Case of Florida's 'Prison Houdini' goes before state's parole board

Mark DeFriest tried to escape jail 13 times


TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – He's known as Florida's "Prison Houdini" after escaping seven times. Mark DeFriest is one of the most unique prisoners in Florida history, and his case was before the state's parole board Wednesday.

DeFriest was only supposed to be locked up for four years, convicted of stealing tools his father willed to him. That was in 1980, and 36 years later, DeFriest is still behind bars.

It's because DeFriest became known as the "Prison Houdini" during that time. He tried to escape jail 13 times, succeeding about half the time.

The Florida Commission on Offender Review voted to reduce his sentence in December 2014 for good behavior. But DeFriest, who is now in an Oregon prison, has been acting out the past year.

"He continues to be a consistent risk to not only himself, but to the communities which he has gone through," commissioner Richard Davison said.

Filmmaker Gabe London, who documented DeFriest's story, said he's not getting proper treatment for mental illness.

"We're seeing somebody who is very old, you know, who has really tried to obey the system and to get along with the system up to a point, right? And then had a collapse when the system didn't follow though on the re-entry programs and the treatment he expected," London said.

The commission agreed that DeFriest needed rehabilitation.

"I do not think that society would be best letting Mark DeFriest come out of prison without the benefit of any mental health treatment," chairman Melinda Coonrod.

People on "Houdini's" side are worried that if action isn't taken soon, his chances of treatment will disappear.

The proposal is to move DeFriest to a facility in California. It's something the commission seemed to agree on if California will take the former escape artist.

DeFriest was originally set to be released in 2085 before the commission reduced his sentence. They're set to vote on what happens to DeFriest next Thursday morning.