How Prison Break Portrays Realism of Prison Life

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By Derek Lawton: For those who are not familiar with “Prison Break,” it is a show about two brothers, Lincoln Burrows and Michael Scofield, who team up to break out of prison and take down one of the most powerful corporations in the world. In the earlier seasons of “Prison Break” Michael’s brother Lincoln is sentenced to death row for a crime he did not commit because he is being framed. Michael, being the brains of the family and a structural engineer, plots an escape for his brother before his execution. He purposely commits a crime to get into the same prison with his brother so he can help him escape. The main plot of the show is the “company” who basically make up all of the most powerful people in the country who impose a new world order by controlling every decision made in the country. The company does not care about the lives of innocent people and will do anything to have complete control of the company. The two brothers throughout the seasons go through many trials and tribulations trying to take the company down. Escaping from one jail then finding themselves locked up in another jail.

While watching “Prison Break” you get emotionally attached to these characters. The show almost makes you feel like you are in prison with them. You wish you could help Lincoln and Michael obtain their freedom more and more each episode. One of the main recurring themes in the show is that “Freedom is an illusion and all that matters is staying alive.” This is the sad truth about our judicial system sometimes people are wrongfully convicted. The new season begins with Michael’s voice saying”Freedom has a price, but the dead talk….if you listen.”

Freedom does have a price but can be very possible for prisoners. Many prisoners may never experience freedom but prison escapes still happen.. Throughout history there have been countless prison escapes across the country. Most notably the “notorious 6” who escaped from a death row prison in the 1980s. Most recently drug lord “El Chapo” who escaped from a Mexican Prison last year. Prison breaks can happen and since the air of “Prison Break” in 2001 there have been a rise of prison escapes.  “Prison Break” is banned in thirteen prisons throughout the country because it is considered to be “educational programming” for inmates. Though breaking out of prison would be very difficult “Prison Break” gives inmates real life ideas on how to actually follow through with it.

The show incorporate many true facts about prison life such as the gritty dirty look that many people associate to be true about prisons. It touches upon the main beliefs about what prison life is like such as the countless rapes, suicides, murders, and especially corruption that happens in jail. Corruption in the show is one of the main recurring themes. This is how Michael plotted his escape. He used all the prisoners to his advantage to gain valuable resources from them in each episode. Without corruption there would have never been an escape.  

Corruption is seen  throughout U.S. prisons every day. The relationships between corrupt guards or workers in the prison with inmates is a very real problem.. Guards have been caught smuggling drugs into U.S. prisons and helping prisoners escape many times before. In the show Michael may not of used a guard to escape but used a prisoner worker Dr. Sara Tancredi the nurse at the prison. Sarah’s office was eventually the final way out of the prison which is why he grew became so close to her. This is very similar to the two convicted murderers Richard Matt and David Swear, who escaped from a maximum security prison in upstate New York. They had a prisoner worker named Joyce Mitchell  help them escape. The prisoners developed romantic relationships with the worker to gain valuable tools that eventually helped them dig their way out. The similarities between the show and what happened in real-life are unbelievably similar.

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“Prison Break” even inspired two male producers to create a show called “Prison Break Live” which went around the world to various prisons videotaping inmates real-life interactions. There are also countless shows on Netflix such as “Lockup,” “The Farm” Life Inside Angola Prison,” and “Evolution of a Criminal.” These shows may not show prisoners escaping but they depict real life scenarios that happen in the show.

Lincoln and Michael  struggled to stay alive and fight for their freedom at all costs. Inmates every day are risking their lives and fighting for freedom. Guards may have a great deal of control over the prison but the high up prisoners are usually the ones who run the prison inside the walls of confinement. In the show no one was trusting of each other but followed the orders of Michael and others to obtain freedom. No one trusts anyone in jail but when you are in jail you are forced to trust others because sometimes their is no other option.  The show does a great job of connecting viewers with actual complex characters which makes the show so good.

The show was so good that they decided to resurrect its end in 2009 to bring a new beginning in season five. The return years later has producers wondering if they can still retain their fans and gain new one’s. Many of the actors from the previous seasons are back with a vengeance. Its interesting to see what characters resurface in this new plot and how real they can actually keep the show. If the show does not keep a realistic sense of style it will not retain its viewers. Season five already starts out unrealistic with Michael “who is suppose to be dead” in a prison in Yemen and Lincoln “of course” is the one who has to save him. For old fans of the show the concept is still there so old fans will like the return. The scenario of the escape is very possible but once they repeat the escape it is hard to say where this show can go from there.“Prison Break” has a legacy and not changing the show up too much might actually be beneficial in the long run. It may not be as enjoyable as the original but being familiar with the show will definitely help. It will be interesting to see if the show can recapture the magic of the original series and the realism it portrayed.

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5 thoughts on “How Prison Break Portrays Realism of Prison Life

  1. I have watched Prison Break on and off this year and I have to say that it shocks me to find out that it is considered educational programming in actual jails. I always felt that the show seemed very far fetched, as they make it look so effortless to break out and I never thought it would be taken this seriously. It also surprises me that there are that many prison workers which help inmates to escape. While some people may be wrongly convicted I feel that most are in a jail for a reason and shouldn’t be helped to escape under any sort of circumstances.

    – Adam Kalogeros

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  2. I’ve been a long time fan of Prison Break, I actually had no idea that it was considered “educational programming” for inmates. While I think that some of the tactics are pretty real and could be used, I do think that the actual escape and having inside connections are a bit over exaggerated. I like the point you made on connecting with Scofield and Lincoln, I wish that I could’ve helped them myself, even when being wrongly accused. I think you hit the mark when talking about freedom and a flawed judicial system. Nice job man!

    – TJ Rotolico

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  3. Prison has been a go to for since ive started watching the series,So to see a blog about the show is pleasing. The ways it was compared to real prison life shows a sense of connection to reality and that I think is the best way of bringing it together. Mentioning “El Chapo” and his escape gives the show more legitimacy.

    – Erick Browne

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  4. I enjoyed this blog and found it pretty relevant to issues the U.S. faces today; our prison system is in bad need of reform and tends to breed criminals rather than rehabilitate them. I liked how this blog joins on that critique of our prison system by pointing out the realistic portrayal of corruption within the administration of the prison systems. I also found it interesting that the series is considered educational programming for breaking out of prison, although it does make sense once you think about it a bit. All in all I thought this was a well written thoughtful blog.
    -Chris Towles

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  5. Geena Levine
    Having watched this show for a few seasons and understanding some of what you are saying in this article, I feel as though the show is not very realistic at all. The fact that this show is shown as “educational programming” really surprises me. Although the atmosphere and the way the prison operates may be similar to an actual prison, the way that they make these plans to escape and actually escape the prison seem very far fetched and unrealistic to me. The idea that the main character also gets a tattoo of the prison on his body seems kind of unrealistic and like something that would never happen in real life. I agree that the show tries to make it feel as real as possible for viewers, but I feel like this show does not seem very realistic to me.

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