Thomas Silverstein – Official Website

Solitary Survivor

A Message from the Webmaster 5.18.2019

19 Comments

Even in death Tom is still suffering at the hands of the Bureau of Prisons.

His body has finally been released, his death certified, and he will be cremated. His ashes will be spread in the ocean.

Rest in Peace, Buddy

19 thoughts on “A Message from the Webmaster 5.18.2019

  1. @Richard

    Thanks to you and BJ my efforts were made known to Tom who expressed his appreciation.

    I’m curious to see if Pete Earley makes good use of my research which he wrote to me that he’d found impressive in that I’m no journalist.

    Each prisoner is different I chose to work on Tom’s case for two reasons his case was the most extreme and paradoxally receiving the least amount of public support due to our countries history of racial injustice. This is why they used his case to further their agenda. If they chose another case the public outcry would have made it much more difficult to reach their goal.
    They may be cruel but they are not stupid.

    • Alan, I too hope Pete Earley will make good use of your research to provide a much-needed context for Tom’s case. There were/are many complex issues involved in Tom’s story, and the more we can learn, the more we will be able to understand his motives. I am grateful that you have devoted such time and effort on behalf of Tom, and are willing to share it with the public.

  2. Here you have a chance to change the way prisoners are looked at. What alternatives to solitary confinement do you see for prisoners who may be too dangerous for general population? What penalty should Tommy have paid after killing Clutes? Unless you have workable alternatives to solitary, it will continue.

    • Steve, I’m not any expert on incarceration, and I knew Tom for little more than a decade via correspondence, so my opinion is just that–my opinion. By the time I got to know Tom his record had been clean for quite a few years. Still he was under virtual lockdown all the time, and also under the no-human-contact rule under which even the guards did not speak to him when they delivered his meals. In other words, I think the time had long passed when Tom was a danger to the guards or to other prisoners, but prison officials consistently declined to take his record into account, usually citing gang activity as the main reason for his continued existence in solitary. Obviously, if a prisoner is a true threat to guards or other prisoners he or she will have to be restrained somehow (not literally, though), but confinement should be possible with some human contact, even if on a limited basis (talking from cell to cell; exercising together; etc.). In sum, prisoners should be able to prove to Bureau officials that they are no longer a threat. Tom was never granted that privilege, and he suffered more than three decades in the worst kind of solitary confinement. I sincerely hope his case did not set a precedent. As for the direct question about Clutes, I do not believe in the death penalty, so a life sentence was appropriate for that crime. Tom also agreed with that judgment–he knew he would not ever leave prison alive, but he wanted a punishment that would still allow him to fulfill his human potential. One final comment: solitary has become far too common and far too pervasive in the prison system. While it may restrict some genuinely dangerous inmates, it is also used to house troublesome types and even mentally ill inmates. It is no longer a matter of last resort, which is what it should always be by definition.

      • “I sincerely hope his case did not set a precedent.”

        Oh but Tom’s case has set a precedent of which I warned those unwilling to voice support for his relief even within the prison reform movement.

        Just as the administrators in USP/Marion used his actions to lock down the place making it in effect the first level six supermax prison so too will they refer to his case in denying others pleas for relief. Why would the system lawyers not use his case?

        If the judge could keep a straight face when he ruled that Tom’s 36 years of “no human contact” were not “atypical extreme” why would another case be ruled any differently?

        They had skillfully transferred Tom to ADX then effectively kept him in essentially the same conditions without anyone to communicate with by maneuvering him within ADX next to foes and snitches. They even put him on the yard on days when no one else was on the yard.

        Anyone should have been able to see that it was a last ditch effort to first keep him isolated and then to use his case as a precedent for other cases pending in the courts. All the lawyers have to do now is point to the judges ruling on Tom’s case and say if his conditions didn’t warrant relief then is this case more extreme?

        Everyone today hates a white racist and although I don’t believe Tom was one by associating him with the Aryan Brotherhood that was formed for self protection in the sixties but has since become a for profit organization that will deal with any race to make money the assumption is that he was a narrow minded racist.

        All the major prisons gangs are racially divided not just white gangs but no one calls the others racist. This is why they needed Tom’s case to shut down Marion and to hinder all prison appeals.

        Using another races gang’s actions would not have been viewed in the same way by the courts or the media.

        Tom’s case was just a means to an end, plain and simple, an end that no matter what a prisoners race will be forced to suffer under if they ever wind up in a supermax prison.

      • Alan, You are probably right about Tom’s case setting a bad precedent–bad in the sense that it was so severe and out of line that anything short of it will be viewed as acceptable by judges and prison officials. And you are right about the judgment that 30+ years in solitary is not cruel and unusual punishment–that was a ludicrous ruling. But beyond appealing such rulings or bringing new cases before the courts, I don’t know of any other effective action someone on the outside can take. I tried, in a way, to make Tom a member of my family and keep him informed of things that he otherwise could not experience. I’d like to think that that gesture made his life a little bit more bearable, so, perhaps, one meaningful action would be to find and “adopt” prisoners who are in solitary or otherwise deprived of outside contact, and simply extend human kindness to them. I do know from experience that writing letters to officials is a complete waste of time–when a response arrives it is filled with jargon and excuses. Still, I would like to do something to further honor the memory of Tom so that his many decades of suffering were not in vain.

    • I’ve written on the litany of laws passed that lead us to this point via the war on drugs. Something that is now legal could have sent you to prison for decades in the 60’s, right up until this century.

      The Ex-Harvard Professor Timothy Leary had been serving two 10 year sentences in C.M.C. both for marijuana possession. Leary had first taken responsibility in 1965 for three roaches, and a matchbox of weed found in his car on the Texas, Mexico border near Laredo after being denied entry into Mexico. Leary was traveling with his two children and girlfriend at the time. Let out on bond Leary was rearrested in December 1968 after two joints were found in his possession. He claimed they had been planted by the officer.

      He later wrote this about his motive for escaping prison:

      “Consider my situation. I was a 49-year-old man facing life in prison for encouraging people to face up to new options with courage and intelligence. The American government was being run by Richard Nixon, Spiro Agnew, John Ehrlichman, Robert Haldeman, G. Gordon Liddy, John Mitchell, J. Edgar Hoover and other cynical flouters of the democratic process. Would you have let men like these keep you in prison for life for your ideas?”

      Upon Leary’s death on May 30, 1996 the New York Times reported, “Dr. Tim” was accused of sending many young people off on bad drug trips, for which Richard Nixon called him “the most dangerous man in America.”

      The result of such thinking was the “War on Drugs”, under which new sentencing guidelines drove a dramatic rise in incarceration of drug offenders. The state penal system currently has 13 times the 1980 levels of drug offenders while in the Federal system around half are convicted on drug charges. Like Leary, most were not convicted for high levels of drugs nor did they have priors for violent offences.

      One reason the BOP sights that such hellish facilities are necessary is they believe, “there is a lack of deterrent punishment sufficient to prevent inmates like Silverstein from committing future violent acts when they are serving life sentences without the possibility of parole.

      ”Indeed Silverstein has said as much as noted in Pete Earley’s book the Hot House Page 148:

      The jury found Silverstein guilty and on March 3, 1980 for killing Atwell, he was sentenced to life in prison and transferred to the penitentiary at Marion….

      ‘I was innocent,’ Silverstein later recalled. ‘I was being framed by these rats who had just flushed my life down the toilet. I was going to Marion with a life sentence, and I had a real attitude problem because I was pissed. I figured I didn’t have much to lose.’

      Tom was sent to Marion where many other men with such sentences awaited.

      Was it not then these embittered men’s distrust of our legal system seemingly designed to make it impossible for them to free themselves from its grip that had made Marion such a violent place and not the lack of an even greater deterrent punishment like a supermax prison?

      You have to view Tom’s case in the atmosphere of the time.

      In my essay on the subject I wrote in the Preface:

      The 1960’s was one of the most tumultuous decades in our nation’s history and nowhere was it more turbulent than in California’s Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (C.D.C.R.). In 1960 whites were still about 70 percent of C.D.C.R.’s population and with such a numerical advantage whites felt little racial tension. Both factors would change radically by the latter half of the 1960’s. In fact, by the mid-1960’s California’s San Quentin Prison, located on San Francisco Bay, had become the epicenter of a prison race war for the control of its prison yard. And by the time the “Summer of Love” arrived in 1967 every peaceful-flower-child that arrived there had a cross to bear. As he walked, bound in his chains, through the cruel gauntlet that is San Quentin Prison, sadistic guards on one side and leering sexual predators on the other, he may have paused with a tear in his eye to look beyond the ominous watchtowers towards the sky to ask, “Why has thou forsaken me? While just outside its walls the “New Left” had established what has since become known as “California’s Radical Prison Movement” in support of the civil rights of prisoners.
      Even as the casualty count, of inmate on inmate violence increased as the decade ended, it had been almost twenty years since a guard had been killed in a California prison, but that would also change by January 1970. What took place in the C.D.C.R. over this period of time was still reverberating throughout the whole U.S. prison system as I wrote this.

      The decade of the 1960’s had begun with the domestic terror of the Ku Klux Klan (KKK) on the far right and ended with the bombings of the Weather Underground Organization (WUO) on the far left. The watershed moment of this maelstrom occurred on November 22, 1963 when President Kennedy was assassinated.

      Another notable event of 1963 was, George Wallace’s “Inaugural Address” on January 14, 1963 following his election for Governor of Alabama. The speech is most famous for the phrase “segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever.”

      Wallace wasn’t referring to, “Administration Segregation”, (a prison disciplinary solitary confinement unit), but he might as well have been, because the atmosphere in which Wallace and others like him fostered is indirectly responsible for the formation of race based prison gangs whose members now fill these units”.

      As horrible and sad as his death was Officer Clutts knew that there were possible consequences of his harassment of Silverstein 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. Jatvis 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.

      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 was destined to die in prison.

      It is notable that unlike Fountain Silverstein made no attempt to harm the other officers escorting him.

      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.

      Which sentence was correct? I don’t know if Marchshall got off too easy but I know that Silverstein’s extreme “no human contact order” seems unworthy of our democracy.

      Repealing the laws which lead us to this point is a first step to reduce the anger caused by our unjust system as it stands now. This should also help reduce the appeal of the racially based gangs that fuel off this anger and thus reduce the violence they commit over time.

      There weren’t always supermax prisons so a future without them seems possible.

      They didn’t develop overnight and they won’t disappear overnight either.

      We need to pass laws which are equally enforced for every citizen not just those that we want to sweep off the streets. When all the citizens feel equally protected under the law the anger and violence should be reduced as they realize that they deserved their sentence.

      • Alan, I too feel that the punishment meted out to Tom was far in excess of what his crime deserved. The whole administrative system that depends so heavily on solitary confinement should be reviewed by civilians, legislators, and other interested parties, and brought in line with practices that reflect both democratic ideals and humane standards of treatment. I will be forever haunted by the image of Tom confined in his concrete cell or restricted to his exercise “cage.” But I fear there are not many progressive legislators who view such treatment as worthy of their attention.

    • Please read my post(s) below for my thoughts on your questions.

  3. I’m so upset with myself. I wanted to write him recently for the first time and felt an urgent need to but I never did get around to doing it and I regret it. I’ve been following Tommy and his plight for a long time now. I’ve always been interested in the history of state and federal correctional facilities/prison gangs especially in the era of the 1970’s 80’s & early 90’s.. I can somewhat relate to what time he went through because ever since the young age of 12 I was in and out of the system myself. Juvenile hall, grouphomes, jail, etc.I’ve spent months in isolation and know the nightmarish horrors that one experiences when thrusted into it.. but nothing that I went through could remotely come close to what he’s experienced. My situation pales in comparison.. but I do know psychological and emotional affects it Has, which is lifelong and irreversible.. i’m 35 years old and he spent more time in some of the harshest Isolation conditions known to man. I’m not sure if he knew it but he had a lot of memorable history making moments in his life.. at the wrong places at the right time. Cuban riots in Atlanta, the mind control experiments at Marion, his affiliation, his acts, The inventing of the Supermax,case law,etc.. I hope that his family is able to receive all of his property including letters, writings, notes, etc. I thought he was in the process of writing a biography or memoir? I hope one day his family is able to for fill that if the Pio P gives them all of it and not destroy it. To his family and friends that knew him well my condolences. I pray that God forgives him has mercy on him and accepts him..RIP Tommy..

    • Alec, I am sorry you were not able to get to know Tom even if only by mail. I’m sure you two would have had much to talk about and many notes to compare. Your note puts Tom’s life in perspective: he spent more time in solitary than you have spent on this earth! However one looks at it, that is a staggering fact. As for his book, which he was working on at the time of his death, Pete Earley is preparing the manuscript and looking for a publisher. Pete has promised a chapter or two for us to read here on Tom’s website. As for other papers left in Tom’s cell, I can’t comment because I simply don’t know what BOP did. I do know that Tom requested that any existing art work be destroyed, and his family abided by his wishes. And I thank you for your kind thoughts for Tom.

      • In response to Pete Early’s second post on Tom, which was prompted by angry emails from members of BOP, I sent Earley a few corrections to his post. Earley responded today with:

        Thanks for your excellent documentation.

        Pete

        I hope no corrections will be needed in his upcoming book.

        But I fear that any attempt to explain the amount of stress that Tom felt leading up to these events will be seen as excusing his actions and therefore Earley having felt the anger of BOP employees will be less than forthcoming in the book.

        It is a shame that anyone myself included should have sway over the truth.

        The facts which as Earley noted were documented in my letter to him.

        In fact he used the expression “excellent documentation”.

        Facts are not negotiable and only people who have been behind prison walls can attest to the environment.

        The BOP has duly expressed their view now it is time that we send Ear;ley our view as to conditions and prisoner codes of conduct that we experienced behind those walls.

  4. What a shame, Tommy made mistakes but God will forgive him. I’ve met some pretty evil people in my life that probably weren’t forgiven be cause they lacked even an ounce of remorse or showed no mercy but Tommy I could tell was a good man underneath his reputation. I’ve been incarcerated before and I can tell you it is a gladiator school and in most cases it’s Kill or be killed. Tommy did what he did out of our animal instinct to survive and behind bars that is exactly how they treat you, like an animal. There are exceptions to that rule and there are guards who are merciful. See you when I get there Tommy.

    • Andrew, Thanks for your comments. Your post adds to the feeling that, as you say, tom did what he was in a way forced to do by the prison environment. While I knew Tom only by correspondence, I too got the feeling that deep down he was a decent guy.

  5. I am so glad the prison didnot keep toms body and give him a porpers funeral

  6. The BOP is going to take his ashes to the ocean? I wouldn’t trust them to carry that out. They may think his ashes will choke them out or that he should be placed in the dumpster because they feared and loathed him so much.

    My own half brother, who died in solitary without his family’s knowledge until months after his death, supposedly had his ashes dumped in the ocean too, but he died in CA so it wasn’t much of a drive. Still I wonder if they had done what they said they did. I also question why he died months before he was due to be released. I think they choked him out in a cell extraction rather than him committing suicide as they claim. What happens behind those walls stays behind the walls for the most part.

    It’s a lot further to the ocean in CO.

    My brother’s death is what got me interested in Tom’s case.

    I learned a lot about solitary after my brother’s death and so I wrote articles on Solitary Watches website to help those he left behind. The one who seemed to have the least support was Tom so I singled him out both because I identified with him and because he had so many haters.

    I wish I could have helped him more.

    RIP Tom

    • Alan, My message was too brief and cryptic. Tom’s ashes were returned to his family, and at some time in the future his ashes will be spread in the ocean. At this point, nobody in his or her right mind would trust BOP on even the most minor of things!

  7. Rest in peace tommy gone but never forgotten

    Your friend always

    Ian

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