'The ingenuity gets to you': Morgan Freeman on his new series 'Great Escapes'

Morgan Freeman in a large escape tunnel
'Great Escapes with Morgan Freeman' features daring prisoners going to extreme lengths as they fight for freedom

Great Escapes with Morgan Freeman sees the legendary Oscar-winning actor delivering an in-depth look into eight cases of renowned breakouts from some of history’s toughest prisons.

Stories explored include the death-defying escape from Alcatraz; how two neighbouring cell mates escaped the fortress of Dannemora prison as well as characters such as Narco criminal El Chapo and the ‘Pittsburgh Six’ who tunnelled their way to freedom.

Speaking to The One Show, Morgan Freeman explained that the Dannemora break is one of the most ingenious methods of escape that the show covers. Richard Matt and David Sweat managed to dig their way out of the Clinton Correction Facility in New York, where they were both serving potential life sentences for murder. “It’s kind of like digging a grave with a spoon,” Freeman remarked.

He also discussed the mass escape from the German prisoner of war camp Stalag Luft III in 1944 as another highlight. This event is known to be the main inspiration behind the 1963 film The Great Escape.

The show is full of wonder, intrigue, and mystery that is sure to keep audiences invested throughout. Morgan Freeman added during his appearance on The One Show: “Once you start watching, you get involved in it. The mystery is will they do it, can they actually do this? It’s almost an impossible attempt.

“[El Chapo’s rescuers] dug about a mile tunnel to get to one specific place, within inches inside the prison where he was. They did it! It’s like anything else you start wondering about, can this be done?”

Although the protagonists in the show are prisoners who are serving long sentences for doing some terrible things, Freeman admits it was hard to not get swept up in their stories and admire the lengths that they were willing to go to for a shot at freedom. It’s also a testament to the human spirit in general and the things that we’re capable of in the direst of situations.

The 84-year-old actor told Sky News: “Just getting into the inner workings of how a prisoner, somebody in a maximum-security institution, starts thinking about, 'how am I going to get out of here, and then pull it off?'

“The ingenuity gets to you. To dare to think that you could and to work at it is just fascinating.

"If you think about how much effort and thought, dedication goes into making an escape from a maximum-security institution. The first thing you think is that no, it's never going to happen, you can't do that.”

However, most of these tales don’t have a happy ending for the prisoners as the escape is just the first step in a very dangerous journey. Many of them spend a brief period on the run before being recaptured, or even killed, by the extensive police operation that hunts them down.

“Trouble is that getting out of prison is not getting away. It's solving one problem. They'll eventually get you and bring you back,” Freeman concluded.

This isn’t the case though for the infamous Alcatraz escape in 1962. Frank Morris, John Anglin, and Clarence Anglin all manage to evade the search party and have never been officially seen again. Many believe they drowned in San Francisco Bay after their homemade raft disintegrated on the journey between the island prison and the mainland. However, there is a possibility the men succeeded in their daring escape and lived out the rest of the years away from the public eye.

Morgan Freeman is well known for, among other attributes, his nice guy demeanour, but he was actually in jail for a short time during his days in the Air Force. A mix-up with papers while on permitted leave saw Freeman and a friend spend four days behind bars. He didn't attempt a daring escape of his own because he said it’s just not in his nature.

He told The Northern Echo: “Somebody like me, I’m just gonna sit down and do my time as easily as I could. But these people [on the show] say ‘Nah, I can’t stay here, I got to get out. I got to figure this out’, and they figure it out.”