PLATTSBURGH, N.Y. – The seamstress employee who played a central role in helping two convicted killers escape from a maximum-security prison in northeast New York in June of 2015 has been released on parole.

Joyce E. Mitchell, 55, departed the Bedford Hills Correctional Facility in Westchester County, New York, on Thursday and will be under community supervision as a parolee in Franklin County until June of 2022, the state Department of Corrections said.

Mitchell, who supervised the prison tailor shop, had pleaded guilty to assisting murder lifers Richard Matt and David Sweat escape from the Clinton Correctional Facility in Dannemora, New York, supplying them with chisels, hacksaw blades and other tools smuggled into the prison in frozen hamburger meat. 

Matt and Sweat used the tools to cut through the back of their cells, crawl along pipes to the prison’s bottom, then cut into a steam pipe and slither through it to a manhole outside the walls. They left a sticky note on the steam pipe featuring a smiley face with this message: “Have a nice day.”

Mitchell was intended to be the getaway driver, meeting the two killers near a powerhouse outside the prison, but she had a panic attack and instead checked herself into a hospital. The plan called for the convicts to kill her husband, who was a guard at the prison, at the couple’s home and then the three of them would flee to Mexico, according to state and federal investigators. Mitchell had been engaged in sex with both inmates in the prison tailor shop, they said.

The escape attracted national attention and terrorized communities in northeast New York for three weeks before a massive manhunt found Matt hiding in the woods 35 miles west of the prison. He was shot and killed.  

Two days later a State Police sergeant spotted Sweat running down a rural road just south of the Canadian border. He fled into an open field, where the trooper shot and wounded him. He survived the wound and is currently serving his life sentence in another maximum security prison.

Clinton County Judge Kevin Ryan sentenced Mitchell  in September of 2015 to 2 1/3  to 7 years in prison upon pleading guilty to negotiated charges of promoting prison contraband and criminal facilitation. She was also fined $80,000 in restitution for damages incurred during the escape.

The state parole board turned her down three times for early release before granting her release recently. She was not expected to come before the board again until June of 2021.

At her sentencing she tearfully asked for mercy, saying it was “by far the worst mistake I have made in my life. I am not a bad person. I clearly made a horrible mistake.”

Judge Ryan noted, however, that the prison escape had cost the state millions of dollars during the prolonged search for the killers and had noneconomic costs that were “incalculable.”

A popular TV miniseries, "Escape at Dannemora," was directed by Ben Stiller about the notorious prison break. Patricia Arquette, who played Mitchell, won a Golden Globe for her performance. 

The Plattsburgh, New York, Press-Republican provided details for this story.

Recommended for you