The story of The Unbelievable Prison Break starts at Aomori, Japan, in 1936. Prisoner Yoshie Shiratori had had enough. He was forced to confess a murder he had not committed. He was imprisoned in Aomori Prison, beaten and tortured every night by prison guards, and prosecutors were seeking a death penalty.
He decided it was time to go, but Aomori Prison wasn’t the easiest to escape. Regardless, Shiratori had nothing to lose. And so one day at 5:30 am he made his move. He had studied the prison guards’ routine for months now and so knew there would be a 15-minute gap in the patrol time. When the coast was clear, he took out a metal wire (a metal support ring that is wrapped around the bathing buckets inmates used to take a bath), which he had stolen and started to pick the lock. The wintry cold made his hands stiff.
But after a few mins of picking, he had success, and his cell door swung open. But he wasn’t out of the woods because there were more locked doors ahead. He knew he only had a few minutes left before the guards returned and so he wasted no time in picking his way out through the remaining security doors. Now he was able to make it out of the facility, but then he was only halfway to freedom.
He was still within the search perimeter, which meant that any moment the alarm could go off, and he’d be caught. At 5:45 am, the guards returned peering into his cell, and they saw him sleeping sound. How? Shiratori designed a pile of loose floorboards underneath his duvet to trick the guards. The next morning they finally discovered that they were fooled, and the alarm was sounded, but by then, Shiratori was long gone.
Now he had escaped, but things are not always as they seem. For Shiratori, this was only the beginning. Three days later, he tried stealing supplies from a hospital and was caught, and just like that, he was back in the dungeon. But this time, because of his escape attempt, he was sentenced to life imprisonment. He felt he would never be with his family, his wife, and his daughter, and all the months of planning led to only three days of freedom, and now he was locked up for a very long time.
Six years later, in 1942 in amidst the 2nd World War, Shiratori was transferred to Akita Prison in Akita city. There the treatment was even worse than in Aomori. The guards had heard about his previous escape and were determined to make an example out of him. They wanted to make sure he never escaped in the future.
So along with the usual beatings, he was forced to partake in extreme manual labor made to sleep on a hot concrete floor in severe winter cold and placed into solitary confinement for extended periods. Now, this was a specially made confinement which was very small and had a very high ceiling. The walls were covered with copper sheets so smooth that it was impossible to grip. Besides, there was almost no sunlight even in the daytime as the only window light came from a small sealed skylight high above. This was a room specially designed to keep him from escaping.
Along with that, the guards made sure that Shiratori was handcuffed at all times.
Despite the constant abuse, the head guard Kobayashi never laid a finger and also seemed to be concerned for his well being. This made life a bit more bearable for Shiratori. On the stormy night of June 15th, Shiratori was in his solitary confinement. At around midnight, a guard gazed into his cell, and couldn’t believe his eyes. He opened the cell door and looked around in astonishment as Shiratori had vanished into thin air. All that was left was his handcuffs. So how did he do it?
Handcuffs simply didn’t work on Shiratori. He was a master of getting out of handcuffs. From the many methods he could have used, he decided to go with the lock picking method. He thoroughly scanned his surroundings to find anything that he could use in an escape. And he was able to find a loose bit of wire. Maybe it was from one of the items Kobayashi brought in for him.
After freeing himself from the cuffs, he started climbing the unclimbable wall made of copper sheets. It turned out Shiratori was an expert climber as well. After he reached the skyline above, he noticed that the window was sealed, and the wooden frame around it was starting to rot, and thus after that, every night, when the guards weren’t looking, he climbed the walls and started loosening the framing bit by bit.
Later, he’d climb back down and place the handcuffs back on as not to arouse any suspicion. After a few months, the window finally came loose. Now it was just about choosing the right day. He particularly waited for a stormy night so the guards wouldn’t hear the footsteps on the roof. He escaped from prison again. This time he wasn’t caught the way you’d expect.
After three months, on September 18th, the head guard Kobayashi was at home when he heard a knock on the door. To his surprise, it was the fugitive Shiratori, unkempt and disheveled. What was he doing there?