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Avanti Centrae on A Prison Escape and Inspiration

Avanti Centrae is the author of the Van Ops series and other thrillers. You can find out more about her on her website,, or by clicking here, see her last post here, and buy her books here.

1987. Glen Stewart Godwin is incarcerated inside Folsom State Prison. With the facility’s imposing granite walls and high guard towers, escape seems unlikely. 

But as I learned while researching my latest thriller, The Picasso Job, not only did Godwin escape, but he remains at large to this day. 

Folsom State Prison was built along the American River, not far from downtown Sacramento. Following the population growth of the Gold Rush, it opened in 1880. At that time, prisoners had no light in their cells, nor heat. Perhaps worse, no plumbing! Air holes weren’t added until 1940. The granite walls were completed in 1923. Before the fortifications were finished, numerous prisoners attempted to sneak past the tall towers.

One of the earliest recorded escapes was in 1920, while the walls were being built. Three prisoners hijacked a construction train and smashed it through the prison gate. It didn’t end well for them.

In 1932, an inmate named Carl Reese tried to escape by fashioning a diving suit out of a football bladder. He drowned in the powerhouse mill pond because he didn’t make his breathing tube long enough.

1937 brought a riot to the prison. The warden was killed and two inmates tried to take advantage of the melee by attempting escape. They were fatally shot.

Fast forward to the eighties. Godwin, a convicted murderer, managed to smuggle a hacksaw and other tools into the prison. He cut a hole in a fence and escaped through a storm drain that led to the American River. To aid his escape, either his wife or an accomplice painted arrows on rocks to guide him on his way. After crawling through the midnight-black storm drain for 750 feet, Godwin made it out of the prison grounds and into a waiting raft on the nearby river. Both an accomplice and Godwin’s wife were arrested in 1991 in Mexico, and Godwin was also apprehended. The fugitive later escaped from a prison in Guadalajara. To this day, he has a prime spot on the FBI’s most wanted list, making his Folsom Prison escape one of the most daring and successful in the facility’s history.

My thriller begins with an escape similar to Godwin’s. To fund their freedom, three fugitives embark on a kamikaze drive across country with a Picasso painting in their sights. As with my prior VanOps novels, and CLEOPATRA’S VENDETTA, this one has been a blast to research. Sign up for my newsletter on my website,, to be notified of its forthcoming release.

Avanti Centrae

You can find out more about her on her website,, or follow her on Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram.

This Post Has 22 Comments

  1. Laurie Buchanan
    Laurie Buchanan

    Avanti — It sounds like your next book’s going to be another winner!

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    Fascinating inspiration story. Throw in Picasso, and you’ve got me at page one!

  3. Sherrill Joseph
    Sherrill Joseph

    Avanti, isn’t it amazing what we learn when we research for our books? It shows us how everyone and everything has a unique story waiting to be told or adapted. Looking forward to your book!

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      Avanti Centrae

      Thanks Sherrill. Yes, so many great stories that need to be told!

  4. Christine DeSmet
    Christine DeSmet

    Thrilling stuff, Avanti! Love these escape stories. They are the stuff of movies. Good luck with the new novel! Sounds like another great adventure. Congratulations!

  5. Valerie Biel
    Valerie Biel

    So interesting!! We do not live too far from a minimum security correctional facility and a maximum security state prison . . . the signs on the roads near them warning not to pick up hitchhikers always make me laugh, even though it is good advice.

  6. John DeDakis
    John DeDakis

    Very cool. I’m forwarding the link to my friend, thriller writer James L’Etoile. He was a warden at Folsom.

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      Avanti Centrae

      Thanks John. I took James to lunch when I was outlining the novel 🙂 His experience of prison life has already colored the pages!

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    Margaret Mizushima

    Fascinating story, Avanti! What a great inspiration for your book! Can’t wait to read it!

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    Colleen Winter

    That research sounds like so much fun and with so much fodder for potential story lines. It must have been hard to choose what to include and what to (sadly) leave out. I’ll look forward to seeing what choices you made when I read it. Looking forward to it!

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      Avanti Centrae

      Hi Colleen, indeed, that’s tricky for all stories, but this one especially!

  9. carleneoneilmysteries

    Sounds like a great read, Avanti! Godwin sounds like a fascinating character, and to never be caught makes him more interesting. Looking forward to reading it!

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      Avanti Centrae

      Thanks for your note, Carlene. Yes, trippy he’s still out there!

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      Avanti Centrae

      Could very well be! I might make that a comp. I’ve been using HEAT meets THE FUGITIVE. Tough to choose!

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