Illustration by Salem Powell.

1. Know your right to escape

Prisoners, caged rats, wage-slaves — the terms for those who hate their nine to five workdays are many. What unites these terms is what they describe: a real feeling of entrapment. I feel it should be stated now that if you earnestly feel trapped at your place of work, you have every right to quit, especially if you’ve tried to accommodate and see it through to the end. The world, your friends, parents and colleagues may frown on your decision, but remember that it is yours to make. You have the right to decide what you do or don’t do with your life and time.

 

2. Embrace that you’re locked up for good reason

If you feel like a prisoner at work, embrace it. Continue to work hard, stand up for yourself and embrace that the universe has put you in this prison to repent for being a true criminal. Perhaps you stole some candy as a child or backed into someone’s parked car, denting it in a parking garage and then sped off thinking no one would care. Well the universe noticed and it threw you in job jail. Embrace it, then hate it, then seek to change it.

Recognize also that you aren’t part of the common rabble of the jail. When you sit for lunch with the other inmates, brace up and bite into your PB&J sandwich with some pride. These criminals, kids out for school breaks looking to make some cash and the act-tough interns, are just petty purse-snatchers and common burglars compared to you, who must’ve masterminded a mail front scheme, pulled off a major heist, committed a true act of art terrorism, or pulled the tags off of ten mattresses. You’re just paying off your student debt. The sandwich is kind of bitter isn’t it?

 

3. Plan Your Escape:

A. Get the tools

Great escape tunnels are not born, they are made. Watch any classic prison escape movie, you’ll see that they don’t have high tech drills either, they start off with scratches. They’ve got plastic spoons and forks and other smuggled digging tools to make their escape with. Before you even think of making those scratches on the wall, you’ve got to get your tools together. Work with what you’ve got or have access to. My recommendations:

  • Spork: Objectively the most unisex/non-binary food eating device that can also dig a tunnel with enough dedication. Fork, spoon and a knife if you try really, really hard. It’s good to go whenever you need it, found in the mess hall in mass quantity because if they let you have real silverware including sharp knives and forks…haha…oh boy. Snag one of these and hide it under your mattress.
  • Two-Weeks Notice: Accepted as custom at most jobs/work prisons. You don’t wanna be the guy who just takes off running at the first opportunity, gets spotlighted as he sloshes through the badlands outside of the prison, mauled by guard dogs/brown-nosing coworkers, then billy clubbed/shot/fired do you? No. You want to make a clean exit. Hasty exits add to your later bounty/employer’s willingness to bad-mouth you to new potential employers, so take care and be as professional as possible. Like the spork, it’s good to go and standard across the board for most jobs.

B. Have people on the outside

Now that you have your tools together and  started digging your little tunnel behind your cot or on the wall hidden behind your taped up poster of Marina Abramovic that you managed to get smuggled in, it’s time to move onto phase two of the operation: arranging with your contacts on the outside.

If you’re smart and have done some networking, or have friends who don’t despise you for throwing that last bank job and getting yourself arrested, hit them up. Surely they’ll have work opportunities. This doesn’t mean sit with them on visitation and loudly announce to the nearby boss/warden/brown-nosing coworker/guard, “I’m busting out of this joint!” while banging your shackled fists on the table. This means:

  • Arrange a code-worded phone call: Again, you’re a master criminal. From day one you’ve been in contact with your buddies on the outside and possibly been receiving ‘gifts’ and useful information through little hollowed out Bibles sent to you. “How’s the weather?” and other words like this are great ways to ask how, say, the crime syndicate you’re planning to return to or are running from the inside is doing without actually saying it. From here you can arrange a way to tell them you’re breaking out soon and will need a safe house to stay in for a while or boat fueled up and ready to blast off to Cuba in nearby. Adopt a cheery tone, phones are tapped.
  • Speak with your connections in a serious manner: Most people won’t hire you if you walk in and say “I’m working here purely to go other places,” or “I’m just here to make some money.” So don’t ever do that. They don’t want to know that you’re using them as a stepping stone for a little cash and better opportunities/other jobs elsewhere, they’re aware that people do this all the time and so they are often looking for dedicated employees with less liabilities. I would say you should take a similar approach when looking for a new place to settle while you’re still chained down. Talk to your connections and mention that you’re looking for a new job, make a comment on how much you love the company they work for and are ready to work hard. Work the conversation, so to speak. Be genuine, people can tell.

C. Don’t just stop working

Number one tell for someone who’s about to plan their big escape besides outright saying it, which I’ve already warned you against, is being lazy. You’ve stopped smelting the metal and doing laundry duty efficiently because you see no reason to, you’ll be gone soon anyway. This gives the warden all the more reason to send guards to your cell to rip down your poster, discover your tunnel and club you in your cell.

To prevent this, continue working like you did before or even better than before if possible. It’s perfect cover and leaves a good impression. Be less likely to incur problems later from a bad boss review if you do your job or go above and beyond. That’s not to say that you should about kill yourself taking on all of the extra responsibilities or mop around with a really creepy fake smile, either. Be genuine.

D. Maintain a good report with everyone

Again, be on good terms before you do the mole and escape through a hole. If you find yourself angry at the warden, try and remember that part of their job is to be brutal and unforgiving and sick guards and dogs on you when you do wrong. They’re people too. People you want to escape from, but people. Who knows, maybe the warden was once in your position, maybe they want to escape as well.

Same goes for the lackeys around you. Though you are criminally their superior in every way imaginable, try to view yourself as their equal. Chat with them, engage in camaraderie. Opportunities could lie here. Why, one of the guys I was interred with when I did my time, that I didn’t like all that much and tended to avoid on the yard, became one of my closest friends and allies. He also had a network of people I could work with on the outside. Another reason you may want to be friendly to those around you is to gain some loyal followers. I’m not saying assemble a little gang that you can use to put the hurt on someone who doesn’t want to surrender their jello cup in the mess hall, but people you can have distract the guards and take the clubs while you crawl to freedom if need be.

 

4. Escape

Now comes the moment you’ve been preparing for. Those painful blisters you’ve developed on your hands from digging at a solid wall with a plastic spork are going to be so worth it. Now is the time to execute on all of the above steps.

After you’ve delivered your two-weeks notice, get in touch with those people on the outside if you haven’t already. You should’ve been able to memorize some codes by now and have prepared for this conversation. Those not in the know listening in on your conversation will think you’re just really interested in migratory bird patterns, those in the know will be reaching out to their contacts to get a safety net ready for you.

Spend your final weeks working and playing nice. Smile at the guards and wave at the other inmates. Let them win a game of poker in the game room. Whatever you do, just make sure you leave them with a good impression. If they’re awful though, which is sometimes the case, just worry about getting out unscathed.

After the guards call lights out and you’ve made sure there’s no one skulking around down there who might hear you shuffling about, crawl inside your tunnel. Don’t freak out about getting stuck, you prepped for this, made sure the tunnel would fit you by shaving off a few pounds, made the necessary arrangements. You’ll be fine. Just focus on the idea of freedom and crawl forward.

Eventually, you’ll reach the outside. You may have to make a hole in a sewer pipe or find a secondary way to continue your escape rather than straight burrowing, but you will make it out. If you have to crawl through a river of crap, do it. You’ll come out clean on the other side.

 

5. Post-Escape or living life as an escaped convict

Assuming you didn’t get caught or killed or both in your daring escape, you may have a feeling that you lack direction and don’t know where to go. Maybe some of your friends didn’t come through with those connections and you’re going to be adrift for a while. Perhaps you miss your cell and routine that was stable and laid out for you. That feeling can and will be overcome.

For now, focus on making new connections, forging new opportunities and be  thankful you’re not in that previous toxic environment. Something will come your way eventually. Maybe some organization will reach out to you for your talents or you’ll be picked up by another prison while you’re walking down the road trying to figure out what to do. You’ll be back to work, whether you like it or not. Promise.