A former prison worker who helped two inmates escape is angry with director Ben Stiller about her portrayal in his Showtime series, Escape At Dannemora, which details the strange story.
Joyce “Tillie” Mitchell, 54, whom the tabloids nicknamed the “Shawskank,” was convicted of helping killers David Sweat and Richard Matt escape from the Dannemora Correctional Institute. Mitchell was allegedly romantically involved with both.
The two sawed their way through the walls of the prison with hacksaw blades purchased by Mitchell and smuggled into the prison. Their attempted escape ended with one inmate shot dead and the other recaptured.
She later claimed she did it because she feared the two, not – as prosecutors allege – because she was in love with them.
Mitchell is now serving a seven-year sentence for her role in the 2015 prison break, which resulted in a 23-day, $20 million manhunt involving 1,500 law enforcement officers. She pleaded guilty to promoting prison contraband and facilitating criminal activity. She is eligible for early release in June 2019; if she serves her maximum sentence, she’ll be out in June 2022.
She gave her first interview to the New York Post since the Showtime series began airing in November.
“I never had sex with them,” she said. “Ben Stiller is a son-of-a-bitch liar, just like the rest of the world. He doesn’t care about the truth. All he cares about is making millions off me. He’s an idiot.”
Mitchell said she didn’t accept visitors whose names she didn’t recognize, but allowed the Post reporter in because she was curious about her Showtime portrayal.
“I wish I could take it all back. If I had to do it over, I would have told somebody,” she said of her role in the escape. “At that point, I had to do it. I was stupid. They took advantage of my kindness.”
Patricia Arquette plays Mitchell in the series. Arquette didn’t visit her in prison for research, which remains a sore point for Mitchell. “The truth doesn’t sell,” Mitchell said. “Everyone thinks I’m just a whore who wanted it.”
The Showtime series portrays exactly that, depicting Mitchell as a lovelorn, middle aged woman who had regular sex with the two inmates in a storeroom of the prison sewing shop. The inmates in the Showtime series are played by Benicio Del Toro and Paul Dano.
Mitchell told investigators she was “caught up in the fantasy” of helping the escapees and creating another life. She now claims she doesn’t remember saying that.
Although she is mad at her portrayal, Mitchell hasn’t seen the show. Her details come from the guards at the Bedford Hills prison and husband, Lyle, a frequent visitor. “He comes to visit me every two weeks. He will be here on Christmas Day,” she said.
Mitchell said she hasn’t had any contact with her fellow escapee Sweat, who is serving a life sentence at Five Points prison in Romulus, NY.
She’s also planning a book: “Then the truth will come out.”