Did Patricia Arquette’s ‘Escape at Dannemora’ Character Really Serve Jail Time?

Patricia Arquette as Tilly Mitchell in ‘Escape at Dannemora’ | Chris Saunders/Showtime

Showtime’s Escape at Dannemora starred Benicio Del Toro, Patricia Arquette, and Paul Dano. The limited series ran for seven episodes late in 2018 and wrapped up just before the new year. During that run, viewers got a look at the true-crime story of a daring prison break by a pair of inmates and the Clinton Correctional Facility employee who helped them escape.

So how much of the show really happened? It turns out that plenty from Escape at Dannemora — from the inmates’ crimes to their affinity for painting and other details —  actually occurred the same way in real-life.

But as with every “based on a true story” production, Escape had to break with fact every now and then to work as a television production. (One example: The tunnel scenes were filmed at a prison in Pittsburgh, not at Clinton Correctional in Dannemora, New York.)

As for the arrest, guilty plea, sentencing, and jailing of Tilly Mitchell (played by Arquette), that part of the story was faithful to real events as well. When viewers find Tilly in prison at the show’s end, it’s exactly where you’d find her today.

Tilly Mitchell is serving a sentence of 2.5-7 years outside NYC.

In Mitchell’s case, justice was swift. Richard Matt and David Sweat broke out of prison in June 2015. By late September, a New York judge sentenced her following her guilty plea for first-degree charges of promoting prison contraband.

At the time, the judge gave Mitchell two-and-a-half-to-seven years for that felony and a “criminal facilitation” misdemeanor. She began serving her time at Bedford Hills Correctional Facility, which sits 35 miles northeast of New York City.

If you followed the case or watched the Showtime series, you realize it could have been much worse for her. Multiple counts of sexual contact with prisoners (classified as rape) could have yielded a sentence of more than 10 years in addition to the time Mitchell got.

Then there was the conspiracy to murder her husband, Lyle. Though prosecutors would have had a hard time making it stick, such a crime would have kept Mitchell away a long time. Her plea deal protected her from these more serious charges.

So far, the real-life Mitchell is on track to serve the full sentence the judge gave her in 2015.

New York’s Parole Board denied Mitchell’s 2 requests for release.

Viewers find Tilly (Patricia Arquette) in jail at the close of Showtime’s ‘Escape at Dannemora.’ | Christopher Saunders/Showtime

After starting her sentence in late 2015, Mitchell had two chances for parole. In early 2017, a New York State Parole Board denied her request for early release despite a record of good behavior. “Your release would be incompatible with the welfare of society,” a member of the board told her.

Later in 2017, Mitchell got another shot with the parole board. The result was the same (i.e., denial). So far, Mitchell has served about three-and-a-half years. By the time she get her next parole hearing (June 2019), she will have served nearly four years in prison.

Gene Palmer, the prison guard and inmate-art groupie played by David Morse, also pleaded guilty to multiple crimes. In Palmer’s case, the felony charges were less serious, so he only received a sentence of six months. Palmer’s parole hearing went much better. Four months into his prison term (July 2016), he was released.

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