Thomas Silverstein – Official Website

Solitary Survivor

A Message from Tom’s Former Webmaster, April 4, 2018


“It was Tom and myself that started this Web-site, way back, unfortunately as Tom has stated i took ill in 2015 & was Hospitalized and could no longer handle managing the Web-site, so at short notice a good friend stepped in as a temporary measure until a new Web-master could be found, I am pleased to say that slot has now been filled by Richard, and he is doing a Sterling job, i’m afraid i wasn’t doing Tommy or the Site any Justice not being computer savvy….I can relax now knowing the Site is in very capable hands, wishing you all the best for the future Barri J”

2 thoughts on “A Message from Tom’s Former Webmaster, April 4, 2018

  1. I read Tom’s book report on “Wherever You Go, There You Are” and I could identify with his frustration with the therapist that gave the book to him.

    During the time I spent in the CYA I was one of three wards selected by a therapist for a case study in the early 1960’s. We were each selected for our high IQ’s and the therapist preformed his monthly group sessions in a sparsely furnished, dimly lit office just to the right of the entrance to our unit. I think his office must have been a closet at one time because of its small size along with the fact it had no windows. The therapist would often tell us to relax and focus our eyes on a single point, and then he would say things like “You’re a toddler and your mother is talking to you. What is she saying, and how do you feel about it?” these sessions always required us to envision different things. Once he asked us to allow our spirit to leave our bodies and be transported to our idea of paradise and report on what we saw. The other two came up with all kinds of wild ideas, which just made me laugh, for I could never envision anything. I would have loved to have been able to escape into my imagination, even for a moment but my wings were clipped, and my spirit remained incarcerated throughout these sessions. Like Tom’s I never received any noticeable benefit of said therapy.

    But at least this therapist defended me when I broke free of two counselors (correctional officers) that had held me down butt naked while attempting to shove another of the wards stinky shit stained underwear into my mouth. I was maybe 12 years old at the time. They later continued to conduct other such abuses of power like marching us up and down a hill at a rapid pace at three in the morning under the lights of one of their vehicles until “they” grew tired. Or having us stand naked with our arms held outward until first, we couldn’t hold them up any longer, then we stood there until first one then another and another fainted from exhaustion. I can see how the symbolism of wearing the uniform of such men might have affected my opinion of my therapist.
    Although I could never fully understand what Tom has endured I too have experienced multiple fortnight stays in solitary and couldn’t imagine how he has been able to endure it for decades. I also lost a half brother after over a decade of isolation so I’ve been following the news of other such cases including those in California, Tom and my home state.

    Recently one individual that had been released from the SHU after decades was killed as soon as he hit the GP and another was returned due to threats on his life. I fear such cases only foretell the odds of what lays ahead for Tom.

    I wrote a comment on an article on Solitary Watch on the subject but it doesn’t show up. I realize Tom could never receive this last portion containing my comment on SW below but I’ll put it here for clarification of what I just wrote.

    I was elated when I read on this site (Solitary Watch) years ago and as you have reported here:

    “In September 2012, the Short Corridor Collective issued an Agreement to End Hostilities among racial groups, which declared in part:

    We can no longer allow CDCR to use us against each other for their benefit! Because the reality is that collectively, we are an empowered, mighty force, that can positively change this entire corrupt system into a system that actually benefits prisoners, and thereby, the public as a whole.”

    But just two weeks before the settlement was even announced in September of 2015 long serving solitary survivor Hugo Pinell’s assassination in New Folsom Prison had incited a riot involving 70 inmates from multiple prison gangs immediately after the hit. Pinell had spent 45 years in solitary confinement much of that at his own request due to threats on his life. The incident provided the powerful prison guard union; whose membership I’m sure shed no tears for Pinell, the much needed fodder to attack the settlement. Pinell’s family and attorney claim the authorities should have known better than to release the 71 year old into the GP without adequate protections due to those threats over the years. A lawsuit has thus been filed.

    This suit may be part of the reason Ashker was placed back in isolation. Whether or not the two are related can only be guessed at.

    The truth is some suggest that the CO’s wanted Pinell dead for his enrolment in the deaths of some of their rank and file and to avoid releasing anymore held in isolation. And Pinell’s death could have had a role in Ashker’s return to the isolation.

    I’ve written that:

    “Incarceration is a cruel gauntlet with one side lined with rouge guards and the other with predatory inmates.

    These natural adversaries, both consciously and unconsciously, collude in order to mete out societies punishment.

    Those that have run this cruel gauntlet understand and appreciate what it took to survive it.”

    Unknown to me at the time of the prison bus I was on in 1968 when it pulled up to Soledad Prison, the legendary George Lester Jackson, prison number A-63837, commonly referred to today as the Dragon, (from the Ho Chi Minh’s quote) had arrived from San Quentin in January of 1968. He would later be charged with killing a guard in retaliation for the shooting deaths of three black inmates. The inmates had been shot by a lone white guard during a brawl three days prior in what is now known as “The Soledad Incident” of January 13, 1970. Jackson along with two “Soledad Brothers” Fleeta Drumgo, and John Clutchette, as they were called by the press at the time, would dominate the newspapers of the era.

    Jackson had co-founded the very violent Black Guerilla Family prison gang in 1966 and following the “Soledad Incident” his Marxist-Leninist, revolutionary, ideology and guerilla foco tactics, took hold on both sides of the prison walls and resulted in the deaths of nine more prison guards and 24 inmates over the next year earning him the rank of Field Marshal in the Black Panther Party.

    On August 21, 1971, Jackson himself died a violent death in San Quentin’s Adjustment Center, reportedly during an escape attempt. Three guards and two white building tenders also died in what is now called the “Bloodiest Day” in San Quentin’s history, after being repeatedly stabbed and having their throats cut. Three other, similarly wounded, guards would recover. Jackson’s co-conspirators Hugo Pinell, Johnny Spain, Willie Tate, Luis Talamantez, David Johnson, and Soledad Brother Fleeta Drumgo were known as The San Quentin Six and would go on to dominate the news cycle during their trials. The legend is that when Jackson released his fellow AC revolutionary convicts, he shouted, “The Dragon has come!”

    Convicted of the 1965 brutal rape of a 22 year old white woman in San Francisco Hugo Pinell was already serving two life sentences, one for this rape, and one for the stabbing death of yet another Soledad C.O. in March of 1971. Following his convictions and subsequent additional life sentences for the gruesome San Quentin murders and assaults, Pinell was placed in various solitary confinement units at Folsom, California State Prison-Corcoran, and Pelican Bay State Prison. Finally Pinell was transferred from Pelican Bay Solitary Confinement Unit to California State Prison-Sacramento on January 8, 2014 where on July 29, 2015 he was placed into the General Population after over four decades of isolation. Gang related grudges have long lives in prison so it was not much of a surprise when two weeks later the 71 year old Pinell was promptly stabbed to death on the prison yard at approximately 12:55 p.m. on August 12, 2015. A riot involving 70 inmates from multiple prison gangs erupted immediately after the attack.

    “We are each our own devil, and make this world our hell.”

    Oscar Wilde in Duchess of Padua (Act 4)

  2. You did a great job and I miss your work. I saw the following article on Pete Early’s web site.

    Date this was written is not given but likely quite a while back.

    “Is being confined indefinitely in a solitary prison cell “cruel and unusual punishment” and does it violate a prisoner’s right to due process?

    A team of students at the University of Denver Strum School of Law and two of their professors claim the answer to both questions is yes. In 2007, they filed a civil rights lawsuit against the federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) on behalf of a familiar name: Thomas Silverstein.

    Silverstein sent me this drawing after I mailed him one of my books. Several BOP officers were angry that I gave him a copy but didn’t offer them one.

    Silverstein is a major character in my book, The Hot House: Life Inside Leavenworth Prison, and someone I have known since 1987. That’s when I became the first and – to date — the only reporter ever allowed to interview him in prison.

    Attorneys for the BOP moved to have the students’ civil rights suit dismissed, but U.S. District Judge Philip A. Brimmer ruled late last month in Denver that the case can move forward.

    In the suit, Silverstein’s attorneys ask that Silverstein be allowed to live with other inmates in the prison’s general population and also have visits with his family. The suit also seeks unspecified monetary damages.

    If the attorneys are successful, their suit could have ramifications that reach far beyond Silverstein’s cell. This is because prisons routinely use solitary confinement to isolate and punish troublesome prisoners.

    Silverstein’s case is an extreme example. He was in a cell in the bowels of the Leavenworth penitentiary when I first met him. I was escorted into this underworld by an entourage of officers. We passed boilers and storage rooms, and walked down a dark hallway until we reached a thick steel door that creaked when it opened. It led into a small chamber filled with television monitors that showed what was happening on the other side of yet another steel door. That is where Silverstein’s cell was located. When I walked in, I found myself in a shoebox shaped room. His cell had been built against the back wall and it reminded me of a large circus cage. The front was a row of bars. The other three walls were reinforced concrete. There was a powerful spotlight on a wall that faced the cell and it could be flipped on to temporarily blind Silverstein if officers needed to rush in and restrain him.

    The lights in this room were kept on 24 hours a day, supposedly because the BOP needed them for the cameras that it kept trained on him. The only sound that you could hear was the buzzing of the overhead fluorescent bulbs.

    It was horrific, but then, so were the murders that Silverstein had committed.

    Silverstein came into prison on a bank robbery sentence but soon had been convicted of two gang-related murders. (Another murder conviction was overturned.) The killing that got him where he is today took place in 1983 in what used to be the BOP’s toughest penitentiary. The victim was a veteran correctional officer named Merle E. Clutts. A second BOP officer was slaughtered by another inmate a few hours later in a copy-cat killing. Silverstein and the other convict, Clayton Fountain, were members of the Aryan Brotherhood, a white supremacy prison gang, according to the BOP.

    In 1983, there was no federal death penalty law that would have permitted the government to execute Silverstein and Fountain. Norman Carlson, who was the BOP director at the time, knew that he needed to come up with a severe punishment, otherwise he risked having other inmates attack his officers.

    Carlson put Silverstein under what was called “no human contact” although the BOP apparently does not have that exact wording recorded now in any of its records. Silverstein was placed in an isolation cell and given only the bare essentials that were required by law. Initially, that was – a specific amount of square footage, food and water. There were no books, no magazines, no television, no writing materials and no contact with anyone outside. He sat alone in a cell with only his mind to distract him. The only human beings, whom he saw, were correctional officers who guarded him, and an occasional psychiatrist sent to check on his stability.

    The BOP said that he was too dangerous to be around other humans. After having been convicted of three brutal killings, isolation was the only solution. Since 1983, the BOP has relented, somewhat, in its treatment of Silverstein. It has given him, at various times, a television, writing materials, paint supplies, and allowed him to make telephone calls to his family, friends, and, on occasion, even to me.

    But he has remained isolated from other prisoners.

    The BOP eventually moved Silverstein above ground in Leavenworth to a special “Silverstein suite” built just for him in the main prison yard. More recently, he was transferred to the ADX in the Bureau’s Super Max penitentiary in Florence, Colorado, where he was kept in a cellblock with only one other inmate — Ramzi Yousef, convicted of the first World Trade Center bombing in 1993.

    One of Silverstein’s problems is his own notoriety. When I wrote my book, Silverstein was revered by other convicts. He was a legendary figure among them. Meanwhile, he was despised by correctional officers, including those who had never laid eyes on him, but considered him to be the epitome of a correctional officer killer.

    Tragically, other correctional officers have been murdered since Clutts. But none of these killers has been treated like Silverstein. After spending 27 years in solitary confinement, he continues to be the same lightening rod that he was when we first met……”

    Here is a bit of background not mentioned above

    Pete Earley wrote in The Hot House:

    Page 393: Referring to Clutts and Silverstein, Ralph Seever, a legendary lieutenant… explained, “you never want, the relationship to get personal.” He warned.

    Whenever an inmate believes for some reason that the natural conflict between convicts and officers is personal, his ego is at stake, and in a penitentiary, image is a thousand times more important than reality.”

    And on the day of his trial Silverstein’s lawyer requested that the judge appoint a psychiatrist. The judge refused. Silverstein had wanted the psychiatrist to testify about the possible effects of Clutts’s harassment on his psyche.

    What would have been the verdict if someone like Harvard psychiatrist Stuart Grassian had been allowed to testify about these affects?
    Page 233 The Hot House:

    “To this day, Silverstein claims that Clutts set out to break him by harassing him in a dozen petty ways that most guards learn early in their careers.”

    Officer Clutts also knew there were possible consequences of this harassment for he had learned this lesson the hard way early into his career in an event that foretold his own demise.

    On January 26, 1969, Officer Merle E. Clutts found the body of his superior, Senior Officer Vern M. Jarvis, in a utility closet. Jarvis had been stabbed 26 times.

    The murder of Jarvis was committed by James K. Marshall also a convicted bank robber with a 25 year sentence. The motive, Officer Jarvis had confiscated Marshall’s candy, fruit and magazines when he placed him in segregation.

    In an audio recording of an interview conducted by Earley, Silverstein explains his own motives:
    16:25 Silverstein: I think he was just selling me wolf tickets. But he didn’t know I was taking him serious.


    When somebody has gone that far especially when you’re telling him you don’t want no trouble why don’t you get off my case.


    On Line 58 of his declaration Silverstein wrote “After I killed Smith, I lived in constant fear of reprisals. It was in this frame of mind, and believing I was in a life-threatening situation, that on October 22, 1983, I killed Officer Clutts.”

    Silverstein later testified that he had killed Clutts because the guard was planning to let other inmates out of their cells to kill him.

    (Unbelievable you say? Then why was Smith, a known close associate of Chappelle’s, moved from another institution and placed near Silverstein’s cell, then allowed to remain there even after making two documented attempts on Silverstein’s life? )

    Indeed the lapse in security that allowed all these murders to take place, in what was the most secure facility in the bureau conjures up conspiracy theories.

    Prison can be described as a cruel gauntlet lined with rouge guards on one side and predatory inmates on the other with inmates forced to do their time in the restricted space in the middle.

    These two opposing forces, sometimes knowingly and at other times unknowingly, collude together to mete out societies punishment. This is the stark reality of prison life

    Like Marshall before him, Silverstein received a life sentence.

    This is where the similarities between the two cases end.

    On March 29, 1972 Marshall was transferred to Oregon Department of Corrections and was later paroled from his federal sentence in 1982.

    However Silverstein’s life sentence came with a “no human contact” order attached to it and with no achievable release date therefore he will die in prison.

    Silverstein wrote an apology to the world on Line 59 of his declaration:

    “Even writing this declaration, I feel my words of regret are inadequate to explain the remorse I feel….There is no justification for my actions.” (Last part from Line 11)

    But there is logic in Silverstein’s actions, even if only understandable by others that have been trapped like tethered animals in a slaughterhouse!

    I hope you’re hanging in there BJ!

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