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Convicts around the Corner

Yisroel Besser, Dannemora

The shadow of high prison walls is a constant backdrop to this all-American rural town in northeastern New York, although the locals never gave much thought to their maximum-security neighbors. Until two convicted murderers made a Hollywood-style prison break, which turned their little town into a giant press conference and political powder keg.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

The prison was set up in 1844 with the idea of using the inmates as workers in the nearby mines. When the clean Adirondack air cured many tuberculosis patients of their ailments, sick inmates from various other prisons were sent to Clinton County, in New York’s northeastern corner. In time, it would become the largest maximum-security prison in the Empire State. “Everyone you see around this town either works at the prison or has a close family member who does,” saysBob. “It’s very much part of life. This town grew up around the prison.” There are close to 3,000 inmates at Dannemora — so there are jobs in health care, food services, education, and maintenance, along with over 1,000 correctional officers. That said, although the dominating shadow of the high prison walls is a constant backdrop to this otherwise idyllic rural American town, the locals don’t spend too much time contemplating the type of people just behind those walls — more than 90 percent of whom have been convicted of violent crimes. The average stay at the facility is 13 years, more than twice the state mean. “We know that these are scary fellows, and we don’t spend too much time thinking about their presence. It’s not like they come over the walls to do their shopping around town, like we see them in line at the bank.”

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