Home / National News / Inside Look at the Upstate NY Prison: From Food to Inmate-Officer Friendships


(DANNEMORA, N.Y.) — As convicted killers David Sweat and Richard Matt remain on the run after escaping from the Clinton Correctional Facility, more details are emerging about what life is like behind bars at the prison in Dannemora, New York.

Matt and Sweat were on the “Honor Block” for well-behaved inmates before they escaped from their cells on June 6, a source told ABC News.

Honor Block inmates at Clinton can have special jobs, like working as assistants to plumbers and electricians, a source said.

In the Honor Block, “You’re allowed out of your cell a majority of the day,” said Erik Jensen, a former inmate who was at Clinton with Matt and Sweat three years ago.

“In the regular cell blocks you go to work, you come back, you lock in,” Jensen explained. “Honor block is different. You get to roam around on the cell block — which is locked — but it’s just a bigger cell.”

The Honor Block at Clinton gives certain privileges regarding laundry, cooking, phone use and recreation, according to state Department of Corrections regulations.

Honor Block perks include cooking in the cell block and in the recreation yard, Jensen said, noting that Honor Block inmates can also wear plain clothes, like sweatsuits and t-shirts.

Honor Block inmates only need to wear uniforms to the mess hall and to work assignments, Jensen said. “You can wear any color except black, blue, orange or gray,” he said.

Taylor Vogt, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Corrections, told ABC News on Thursday via email that Clinton’s Honor Block “has been dismantled due to the on-going investigation into the escape.”

“The gallery where Inmate Matt and Inmate Sweat were housed is secure and is currently vacated,” Vogt’s statement added.


It was not unusual for guards to bring contraband to prisoners they liked, Jensen said.

“The CO’s [correction officers] would go hunting, give deer meat to inmates, cook it, sometimes share bowls of food with inmates,” Jensen said. “That’s how close a relationship they had with some of the guys in there.”

“If you’re doing 15 to 20 years … you guys [officers and inmates] build up a repertoire together,” Jensen explained, noting that some officers will even let some inmates request to move to a different cell.

On Wednesday night, Clinton correction officer Gene Palmer was arrested for giving Matt and Sweat art supplies and access to the catwalks, according to court documents.

But Palmer’s defense attorney, Andrew Brockway, said Palmer “did not display special treatment” to either Sweat or Matt.

“If you talk to other prison guards, it’s common practice to … try to get some level of trust from these individuals,” Brockway explained. “Because they have provided information in the past that’s led to the break-up of fights, stabbings, gang activity in the prison.”

Palmer has been charged with promoting prison contraband, tampering with physical evidence and official misconduct. He has not yet entered a plea.

Clinton Correctional Facility employee Joyce Mitchell, who was also arrested for allegedly helping the escapees, brought Sweat art supplies, colored pencils, tattoo ink and even food, according to Jensen.

Mitchell faces charges of promoting prison contraband and criminal facilitation. She has pleaded not guilty.


If officers at Clinton get a tip about contraband, “They’ll come and toss your cell,” Jensen said. “Sometimes they do random ones.”

Jensen also described a riot he witnessed at Clinton in 2011.

“They shut the whole jail down and they searched it for three days,” he said. “They searched the whole jail, everybody’s cell.”

“Other than that, just locked doors, bars,” Jensen said of security at Clinton. “You can’t get to one side of the jail without having a key, or without having an officer open a door for you,” Jensen said.

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