Blind and a prisoner in his own home, he escaped when a guard had a moment of inattention, feeling for obstacles and scrambling over walls, breaking his foot and crawling away covered in blood to find help.
This Hollywood-style escapade is the true-life story of activist Chen Guangcheng, who after seven brutal years of jail and house arrest fled his village in eastern China in 2012 to take refuge in the US embassy before flying to start a new life in New York.
More than three years on, the man whose self-taught knowledge of law helped expose forced abortions in China says the painful memories of his treatment at the hands of the authorities still remain, particularly for his children.
"They have very severe after-effects, mainly fear," said Chen, in Paris for the launch of his autobiography.
"Sometimes when we're walking in the street, they could run ahead without a problem, but they don't. When I ask them why, they tell me it's because they're scared that there will be bad people.
The children, he said, had witnessed him and his wife Chen being beaten up "many times".
"That can only have traumatised them," he told AFP, wearing his trademark black glasses.
The 43-year-old, his wife and two children -- who are 10 and 12 -- now live in Washington DC, where Chen continues to defend human rights.
Their new life is a far cry from what they endured for years in Dongshigu, a village in the eastern Chinese province of Shandong where Chen grew up.
The youngest of five brothers, he lost his sight when he was just five months old due to a mystery illness.
Unable to attend school, he would often sit outside the rural classroom listening to the lessons.
Aged 18, he discovered the existence of a school for blind people in a city in Shandong, and finally started studying with the help of his family.
Chen became increasingly interested in law, and villagers started coming to him for legal advice on how to address perceived injustices.
He took on thorny issues like pollution, discrimination and corruption, and in 2005 he exposed the forced abortions and sterilisations of women who flouted China's strict one-child policy, angering authorities so much that he was eventually jailed for over four years.
After his release in 2010, he was placed under house arrest and deprived of contact with the outside world. Guards were stationed around his small village and in the courtyard of his home.
Activists and journalists who tried to visit him were roughed up or harassed and barred from gaining access to the village -- among them Hollywood actor Christian Bale, who famously tried to travel there in 2011.