It was never enough to say: "I'm innocent." No one believes that. If they did, it might occur to them that, "Hey, this could have happened to me."

When you walk into the courtroom under arrest and picK a jury, despite the presumption of innocence, it is human nature for the 12 people sitting in Judgment to think you must have done something for the police and legal system to bring you before them in the first place. So essentially it becomes a matter of proving yourself innocent, instead of being proved guilty.

This obviously was not the intent of Juris Prudence. The intent was based on fairness, in a deliberate balance of emotions, to establish guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. Facts, eyewitness testimony, physical evidence, motive, opportunity, and intent all factor into the equation.

When an innocent person is convicted (as has been established as true over the past several years, thanks in large measure to DNA and computer imagery to reconstruct a crime scene), the innocent person has been ordered a new trial or acquitted completely. Prior to that event, an innocent person might tell everyone that they were wrongly convicted, only to hear: "Sure you are. Everyone in this prison is innocent." Or, if no words are spoken, there is the surreptitious rolling of the eyes.

After a short period, one does not claim innocence any longer. One pursues in writing instead — appeals through the courts. Then when the courts refuse to hear reason in the face of a case such as mine (that had no eyewitnesses, fingerprints, DNA, or direct evidence of any kind), what is a man to do? There are two things only: 1) Resignation to a bitter fate and a life in a cage, or 2) You try to escape.

I was in the hole in the old Concord prison in 1981 when my mother died. I was not allowed to attend the funeral nor say a final goodbye at the funeral home. I sat in a cell with a 40-watt light bulb, wrote her a letter, then with private and reverent ceremony, burned the letter.

There was a prisoner on the tier with me who had been returned from a minimum security prison for smoking weed. He told me that some minimum prisons allowed lifers there on a cadre status: you are eligible to go there if you have a certain skill to contribute to the operation of the place. He further told me that Bay State minimum would need a baker in less than two years, as the guy already in that slot was due for a parole.

I sent away for every book I could find on baking, and I began to pore over each volume as though cramming for a college final exam. I made a hundred 3x5 cards with recipes that were augmented to feed 800 people instead of 4 to 6. I made a list of pies, cakes, pastries, and breads to test myself, and memorized each and every formula.

When I got out of the hole, I went over to the prison bakery and spoke to a guard by the name of Thomas. I told him I was from New Jersey, and perhaps he had heard of my family there, who owned and operated a string of bakeries? He tested me by asking me to make a small batch of Flaky Puff Pastries, which by luck and study alone I was able to do — with delicious results. He hired me on the spot.

I worked like a sled dog 7 days a week in the bakery. I made breads and cakes mostly, but on Sundays I experimented with many other desserts, which I fed to all the people on the kitchen staff.

When the slot at Bay State minimum opened for a baker, I got some acclaimed recommendations from people at Concord. On May 17th, 1983, ironically the day I had served exactly ten years in prison, I was transferred to Bay State.

I baked my ass off! The entire time I plotted and planned, secretly putting together some ID and money. It was a scary proposition to me. I was compounding my sentence if I escaped, and if no one dared to believe me before, they sure as hell would not believe me after.

Two months later, in July, I escaped. 93 days after that, when the FBI captured me in Carson City, Nevada, they asked me how I managed to escape from Massachusetts. My reply: "I baked my way out."

Joe Labriola
December 15, 2006

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