In a prison interview with 60 Minutes Correspondent Ed Bradley, he talked about the breakout, his brief taste of freedom, and the obsession he says that drove him to escape.
Rivas, 30, a convicted kidnapper and robber, has admitted to shooting a police officer in a subsequent robbery. Rivas' cunning plans helped the gang elude authorities for nearly six weeks. Six of the seven were captured; one committed suicide rather than give up.
Rivas, who is being held at the Teller County Jail in Divide, Colorado, says that he decided that prison life was not for him. "There's a saying in the prison," he says. "It goes: 'I'm sick and tired of being sick and tired.' I got to that point. You know, I didn't want to die an old man in prison is what it comes down to. But take away hope from men, you give 'em an initiative and they are practically unstoppable."
Rivas spent only three weeks meticulously planning an escape that would outsmart the guards and employees of the Connolly Unit Penitentiary outside San Antonio. Rivas selected a team of inmates made up of his most trusted friends: murderers Michael Rodriguez and Joseph Garcia; sex offender Larry Harper; child abuser Randy Halprin; rapist Patrick Murphy, and robber Donald Newbury.
How do seven men walk away from a maximum security prison? Says Rivas: "We stuck together; we had what I call team integrity... The plan itself was pretty simple. Very simple, sir. And it worked."
Rivas put his escape plan into action shortly before noon on Dec.13 in the prison maintenance shop where they worked. Rivas and five other inmates skipped lunch and volunteered to wax the floors in the shop. And except for one maintenance worker who was fixing some tools, the inmates were basically left alone. During that time, they quickly started constructing a plywood cover that they would later hide under when they escaped in a prison pickup truck.
Rivas says that it was not unusual for prisoners to be left alone like this. He and the other inmates finished building the plywood cover, and waited for 20 minutes until the first of many corrections officers who work in and around the maintenance shop returned from lunch.
"We wrestled him to the ground," Rivas says. "I was the one talking to him trying to tell him, 'Look nothing's going to happen to you.' He kept asking 'What are you doing? Why are you doing this?' Essentially I told him the truth. I said 'I want to go home. I don't want to die here.' He was struggling a lot. He was the biggest of them. And someone, maybe over-zealously, hit him in the head. Struck him in the head."
Rivas and the others then took off his pants and shirt, bound the guard and put him in a utility room. Every time more guards came in, the inmates subdued them. By the end, 13 guards had come in.
After gaiing control of the maintenance shop, their next move was to take over the guard tower, an essential step toward freedom. Rivas, pretending to be a supervisor, called the tower and told the guard that a maintenance worker needed to come by to install new surveillance cameras. In the meantime, Rivas had changed into the clothing of one of the maintenance workers he had bound and gagged. Rivas began walking to the tower. He says that no one there asked for ID.
"I kept on walking, saying I was going there," Rivas says. "I had never seen that officer before. It was an older man. And, I looked around. There was a holster, with a revolver, sitting on the table. And I asked him about the revolver. I said 'Is that loaded?' He said, 'Yes, it is.' And I got the holster with the revolver. And I told him, listen, I don't want you to get hurt. Just cooperate and everything's gonna be all right."
Rivas tied up the guard with the belt from his pants. Then, some of the inmates hid under the plywood cover in the bed of the pickup, and the others, dressed as maintenance workers and corrections officers, drove to the gate that was not under the control of Rivas in the tower.
"One of the guys is now dressed as an officer and he does like a general check, like a little check around the vehicle, and the reason we were doing that is for anyone looking back there, would see everything's normal," Rivas says.
Rivas and two other inmates quickly grabbed fifteen rifles and handguns from the guard tower, ran downstairs, threw them into the pickup truck and jumped in. Rivas says they were nervous: "Very nervous. We have four hiding underneath. Three of us are up front." They drove right out of the gate.
Their first stop was a Wal Mart four miles away, where the escapees had one of their friends leave them a getaway car in the parking lot. They ditched the pickup and "The Texas Seven" then went on the run.
"We were all ecstatic," Rivas says of that moment. "Honestly. We knew there's a serious manhunt. But every day was precious to us. The freedom of, walking to the corner store, and buying a soda, and a newspaper. And the clerk saying "Good morning. How are you?" It was absolutely beautiful."
Find out what Rivas says about the murder he allegedly took part in while on the lam. Read Part II.
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