As they chipped away at a wall inside a tunnel of the Clinton Correctional Facility last spring, David Sweat and Richard Matt had the Hollywood movie "The Shawshank Redemption" on their minds.
The film tells the story of convicted murderer Andy Dufresne, who spends nearly two decades using a rock hammer to dig a tunnel out of his cell. The parallels were not lost on Sweat and Matt, who were trying to make their own escape.
"We were laughing and joking about how Andy did it in 20 years. I think we might be able to do it in 10," Sweat later told investigators.
Weeks later, Sweat and Matt were on the lam in one of the nation's most brazen breakouts. They spent three weeks running in upstate New York before Matt was killed and Sweat was wounded and captured.
Now, almost a year later, New York's inspector general has released a scathing report full of new details about Matt and Sweat's plot and the systemic security failures that allowed them to succeed.
"The escape occurred in a prison where lapses in basic security functions were longstanding," the 150-page report concludes.
"These included the failure by officers assigned to the front gate to search employees’ bags entering the prison; night counts of inmates that were conducted negligently or not at all; inadequate cell searches; and poor supervision of inmates and employees by security staff and civilian managers in the tailor shop, among others."
The Corrections Department says it has already increased security at the prison and will work with the Inspector General's Office to implement he recommendations in the report.
To compile the report, investigators obtained sworn testimony from Sweat, who spent 85 nights cutting an escape path in the system of catwalks and tunnels behind cell walls, using tools smuggled in by prison seamstress Joyce Mitchell. Matt, he said, joined him in the tunnels for two nights of work before they finally made a break for it on June 5.
Stealing into the tunnels after 11 p.m. guard checks, they left dummies in their beds — and notes for prison staff.
"You left me no choice but to grow old & die in here. I had to do something,” Matt scrawled on a notepad, according to the report. On a painting he made of fictional mob boss Tony Soprano, he wrote, “Time to Go Kid!” with the date “6-5-15.” Sweat put up messages in the tunnel, meant for their pursuers. One was an image of an extraterrestrial with the note, “Are You Trying Me Punk?”
Correction officers didn't discover they were gone until after 5 a.m. Officer Ronald Blair described the moment he spotted the two darkened cells, shook the beds, and then pulled off the sheets to see the dummies instead of the prisoners.
"I almost threw up," Blair said, according to the report.
Sweat told authorities that when he and Matt clambered out of the tunnel through a manhole just after midnight, he felt a sense of triumph that once again reminded him of a certain movie.
"Shawshank ain't got s--- on me," he said.