Documentary portrays Dannemora escape from guards' perspective

Published: Jan. 10, 2020 at 5:16 PM EST
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Four years after two convicted killers escaped from the Clinton Correctional Facility and triggered a massive Adirondack manhunt, a new documentary about the ordeal is set to debut this weekend, and the film has a point of view many have not have not seen before.

'We Stand Corrected Dannemora' is a documentary from the point of view of the correctional officers who worked at Clinton Correctional Facility at the time Richard Matt and David Sweat carried out their elaborate escape plan.

"People didn't really know much about the officers and their perspective on this. There's been some out there but very little," said Richie Elson, the film's director.

The 80 minute documentary gives an in depth account of what goes on behind the walls of the maximum security prison and how the two convicted murders managed to escape.

Elson, a filmmaker from LA, is originally from Beekmantown. His father was a career correctional officer but had retired from the prison prior to the escape.

"It started off really slow. People were pretty skeptical initially of my intentions with it -- if I was going to portray the COs in a bad light. But the further it went, the more trust we gained," Elson said.

The film highlights a lockdown that was considered but never ordered just one week before the escape. "Let us lock it down. We'll frisk everything, and again, not only do we frisk the whole facility but we do interviews on all the inmates," said Jeff Dumas, a former sergeant featured in the film.

Also featured is Steve Racette, a former superintendent at the facility. He recalls how the prison-wide lockdown was denied by Albany. "The only response I got was that Clinton was running well and they didn't see a need for a lockdown," he said.

Viewer will also hear from a plethora of key players who worked during the escape and manhunt, including Gene Palmer, the only correctional officer who served prison time as a result of the escape. Prosecutors say he bent prison rules and gave Sweat and Matt too much freedom, enabling them to carry out their scheme.

"There has to be respect, so that when I turn my back on him to address another inmate, that I don't get assaulted," Palmer says in the film.

The escape and 23-day manhunt that followed put the public on high alert. And because of that, the escape remains a sore subject for the community. "A very dark day, always will be," former NY Assemblywoman Janet Duprey recalls in the film.

Elson hopes his film can help paint the picture of what really happened and let community members hear a side they have not heard before. "I hope that they'll walk away with appreciation for the fact that at least the record's being set straight," he said.

'We Stand Corrected Dannemora' has a showing this weekend at the Strand Center of the Arts in Plattsburgh. It will be followed by a Q&A panel with Elson and some of the key players from the film.