Thomas Silverstein – Official Website

Solitary Survivor


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Article on Background to Tom’s Story 6.14.2019

The Evolution of The Supermax Prison pdf

Alan has asked that this link be added to the end of his article: https://harpers.org/archive/1972/02/war-behind-walls/

And this further material:

Riot at DVI Tracy, California
“They stabbed every white on the tier, all of whom wore white jumpsuits, for they had just gotten off bus and had no idea they would be attacked for being white. One died, and one vaulted the railing to avoid the stabbing blades broke both his angles on the concrete below.
Within hours all the assailants were in the hole, but none was indicated in outside court. George Jackson was transferred to Tracy, where he ignited another racial conflict. He got himself locked up and transferred to Soledad.”
Edward Bunker “Education of a Felon”
The following is a letter to me dated June 25, 1993 and in it Mike writes;
Dear Al
There may be worse things than being caught in the middle of a prison race riot, but frankly I can’t think of one.
Time: March 28, 1967
Place: D.V.I. Tracy, Ca
Event: Riot
Act 1:
Five thirty in the morning and the racking of the cell doors, shrilling sirens and glaring lights wake be from my dreams. It’s another day at the Deuel Vocational Institution at Tracy, California, but the sun doesn’t know it yet.
In my 6 X 8 accommodations, cellmate Lewis and I begin our daily routine. I dress first because of the bunk bed and combination toilet and sink in the cell we share, there is hardly enough room for both of us to stand at the same time, let alone dress. And because our world is governed by adrenaline diplomacy, the threat of violence is constant. Known and unknown grudges can be settled swiftly, perhaps fatally, if you let your guard down for even a moment. So Lewis stands watch outside the cell door.
I hurriedly wash my face in the chill, blackish water that dribbles from the spout. Since it is so cold, I take the precaution of shaking all my cloths out. Cockroaches make my shoes, pants, even my hair their home away from the cold. When I’m finished, I relieve Lewis from his position outside our door and allow him privacy to complete his dressing.
For the last three days all the inmates of “Deuel” have been in a high state of alert, anxiety, tension is higher than usual since Hightower, the hip coke-dealer from Compton was murdered. His throat was cut and he was left hanging upside down naked, in a shower stall.
The killing was blamed on the Aryan Brotherhood over a bad drug deal. But that’s bullshit. The drug deal rumor is bogus, intended to cover up the real reason Hightower was murdered; and every convict on the compound knew it. Hightower always had a thing for pretty white-boy punks, and it wasn’t that this punk hadn’t been putting out; it was that he hadn’t been putting out to Hightower. Jealousy, envy, who knows what was in Hightower’s mind when he tried to rape the pretty white boys ass, but one thing’s for certain, Hightower wasn’t thinking too straight when he did it. The white population of the prison didn’t stand for it and Hightower paid for his actions with his life.
But, as these things happen, Hightower’s brutal death has escalated into a “Black Thing”. To hear it on the compound, “One of the brothers has been done wrong, disrespected…We can’t let this shit go, man!” Battle lines have been drawn, sides taken, and the guards are taking bets.
Rumor has it that “it” is going to come down sometime this weekend, probably Sunday, but it could happen any day, any hour, and if it does, it can easily escalate into a full-blown riot of the worst kind – racial. Most riots are focused on the “bulls” – guards, staff – but when it’s racial the ugliness turns inward onto the inmates themselves: rapes, beatings, mutilations and often deaths. The guards won’t get involved – except to finally clean up the mess – because this vile, this violent, they know they’re helpless and apt to be swallowed up in the insane whirlpool.
So it comes down to every man for himself – or every fraction for itself: The Black Muslims, the Mexican Mafia, the Crips, the Bloods, the Aryan Brotherhood, the American
Indians from Comanche to Sioux, to your basic misfits, fruits, nuts, and vegetables, all fighting, all competing for a stake in power and control in an environment of only four square acres held loosely in check by guards who are really no healthier or better psychologically or emotionally, than the animals they watch over. It simply comes down to animals guarding animals… a cesspool in a pressure cooker!
Act 2
Lewis finishes dressing and we take a quick look outside our cell door, just to make sure everything is copasetic. I take first shift on the lookout for the bull. It is now time to armor down and to get our shit together.
Our armor is crude, but effective against the wide variety of custom – designed weapons each prisoner has fashioned for himself. National Geographic magazines are soaked in the toilet, two or three at a time, until they are soft. Then, with a pencil, each page is painstakingly pierced until there is an even hole running from the front cover all the way through to the back cover, at both the top and the bottom, strips are ripped from bed sheets and made into crude ropes, These strips are then threaded through each hole in the magazine, binding them side by side, ending up looking something like a woman’s corset. The result is, quite literally, armor plates all the way around your mid-section from under your armpits to the small of your back. Providing a knife blade doesn’t land between the magazines, these National Geographic’s make a pretty formable body protection. “Shanks” – homemade knives- enable us to walk to breakfast with a further sense of safety. Hidden in each of our mattresses, our shanks are made of Plexiglas, trimmed and sharpened on both sides. The Plexiglas was taken from Prison Industries and because it is plastic, it won’t set off the metal detector. The knife handles are made from wooden handles of a gardener’s spade, forced onto the end of the Plexiglas, then wrapped with sticky masking tape,
which enables you to get a tight grip, and best of all; no fingerprints. To be caught with a shank on you is an automatic sentence of five years, but to be caught without it could easily be a death sentence!
Ready now for breakfast, Lewis and I walk down the three flights of stairs of “Cell Block A”.
We reach the bottom door and zip up the old Navy “P” coats given to us for winter, and step outside onto the compound. The walkway is covered with slimy pigeon shit, frozen over in the winter-morning dew.
But we’re less worried about slipping and sliding on the frozen slime than we are with what may lay waiting in the shadows and corners that we have to pass to get to the “Mainline” cafeteria.
There exist two and only two types of riots in prison: One is literally spontaneous erupting over the smallest of incidents and spreading like wildfire. The second, more serious and
deadly is slow and calculated and includes well-planned physical and sexual assaults. The impending riot promises to be one of the latter.
As best we can, we keep our heads down against the cold Northern California winter wind, at the same time staying alert to danger, yet never making eye contact with anyone we don’t know or are not on speaking terms with. The wrong gesture, no matter how unintentional, or stare held too long, if not provoking, immediate reprisal, will most assuredly be accounted for if and when it finally comes down.
The cafeteria is already half full and it isn’t because of the great cuisine and atmosphere: It’s dangerous to lie in your bunk after the doors are racked open.
More and more convicts pile in, each morning to the self imposed area designated by his group. Lewis and I don’t belong to any particular group, we try to watch out for each other, but your race tends to automatically involve you in any altercation.
We find a good spot near the door. If it kicks down maybe we’ll be able to get out before the bulls lock everyone in from the outside. (This way, they hope to isolate the problem and let whoever are locked inside finish each other off, making it easier on them to deal with and, eventually, clean up.) A skinny, weasel like, streetwise kid named Three Fingers Sammy walks up to our table and nervously scans the cafeteria before looking for permission from us to sit down. He earned his name from losing the last two fingers of his right hand from cheating in a poker game.
“So what’s up, man?” he asks.
“You tell me.” Lewis says. “Why aren’t you sitting with your S.F.V. brothers?” Lewis asks without waiting for Three Fingers Sammy to respond.
“We’re cool. Hell, man, after losing these,” Sammy holds up his right hand in a gesture of bravado, “I’m their number one ace dude. I can get them shit no one else in this rat hole can get.”
“Yeah, right “I say. “Then why haven’t you got your weasel ass plunked down with your homeboys?”
“You’re in-hock, aren’t you Fingers?” Lewis asks.
“No big thing, man, just a little strapped.”
“Bullshit, Sammy! Your ass is in a sling, even with all this heavy shit about ready to kick off, they aren’t even signifying you and now you need some white boys to hang with, otherwise you’d have some big-dick daddy nigger making you his kid. Lewis tells him.
“Yeah Sammy, and we all know how they love a white boy’s butt!”
“Fuck you, man,” Sammy spits at me. “There’ll be blood on my shank before there’s any of my shit on some toad’s dick.”
“Yeah, okay. Right,” Lewis taunts him. “Sit down before someone thinks you’re taking our order.”
Sammy does one more, quick glance around and then, as if he’s lost all strength in his legs, falls into the chair next to Lewis.” When do you think, man?” he asks.
“Soon, I reply.
With nothing more to be said, the rest of us sit and watch as the cafeteria fills up with faces that never before braved the cold for hard biscuits and lumpy oatmeal.
“You know,” Lewis says, “When it kicks down, the snitches are really going to be in a hard way because they—“
“Good! Fuck them,” Sammy says. “They deserve it and more. Besides, why are you defending any snitch?”
“Fuck you,” Lewis spits into his face. “I’m just saying…never fucking mind!”
“Get out of my face, you nigger’s punk. Go find someone else to be your daddy.” Lewis shoves him hard in the shoulder. Sammy looks surprised, then glances over to where his friends are sitting, watching. No one makes a move in his defense.
He gets up, pride hurt, screams; “Fuck you!” at Lewis and storms off to another side of the cafeteria to a table where a psychopath named Oakie is eating his oatmeal with his fingers.
“Why in the fuck did you do that?” I ask
“I don’t know, man. He pissed me off. He’ll be okay. Look, see! Oakie has let him sit at his table.
“Yeah, but that’s only because Oakie is a serious booty bandit.”
“So what?” Lewis says. He’ll have protection. Besides, he keeps getting himself in debt he’ll need a daddy to keep him.”
“Lewis, you are one insensitive fuck!”
“Yeah, well, in here…”
The scream comes from the back of the cafeteria and echoes all the way down the aisles. A white man named Tank comes running out of the bathroom, his face streaming blood from two holes where his eyes had once been.
Lewis and I are up on our feet, but we’re immediately knocked to the floor by a rush of men trying to make it out of the cafeteria. The doors are slammed shut by the guards outside before we can get out. One man’s hand is caught between the door and the wall. His fingers are
crushed off and there are only bloody stubs remaining. He falls to the floor in excruciating pain and shock.
A gurgling scream comes from the left side of the cafeteria. Oakie is clutching at a carving knife imbedded in the base of his throat. With his left foot seemingly glued to the floor, he is pivoting in small movements, all the while staring upward with bulging eyes, frantically pulling at the knife handle. Sammy is nowhere to be seen.
While half the cafeteria has rushed to get out, the other half has prepared to go into combat. Looking around, Lewis and I see bands of three to five blacks advancing on less numerous whites, I turn a table over on its side, and Lewis and I drag it to a strategic corner. We pull out our knives and wait.
There is fighting everywhere. It looks like something out of a gladiator movie, but with less sophisticated weaponry.
Blind and bleeding, Tank has somehow made it near us and has huddled down in a fetal position, whimpering like a puppy dog, obviously going into deep shock. Lewis tries to venture out and get him, and for his efforts is struck across the head with a lead pipe. Dazed, his scalp peeled back and bleeding, Lewis falls back onto me behind the turned over table. He throws up all over me, and begins to mumble something about having to go out and feed his dog.
A black guy comes screaming out from behind the serving line with hot grease on his face, his skin streaming down like a pink river. Oakie now is lying face up in a sightless stare at the ceiling, the knife still deeply embedded in his throat. Sammy comes running, dodging the small groups of fighting men, seemingly untouched, but screaming out for Lewis and me. He looks bewildered and can’t find us; I see the knife lodged just under his shoulder blade. I stand up to call out to him, and there’s a whizzing sound over my head, then a painless pressure strikes
the top of my skull and the floor rushes up to me. There is a sound of braking glass and I can smell something, at first sweet and thick, then gagging. And I begin to dream. I am back home with my brother Al and family in North Hollywood, we are all sitting around the floor of our home and I am happy, so very happy.
Act 3
The voice is calling my name over and over again.
“Hey, wake up. If I have to lay here awake staring up at the peeling ceiling, so do you.” As if rising from the depths of a deep dark well, the voice pulls me away from my family. I move and feel something wet and slimy as I slide my skin across it. My left wrist aches something awful. Turning, I finally waken enough to realize I am in bed in the prison hospital. The slimy feeling is the old, unchanged bed sheets I’m lying in. Opening my eyes, I look up and see my left wrist has been handcuffed to the bed post. The side of my head is bandaged and the gauze hasn’t been changed in quite a long time.
“Man, I thought you were a goner for awhile,” Lewis says with a half-hearted smile. “You took a good one across the head. At least, that’s what they tell me.”
“Well, sidekick, you weren’t moving too swiftly either. In fact, I thought they’d taken you off the count too.”
“They did take Sammy off,” Lewis says, turning his head and looking away.
As soon as the riot began, Oakie was the first to be killed. Because he was so strong and crazy, the blacks figured he was one of the most dangerous whites, so he was to be killed as soon as possible.
As for Sammy, his instincts for survival helped him only for awhile. Trapped in the locked cafeteria, he could only move and hide so long. Sammy was a lot of things, but a fighter
he was not. All this time his strategy for survival had been his wits and crafty weaselness, none of which did him any good in this situation.
They caught him. Then repeatedly, with tag-team effort, they beat him. Then they dragged him by his heels back into the kitchen and systematically raped him, ripping his asshole wide open. And still they weren’t through with him! While still conscious, his dick was severed and stuffed up his bleeding ass like some perverted version of your old dear grandmother’s stuffed turkey. Finally, kicking and screaming Sammy Three Fingers was shoved into the large oven and broiled alive.
With only a mild concussion, I’m promised to be back to life as usual, lucky me.


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A Very Important Message from the Webmaster 5.11.2019

Tom’s brother Morris just posted (8:00 p.m. Eastern time) on Facebook that Tom has passed away.

I have no further details to provide, but I wanted to share this sad news with people who were concerned about Tom’s condition. If anyone has more news, please share it here.

I can say this: I will maintain this website as both a memorial to Tom and as a research tool for anyone interested in his long struggle with the Bureau of Prisons.

I also urge anyone with any memory of Tom to share it here. I will write more later, but right now I just want to grieve.

Richard Giles


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Message from the Webmaster 5.3.2019

I phoned ADX today and spoke to the legal department. Here is the message I received by email:

“I did some research today and I am not sure why the letter was returned to you. You may continue to send correspondence to inmate Silverstein at the ADX and it will get to him.”

So, I shall sit down this afternoon and draft Tom a nice letter in the hope that he will receive it and, further, be in good enough shape to read and respond to it. I will also attempt to engage the legal department in an email exchange about Tom’s condition, but on that point I’m not very hopeful.

If you can, please write to Tom and express your wishes for his recovery.


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Message from the Webmaster 5.2.2019

I wish I could be sharing good news about Tom, but I can’t. I just today received my last letter to Tom stamped “Return to Sender Refused Unable to Forward.”

So, I immediately tried to call ADX. Three times I waited for a transfer to the operator, and three times, after several minutes, my line reverted to a dial tone.

A lesser man might feel paranoid at this point, but I’m just frickin’ pissed at the bloody cavalier manner in which BOP is treating Tom and those who are concerned about his health. While I acknowledge some safety concerns on the part of BOP, I cannot fathom any legitimate reason for such a veil of secrecy about Tom’s condition.

So, I can report that at least my mail is NOT being delivered to Tom; my phone calls no longer get even as far as the operator for transfer to a human being; and my letter to the warden from several weeks ago has still not been answered. I wrote Tom at least two other letters, but I don’t know the fate of those yet.

I am stymied as to what the next move should be. The options are woefully limited. But if anyone has heard anything about Tom, please share it here.;