also, if these people are really atheists, why would they become religious after? what escape door is that that you are talking about? as an atheist you should realize that whatever you do in this world has consequences in this world. if you believe there's an afterlife you can escape to, then you're not an atheist to begin with...
Because people need/want to believe in something when all hope is lost,it makes them feel better,it helps them think that they still have a chance.How do you think these people feel when they are put in prison?It's like the end of the world for most of them.Do you even know someone who has been in prison?Have you talked to him on the matter?I don't think so.