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Former Prison Officials Kept Close Eye On Berget

April 12, 2011, 9:55 PM by Ben Dunsmoor

Former Prison Officials Kept Close Eye On Berget
SIOUX FALLS, SD - Rodney Berget and Eric Robert are being held in the Minnehaha County Jail  while the Attorney General's Office considers charges against them.

Berget was serving two life sentences for attempted murder and kidnapping, while Robert was serving 80 years for kidnapping.

This isn't the first time that Berget has tried to escape. He has actually tried to break out of the South Dakota Penitentiary six times, and was involved in what's considered the greatest prison escape in South Dakota history.

Berget was one of six inmates who escaped on Memorial Day in 1987.  He was on the run for a month and a half before authorities caught up with him in Kansas.

A former major at the state penitentiary says officers always had their eyes on him.

"He was one of the people who were on the list that was under close supervision," former prison major Bill Severson said.

Berget's latest attempt failed, but when he escaped in 1987,  Severson was in charge of security. 

"He was always one that we watched as he was wheeling and dealing and doing other stuff," Severson said.

Severson worked at the penitentiary for more than three decades and knows how dangerous it can be. He says he had staff members who were stabbed when he worked there, but no one ever died. 

"My heart stops almost because I know that it can happen. Luckily I had 34 and a half years in and it never happened," Severson said.

But, Severson says the most dangerous thing about working behind prison walls is people like Berget, who are serving life and know they'll never get out. 

"They've got nothing to lose, got nothing to lose. If he escapes, fine. If he doesn't, so what? What are you going to do lock him in jail?" Severson said.

And that's why prison workers are always watching out for each other when they're on the job. 

"Just a fraction of a second and that's all it takes," Severson said.

Severson says while inmates couldn't have weapons, sometimes the most dangerous weapon they had when he was working was a tooth brush that they would whittle down on the concrete floor.

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