ALBANY, N.Y. _ Two decades before Richard Matt and David Sweat captivated the nation with their 2015 escape from Dannemora prison and eluded a massive manhunt for weeks in the Adirondacks, a different inmate caused headaches and headlines at Clinton Correctional Facility.
Inmate No. 95A1140 was disciplined and placed in solitary confinement for hiding marijuana in his cell, spewing profanities at correction officers and getting into scuffles after being hassled for autographs.
He was Tupac Shakur. And he brought his outlaw rap persona to Dannemora during eight months of incarceration at the prison in 1995. He did time after he was convicted of sexual assault of a 19-year-old woman in a New York City hotel room.
His fame made him a target among inmates and caused consternation for correction officers.
"Inmate Shakur is well known Rap Singer," a prison official wrote in June 1995. "He is a very high profile inmate and in light of such is victim prone. He is being approached for autographs, and has become the focus of undue attention. His fame and background could possibly make him a likely target for extortion."
The comments were written on an involuntary protective custody review form. Shakur had been placed in a segregated part of the prison. It was for his own protection, ostensibly, but also to prevent him from becoming a rap anti-hero who might stir up trouble among inmates who listened to his chart-topping hits that celebrated crime, gun violence and disrespect for the law.
Nearly 300 pages of prison records, handwritten comments from the inmate and legal correspondence from multiple lawyers were preserved from Shakur's stint at Dannemora 20 years ago. The Shakur file offers a window onto a little-studied period in the life of the slain Rock & Roll Hall of Fame rap star known as 2Pac. His unsolved homicide in 1996 - he was killed in a drive-by shooting in Las Vegas _ transformed him into a 25-year-old hip-hop martyr and rap icon that spawned conspiracy theories about that era's East Coast versus West Coast rap feud.
Seven records released posthumously continue to sell well, and there is a strong market for Shakur memorabilia. His prison identification card and photo sold for $10,800 at auction in 2018. A breakup letter he wrote to his girlfriend, pop star Madonna, from Dannemora sold for more than $100,000 at auction last year _ after she lost a legal battle to prevent its sale.
The portrait of Shakur that emerges from the shards of archival material is of a brooding, intense man who spent his time in solitary confinement writing letters and songs, reading books and listening to music. His prison mug shot listed him as 5-foot-11 and 154 pounds. His head is shaved and his smooth face is almost boyish with its soft features. He was not allowed to wear a 'do rag, knotted on the front of his head, which had become his signature style. In prison confrontations, he did not back down from guards, whom he complained were verbally and physically abusive. He lamented the vast number of young black men stuck behind bars. He wrote a poignant four-page essay titled, "Is Thug Life Dead?" He grappled with issues of race.
In his breakup letter to Madonna, dated Jan. 15, 1995, and mailed from Dannemora, he wrote this: "For you to be seen with a black man wouldn't in any way jeopardize your career, if anything it would make you seem that much more open and exciting. But for me at least in my previous perception I felt due to my 'image' I would be letting down half of the people who made me what I thought I was."
Three months later, in a brief wedding ceremony at Dannemora, inmate Shakur married 22-year-old Keisha Morris, a Bronx-born, African-American woman he met in a New York City nightclub. The marriage was later annulled.
Shakur's prison file was preserved on the judgment of state archivists. After a 15-year mandatory hold following Shakur's death in 1996, the documents were transferred to the New York state Archives in 2011. They are among more than 30,000 inmate files dating back many decades, even centuries. All inmate files were sent to the state Archives until 1957, when the sheer volume threatened to overwhelm the space and staff. After 1957, only about 500 inmate files out of more than 20,000 available annually fit the criteria and are transported to Albany.
"We make subjective decisions and save the files of people convicted of major crimes, notorious cases, famous individuals and all women prisoners until they became too numerous after the 1960s," said state archivist Thomas Ruller. "The numbers got too massive and the files became too big to preserve them all."
Before prisoner files are released to researchers and the public, they are fully vetted by an archivist, who redacts names of correction officers and removes material deemed too personal, such as confidential medical records protected by privacy laws.
The subtext of the file of Inmate No. 95A1140 was that prison officials had good reason to be concerned about Shakur. He entered Dannemora as a charismatic 24-year-old, Harlem-born hip-hop artist who raised a fist against the oppression of young black men after being reared on radical beliefs. His mother, Alice Faye Williams, was a leader of the Black Panther Party. She was incarcerated when she was pregnant and was later acquitted of bombing charges. Shortly after she was released, her son was born and she named him Lesane Parish Crooks. She took the name Afeni Shakur Davis and renamed him Tupac Amaru Shakur (after Peruvian revolutionary Tupac Amaru II) when he was a year old. His stepfather, Mutulu Shakur, was sentenced to 60 years in prison for his involvement in a 1981 armed robbery of $2 million from a Brinks armored truck and the killing of three security guards.
By the time he was confined at Dannemora, Tupac Shakur was a movie star, had sold millions of albums, was dating Madonna, had whipped arena crowds into a frenzy with his group Thug Life and was one of the hottest performers in America. His multi-platinum album "Me Against The World" was released in 1995 and it rose to No. 1 on the Billboard charts while Shakur was in Dannemora. He also bore bullet scars from being shot Nov. 30, 1994, at Quad Recording Studio in Times Square. He and his mother, a single parent, struggled with homelessness and moved frequently. Things were complicated by her crack addiction.
He wrote powerful poetry that became inner-city anthems of anarchy, rousing oppressed and dispossessed young black men to gun violence, such as his 1993 song, "Holler if Ya' Hear Me." It contained these lyrics:
"From block to block we snatchin' hearts and jackin' marks
And the punk police can't fade me, and maybe
We can have peace someday G
But right now I got my mind set up
Lookin' down the barrel of my nine, get up
...How long will it last 'til the po' getting mo' cash
Until then, raise up!
Tell my young black males, blaze up!
...Pump ya fists like this
Holla if ya hear me, pump! Pump! If you're pissed."
Imagine correction officers trying to keep order within a cellblock of convicted felons in maximum-security Dannemora shouting the lyrics to Shakur's "Holler if Ya' Hear Me" and pumping their fists at guards, simulating shotguns.
As a precaution, Shakur was kept away from the mainstream inmate population. He had frequent visits from Morris, his girlfriend, who brought him cartons of Newport cigarettes, notebooks for writing poetry and a cheap Radio Shack cassette tape player so he could listen to music in his cell. Every visit was documented.
In surprise wedding nuptials, Morris married Shakur a few months after he broke up with Madonna. The couple exchanged vows in the North Visiting Room at 1 p.m. on Saturday, April 29, 1995. Ruth Snyder officiated and Pauline Elder, a friend, and Billy Lassine, a cousin, were witnesses.
Most of Shakur's prison file underscores quotidian details of prison life: a request to go to the infirmary to treat a sore throat, a request to take a GED test and a request for more notebooks and pens.
He wrote a formal complaint on March 10, 1995, about the conditions of his solitary confinement. "I also want to respectfully request linen for I have none and the reason I am locked in for 24 hours a day. I believe this to be in violation of my rights."
He also wrote allegations of verbal and physical abuse by guards, but they were not corroborated and were not acted upon.
He was released from Dannemora on Oct. 12, 1995, while awaiting appeal on his case after record producer Suge Knight paid $1.4 million bail in exchange for Shakur making records for Knight's Death Row Records.
Shakur was killed in 1996, at age 25, in a drive-by shooting while riding in a BMW in Las Vegas following a Mike Tyson boxing match.
Shakur is one of the best-selling hip-hop artists of all time and has sold more than 75 million records worldwide. There have been numerous books, documentaries and movies exploring his brief, turbulent life and unsolved murder.
"Tupac Shakur happens to be a prominent person, but there are many other people in our 30,000-inmate case files who are largely forgotten," Ruller said. "These files might be the only record that remains of some of these people. It keeps their stories preserved so they might one day be told. It's why we do what we do."
This story originally appeared in the New York Times.