The story of a real prison break

Xie Wanli on a wanted poster

At 10 pm on 12 March, Xie Wanli escaped from Baoding Prison in Hebei. He was recaptured following a six-day province-wide manhunt.

Xie was sentenced to 18 years in prison following his conviction for kidnapping a 20-year-old girl and holding her for ransom in 2005. He had served two-and-a-half years of that before his jailbreak, which will probably add another five years to his sentence.

Southern Weekly visited Xie's family in an attempt to understand why he had turned to a life of crime, and what may have caused him to break out of prison. Although the report contains little that's surprising, it's a brief but interesting look into the life of a convicted kidnapper.

Who is Xie Wanli?

by Meng Dengke / SW


At 11:03 pm on 17 March, Xie Wanli gave his brother Xie Wanchun a telephone call. This was the first time he had contacted his family since breaking out of jail five days before.

Right then, Xie Wanli was in the Langfang Economic Development Zone, 150 km away from the Baoding Prison. A taxi driver told a Southern Weekly reporter that Xie had gotten into his cab in downtown Langfang that evening and had ridden all over the place, using the driver's cell phone to call up his friends to ask for money.

After Xie escaped from prison on the night of 12 March, the PSB spread out across Baoding in a B-level manhunt. Since the incident had occurred during the national legislative sessions, PSB chief Meng Jianzhu had given instructions that it was imperative that Xie Wanli be apprehended, so police forces across the entire province of Hebei had added pressure.

Police checkpoints were set up and the public was mobilized to assist in the search. The reward was upped from 100,000 to 150,000 yuan.

The local television stations ran a constant crawl giving Xie's physical description and warning the public to be on the lookout. The affair was a major topic of conversation for anxious Baoding residents.

Xie wore a jacket over his prison uniform and did not behave at all oddly, so the young taxi driver did not recognize him as the escaped convict who was being pursued all over Hebei.

They drove through the economic development zone for over one hour, and during that time it seemed like no one was willing to lend Xie money. Shot down at every turn, Xie finally gave an imploring phone call to his older brother. According to the taxi driver, Xie had previously called a friend asking for help but had been refused.

"Before long, someone came to get him and paid the 90-yuan taxi fee," the driver said.

That phone call revealed Xie's location.

Xie and his family were unaware that ever since he had escaped from prison, the police were listening closely to the phone calls of all his friends and family.

Xie Wanchun was a truck driver who made frequent trips to Zhangjiakou, so when the police had determined the whereabouts of the two brothers, they organized a checkpoint on the Jingzhang Expressway near Zhangjiakou.

Seven hours later, the police stopped a truck Xie Wanchun was driving (Hebei plate number R23313) on the Shalingzi section of the Jingzhang Expressway.

The news of Xie Wanli's capture rippled through Baoding, but residents near the prison still felt some of that fright that had seized them the night the breakout had taken place.

Xie's escape route

According to the information in the PSB computer system, Xie Wanli was in block 7 of the Baoding Prison that night. During the night production shift, he exited the workroom, turned on the 8-ton hoist (with a front-mounted shovel), and drove it about 1,000 meters to the gate. He crashed through, wrecking the blast doors and entry corridors A and B before pulling down the iron perimeter fence. After driving roughly 1 km to the east, he turned south along Dongyuan Street toward the military school grounds, fleeing the vehicle after he smashed up four cars parked at the side of the road. People's Armed Police and prison police chased him without success.

Financial difficulties

Langfang is the city that Xie Wanli is most familiar with, and it was fated to be his "land of sorrow."

It was in Langfang that Xie fell just short of success followig his jailbreak, and was here, two years before, that he started his tour in prison.

Between the 7th and 15th of August, 2005, in the short space of a week, Xie and his companions committed three crimes: burglaries near the Langfang #3 Middle School and in Shengfangzhen, and a kidnapping and extortion attempt in the dormitory of the Langfang Forestry Department.

Those serious crimes bought him 18 months in prison.

However, his mother Ma Yuefen, clutching seal reading "2001 Voluntary Blood Donor" issued by the Tongzhou Blood Donation Office, said that her son was "not really a bad person."

In June, 2001, half a year after he was discharged from the army, Xie donated 200 ml of blood in Tongzhou, and his mother has kept the certificate ever since. The market value of 200 ml of blood is 1,000 yuan.

Four years later, however, the haul from Xie's first theft was a Samsung mobile phone valued at 1,068 yuan, and that amount had to be split among four people.

Xie was born 28 years ago to a family of real farmers living in Banjiehe Village in Bieguzhuang, Yongqing County, Longfang. The peaceful life of this ordinary rural family was repeatedly torn apart. Before dawn on 13 March, five or six police arrived at the house. When Ma Yuefen heard "your second son has broken out of prison," she sat down limply on the bed.

Xie Wanchun, her eldest son, was with her every day, but Ma's memories of Xie Wanli were not as plentiful.

Ma opened a convenience store when Xie Wanli was young, and he would hide under the counter waving at his mother when customers came in. This was the most vivid memory she had of him.

Xie had few friends. Because their family was poor, and Xie himself was proud, he never invited classmates or friends over to his house for dinner.

Although he was introverted and seldom spoke, Xie "had a strong personality and his own aspirations." When he had just started primary school, he stole a knife from his older brother and lied about it, and Ma struck him with a washboard for it.

Studies didn't interest him. Before he graduated from junior high school, he dropped out and returned home. In December, 1998, Xie joined an army unit in Shihezi, Xinjiang, where his sharp wits got him a position as team captain and a leader of new recruits. After his discharge two years later, he brought home a medal reading "Outstanding Soldier."

Xie gradually discovered that the farming life was not for him, and under the influence of his uncle, "his high standards were not matched by his actions, and he was loath to do any work."

His family told the reporter that around the year 2003, Xie got a driver's license and went to Langfang to find work, but he was hit hard in the job market by his lack of a junior-high diploma.

A long time later, he found a job as a driver from a newspaper classified ad. Before long he had found a girlfriend, and he found his 700-yuan monthly salary an impediment.

In the second half of 2004, Xie and his girlfriend registered to get married, but because Yongqing County was infamous as a poor area, her family opposed the union. Xie could not afford to throw a reception, so according to local custom, their wedding had not taken place.

The couple rented an apartment in Langfang using the family's money, but Xie's family members were entirely clueless as to what he was doing in the city or how his life was going. He rarely spoke of things to his family.

He once joked that his "detective" mother had no idea what her son was doing in Langfang, and to this day this simple country woman has been unable to work out why her son took to theft.

"Financial difficulty was the only motivation behind his crimes," Xie's laywer, Zhou Kewei, told this reporter. Another reason was that he "fell in with bad people"; Zhou said that in the 2005 kidnapping case, Xie's partner Li Guobin was a repeat offender.

Shortly before that incident, Xie had told his uncle that he wanted to open a carwash in Langfang. It was not to be. This youth who had long wanted to change his destiny ultimately chose the road of theft and kidnapping.

Brotherly tragedy

Before Ma Yuefen had time to work out why her son had turned to crime, the nightmare of the prison break occurred.

"Xie Wanli did not dispute the facts of his crimes," said Zhou Kewei. "He just felt that the punishment was too strong." Though disappointed, Xie never exhibited much emotion. Ma never heard anything about her son behaving badly in prison.

After Xie went to prison, his father Xie Shaoqin nearly lost his life in a gas leak accident, and was brain damaged thereafter. For this rural household, which had little furniture or electronics, life became even more difficult, and all the responsibility fell on the shoulders of Xie Wanchun.

Baoding Prison

In the more than two years that Xie Wanli was in prison, his mother visited him twice. Each time, she had to pay 1,000 yuan, "about the annual income of a mu of land [1/15 of a hectare, or 1/6 of an acre]."

"We both cried each time, and he said that he had let me down," Ma said. "He said he would turn over a new leaf and try to get out early."

Just after he entered, Xie worked on the lathe, but later his nimble mind got him a job at the controls. He told his mother that it was "really interesting."

Xie had no contact with his family apart from those visits. During the two and a half years he was in prison, he never sent a letter home.

The explanation circulating inside the prison says that "Xie Wanli broke out because of the shock of his divorce."

At the end of 2007, Xie and his wife got divorced, but his family said "Xie was the one who suggested it": "He didn't want to waste her time." Xie's ex-wife declined to talk to the reporter.

The last time Xie saw his family was this past Spring Festival. "He looked perfectly normal, and he asked us if we'd bring along his nephew, who wasn't present, to see him next time," his sister-in-law said.

But just two months later, Xie Wanli surprised everyone by breaking out of prison.

No one knows the real reason Xie broke out of prison; perhaps only he himself is able to answer that question.

Xie may not have thought about the consequences of his jailbreak. His older brother Xie Wanchun, the family's only means of support, may also face legal consequences for aiding and abetting. And Xie himself may have his jail time extended by five years, as the law prescribes for escaped convicts.

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There are currently 2 Comments for The story of a real prison break.

Comments on The story of a real prison break

Xie Wanchun or Xie Wanli?

Acording to the post arcticle, it should be Xie Wanli who escaped from prison.

Yes, of course. Thanks.

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