A notorious outlaw in the far-flung future of 1997, depending on his mood at the time he either goes by "Snake" or "Plissken."
Snake Plissken's name is never fully given. "Snake" has been established as being a nickname by John Carpenter and the people in the movies themselves. Snake's initials are S.D. and in Escape from New York, Bob Hauk calls him "S. D: Bob Plissken", It is not mentioned anywhere else, though.
Snake Plissken was born around 1967, went to grade school in 1974 and went to college in 1986. In the novelization of "Escape from New York" he is called a "Hot Shot College Boy". A year after Plissken has started his college education, the war breaks out between America and Russia. From small skirmishes in the Middle East, it quickly evolves into a series of massive gas attacks on the United States. New York City was among the first to be hit by the gas that turns people into insane, cannibalistic creatures with near-human intelligence but heightened urges. After New York has been deemed uninhabitable in 1988, the "Gas Crazies", or "Crazies" for short, are all locked up in the newly established maximum security prison of New York. While this is going on, the crime rate in the United States quadruples, mostly due to gas shortage.
In 1988, Plissken joins the army as a Lieutenant. Around this time, he gets the tattoo on his belly and the nickname "Snake". He also turns 21 years old. A year later, the United States forms the paramilitary United States Police Force to handle the Crazies and the criminals in the country. Far away from his homeland, Snake Plissken is turning out to be one of the best glider pilots the US army has ever seen. He is labelled the "Best on the Russian Front" and becomes a famous war hero and a role model for those who have remained home. Unbeknownst to Snake, his parents get taken hostage by Gas Crazies in 1990. Instead of negotiating for their freedom, the United States Police Force move into the house with flamethrowers and murder everyone inside. Snake is not told due to "Military security".
In the later months of 1990, Snake is being ordered to partake in the "Leningrad Ruse" as part of the Black Light Squadron. This is a suicide mission, but Snake is not aware of this. During the battle, Plissken's left goggle on his gas mask cracks and gas seeps in, damaging his eye beyond repair. He is still able to see out of it, but his iris is paralyzed so it is extremely sensitive to light, resulting in almost permanent pain. Snake begins wearing a black eyepatch. The only other survivor of Black Light is Sergeant William "Bill" Taylor whose leg is badly damaged. Upon learning of the suicide mission, Snake stops trusting the military and turns away from society. Still, in December of 1990, he is awarded the Congressional Medal of Honour and his second Purple Heart. Snake throws the medals away and resigns from the army. He returns home in January 1991.
He discovers the murder of his parents, the destruction of his house and learns that all the assets that the family once possessed were taken by the IRS for taxes and what is described as "Restitution". Snake completely withdraws from society and its norms, having lost all faith in humanity and the government. He blows up a government vehicle, making a criminal of himself, and establishes himself as a domestic terrorist. His first missions, led by nothing but the thirst for revenge, are just sabotage-missions. He quickly escalates his crimes to include bank robberies that are limited to federal banks, not civilian ones. He does this to support both himself and Bill Taylor who has become his accomplice and only remaining friend. After he's landed on the USPF's radar for being a very skilled criminal, he witnesses the cruelty of the Police Force firsthand when he sees the officers skin his accomplice called Fresno Bob alive after their getaway driver, Harold Helman, has abandoned them. Snake and Bill Taylor escape.
On October 21st, 1997, mere days after planning the theft of the car that President John F. Kennedy was killed in, Snake and Bill Taylor infiltrate and rob a Federal Reserve Depository. They appear to get away with several billion dollars in credit discs, but are ultimately caught in San Francisco. During the fight, Taylor is mortally wounded, but refuses to surrender and thus dies, despite Snake's insistence on him surrendering so that he may live. Snake is readied for deportation to New York Maximum Security Prison. Unbeknownst to him, the President's plane crashed in the city.
Escape opens with Plissken (played by Kurt Russel) getting escorted by USPF officers to a holding facility which will process him and send him to Manhattan Island, which has been turned into a prison due to the the crime rate having risen to 400%. However before he can be processed Air Force One is hijacked, and the president is forced to make an escape, in an escape pod, over the prison island of Manhattan. The president is kidnapped by the Duke of New York ( Isaac Hayes), and must be rescued for he has to attend a peace summit with a cassette tape that could help the United States greatly in the Pseudo Cold War after World War III.
Lucky for Snake he is the best at what he does, which is whatever the plot needs him to be, and is offered an choice by Colonel Hauk (played by legendary actor Lee Van Cleef), rescue the President within 24 hours and get a full pardon for his crimes. Since the stakes are so high Hauk injects a bomb within Plissken that will explode within 24 hours unless he rescues the president and gets it disarmed, further urging Plissken to get the president out alive and more importantly with the cassette tape in the time limit, with this Plissken sets out on his mission...
In the sequel " Escape from L.A." Plissken is send into Los Angeles which is now a maximum security prison for moral offenders, since America has turned into a highly religious country. Snake is injected with a virus that will kill him in 24 hours, unless he goes into L.A. and recovers an important remote that activates a very powerful EMP which can be use as a weapon against anyone.