up. ^_^

    Since there's five hats, I might launch this as soon as everyone agrees that escaping more than once would be sufficient for this trope.

  • November 8, 2011
    crazysamaritan
    Anime and Manga
    • anime/LupinIII has had to do this several times. The second episode of the red jacket series has him get himself, Jigen, and Goemon locked up to create an alibi for a theft, which meant they would have to break out and in before anyone noticed they were missing.
  • November 8, 2011
    NewGamePlus
    Film: Riddick of Pitch Black and The Chronicles escaped from Butcher Bay, which is supposedly inescapable in-universe. He also reguarly escapes bounty hunters.
  • November 15, 2011
    HiddenFacedMatt
    Care to specify why the Toy Story 3 example was not added?
  • November 15, 2011
    spideydude
    An episode of Murdoch Mysteries had Harry Houdini, expert at escaping anything, escape from jail no less than three times after being a murder suspect. Partially subverted since he's not the killer.
  • November 15, 2011
    nielas
    Another Real Life example:
    • Patrick "Paddy" Mitchell was the leader of the notorious "Stopwatch Gang" of bank robbers in the 1970s and 1980s. After they were finally caught, he escaped from prison three times in ingenious ways. After his last escape he hid out in the Philipines for 15 years before returning to the US and being arrested in 1994. He never escaped again and died in prison in 2006.
  • January 27, 2013
    Catbert
    It's been over a year! Just Launch It Already!
  • January 27, 2013
    Astaroth
    • J.T. Morgan in Arcanum, who is so skilled at picking locks that the authorities in Caladon were forced to pay an expert engineer to build a customised jail cell to contain him, and operate a strict 'no visitors' policy to stop anyone trying to spring him.
  • January 27, 2013
    SharleeD
    • Justified in Kevin J Anderson's Unnatural Acts, in which a famous bank robber is sentenced to prison. Said bank robber is a ghost, so can't actually be forced to stay there, but he agrees to remain until he gets bored, at which point he breaks out for fun. Not by simply walking out through the walls, but by walking out to buy a lockpick, returning the same way, and then breaking out again using "fair" methods that would've worked for a living person.
  • January 28, 2013
    Arivne
    Several of the examples above are Zero Context Examples and need more information.

  • January 28, 2013
    AdamCSpencer
    Murdoch form A-Team was noted for this.
  • January 28, 2013
    Chernoskill
    In Cube, Rennes is a french escape artist known for getting out of jails.
  • January 28, 2013
    KidCanDrive
    Would you accept Orr from Catch 22, even though it's the army and not prison that he escapes from?

    Also I don't think you should require them to have escaped more than once. I'd include all characters who have attempted escape or are obsessed with escape--anyone who's like, "the escape guy."

    Ooh, you could call it "Escape Goat!"
  • January 29, 2013
    randomsurfer
    In an episode of Barney Miller Barney is told by a snitch where an infamous prison escape artist is hiding out. He had been sentenced to 5 years for robbery 30 years earlier, but his sentence kept getting extended because of his frequent breakouts. The escape artist has decided to hang it up; although he does break out of the holding cell in the squadroom at one point in order to use the restroom. Nobody notices until he saunters back and locks himself up again.
http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/discussion.php?id=m22aee98blgtnt6ol6je3lmf&trope=PrisonEscapeArtist