Synopsis

When a legendary escape artist comes up for parole after more than 30 years behind bars, a chance for freedom must be weighed against his infamous past.

Mark DeFriest is an American prison legend, a notorious escape artist who has spent 30 years behind bars, with little light, hope or human contact. In 1981, despite doubts about Mark’s mental competency following a series of 13 attempted breakouts, seven of which were successful, the 19-year-old “Houdini of Florida” was sent to Florida State Prison – “the end of the line” as an ex-warden calls it. The original crime that sent him to prison: stealing tools that were willed to him by his father.

From his custom isolation cell above the electric chair, Mark persisted in creating ingenious methods of escape, both physical – master keys – and emotional – ingesting copious amounts of drugs. Every moment became a rebellious mission as his manic mind won day-to-day battles, but lost the war with officials. His endless number of disciplinary sanctions cost him any chance for parole.

Today, at 50, Mark’s life again hangs in the balance. 30 years after a Florida state psychiatrist, Dr. Berland, claimed in court that Mark was faking mental illness – paving the way for Mark’s long sentence – he steps forward to make a stunning admission: “I was wrong.” When Berland sets out to right that wrong, a parole case is born.

Improbably, Mark’s behavior changes for the better. He gains access to the outdoors, and a less restrictive cell. When Dr. Berland comes to visit – 30 years after his diagnosis doomed Mark – redemption for both men seems possible.

Asking how a low-level criminal can get stuck in prison for so long, the film becomes an exploration of the prison world as seen through the lens of the life, mind, and parole case of Mark DeFriest. The once-doomed prisoner begins to hope of a life on the outside, and for a moment freedom seems possible. As the Parole Commission finally takes up the case, they must weigh Mark DeFriest’s infamous reputation against new testimony in his favor, in deciding whether to give him another chance.

Credits

Found Object Films and Naked Edge Films Present “The Mind of Mark DeFriest”

  • Written, Directed and Produced by Gabriel London
  • Produced by Daniel J. Chalfen & Charlie Sadoff
  • Executive Producers: Peter Brusikiewicz, Jim Butterworth & David Menschel
  • Edited by Nick Clark