'The UnXplained: The Greatest Escapes': The inside story of the world's most shocking break-outs

Both the Cuban refugee and the Alcatraz story in this episode share 'Shawshank Redemption'-style triumphant moment


                            'The UnXplained: The Greatest Escapes': The inside story of the world's most shocking break-outs
William Shatner (A+E Networks)
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If you haven't got goosebumps in that scene where Andy Dufresne from 'The Shawshank Redemption' washes off the poop and the stench of prison from his body in the rain, you are in the really tiny minority. William Shatner, host of 'The UnXplained', while introducing the episode says we are fascinated by escapes. The reasons he trots out is that we, as human beings, can't bear the thought of being trapped or would like to escape our own realities."

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He forgets one important element of why Hollywood and TV networks have minted money putting prison break stories on-screen from Clint Eastwood's 'Escape from Alcatraz' to Wentworth Miller's 'Prison Break' to the gold standard 'The Shawshank Redemption'.

They represent the ultimate underdog story where the escapees pit themselves against the entire military complex or state machinery designed to break them. The desperation and adrenalin that fuels these escapes are also reflected in the stories featured in the episode, all except the one about Harry Houdini, who saw the entertainment value of escapes before Hollywood did.

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In the 'Escape from Alcatraz' segment, we hear the elaborate plans of the three inmates, Frank Morris and brothers John and Clarence Anglin, to escape from "The Rock". It involved elaborate subterfuges that would make Andy Dufresne proud.

Two of the inmates painted portraits of their girlfriends so that they could obtain flesh-colored paint to make dummy heads of their own likeness to fool guards as they spent their nights digging to freedom towards a vent in the roof. They even created fake cardboard grills to replace the real iron ones on the floor-level air ducts in their cells. For the final leg of the escape, they crafted a rudimentary raft from raincoat-like material they sourced from other inmates that helped them cross the shark-infested, churning waters of the San Francisco Bay.

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It is unknown whether the three survived. However, the nephew of John and Clarence Anglin reveal how his granny started receiving roses on Mother's Day with the card "Love Joe & Jerry" after their escape. His grandmother, who didn't know any Joe or Jerry, knew who the roses really came from.

The other escape tale that has a similar feel of escaping oppression is the story of the Cuban refugee. This was a time when Cubans forced to work seven days a week and battling food shortages would risk death on the choppy waters to escape Fidel Castro's oppressive regime. If they were captured while escaping, they were imprisoned or shot. This was when two Cuban teenagers decided to take to the air to make their escape. One chickened out, while Armando Socarras snuck into the wheel bay of a plane headed to Spain. It speaks to the desperation of Soccarras who willingly climbed into the hold of a plane that was not pressurized and subject to freezing high altitude temperatures to escape his life in Cuba.

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What makes his story more touching is that he had "no coat" to even try to stave off the cold. In his own words, when he saw the gigantic wheel coming in, he thought he was doomed. Before losing consciousness he put his fate in the hands of God.

When the plane finally descended, his frozen body landed on the tarmac with a "sickening thud". The pilot and the other crew thought he was dead till he spoke out and said "Where am I?" While this story does not have the same level of ingenuity displayed by the Alcatraz's inmates, both the Cuban refugee and the Alcatraz story in this episode of 'The UnXplained' share the same 'Shawshank Redemption'-style triumphant moment that addicts of escape stories will enjoy.

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'The UnXplained: The Greatest Escapes' premieres July 11 at 9 pm on History channel.