New York's Dannemora Prison Break Inspires YA Novel Exploring Race

Jun 5, 2018

Two men escaped from a maximum security prison in Dannemora, New York, three years ago. The Adirondack community was wracked by fear and uncertainy as the manhunt to find the two convicted murders lasted nearly a month.

But the incident also inspired author Kate Messner to write a young adult novel based on the frightening real-life event.

In her novel Breakout, the fictional town of Wolf Creek experiences a similar escape. Messner tells the story with snippets of text messages, news stories, letters, poems and comics.

Messner told Vermont Edition she also used the community conversation about what was happening at the prison to look critically at who's incarcerated there, who works there and the criminal justice system at the core of many of those discussions.

"[In] northern New York, these prisons are so much a part of the community and employ so much of the community. And it is interesting to look at the fact that we have a lot of mostly white communities whose economies are based on this prison system." — Kate Messner on her novel Breakout

"I especially wanted to include that in this story because sometimes I think in ... a lot of the smaller towns that are less diverse — in northern New York, in Vermont, in other parts of New England — we tend to have to face those issues less often," Messner said. 

She said she hopes her book can help spark more of those conversations.

"I feel like these are a lot of the conversations — uncomfortable ones sometimes — that a lot of us are having at our dinner tables these days. ... And I think quite often it is kids who can bring up those issues and get them talked about," Messner said.

Listen to the interview with Messner above. Broadcast on Tuesday, June 5, 2018 at noon; rebroadcast at 7 p.m.