Thomas Silverstein – Official Website

Solitary Survivor

11 thoughts on “Link to Obituary of Tom 5.21.2019

  1. A sad end to a sad story of institutional cruelty. RIP.

  2. Reading Renee’s account of Tom’s last days, weeks, months of his life I couldn’t help but think it sounds like he experienced a modern day crusifixcation only a lot longer. Please click on the support site link on the right.

  3. I was reviewing my old posts about Tom on SW and found this one by a CO.

    The BOP planned the easing of his prior atypical “no human contact status” to side step the law suit.

    Solitary Confinement is a hot subject nationwide – the practice is under fire and there are recorded abuses under such practices. The problems are almost always related to non-compliance to “written” policies and procedures, deviations from policies that include behavioral modification methods not sanctioned and tacit approval for variances not documented making it hard for the courts to accurately track operational issues not in writing and protected by the code of silence. Short term placements are effective up to a point – once a prisoner knows he is going to be there long term, his behavior is no longer in check [as he lost hope] and he becomes rebellious in behavior seeking no resolve and personal satisfaction of being a trouble maker which in turn results in him being treated in an “extreme” manner to commensurate his noncompliance issues.
    This is where there are dangers of abuse, neglect and torture as the oversight is limited, not documented and random in nature. The culture is “us versus them” with both sides pulling no punches [no pun intended] and escalation of mistreatment occurs first in passive aggression elevating to physical contact and unnecessary cell extractions, strip searches etc.
    The reasons the courts can’t determine the “extreme” part is that it doesn’t exist just like “torture” doesn’t exist. This underground culture won’t reveal their flaws in a public forum or courtroom. Affidavits and incident reports are coached, these incident reports are “cleaned up” after numerous drafts and disciplinary is swift to avoid others from thinking about talking about it at all. Special focus is on the FOIA regulations that allow public discovery of public documents and items thus certain documents become classified, videos are lost or tampered with statements are perfected to play off any signs of condoned unlawful behaviors. This is why the correctional officer is so empowered as they feel they are invincible and protected by the top to avoid embarrassment of their administration in central office. Have you ever noticed when an investigation goes south, the warden is fired? This is the nail in the coffin for anyone else that talks. Normally the hits are at the bottom but in cases where an outside agency finds flaws, the warden gets the ax to save face.
    Administrators are taught from the beginning two things: internal controls and external controls – internal controls (institutional culture and practices) are how the incident is handled, documented, released and revealed before it leaves the facility. This information is cleaned up before the press release to the media which represents the external control element of the event. Other external control (politics) is collected of external audits, investigations, media, legislature and executive branch revelations and findings. If the justification is properly made and timely in response, the top echelon remains unscathed and the bottom gets the heavy handed hammer of discipline.
    The air of intimidation is on both sides. Officers and prisoners been pressured to remain quiet and it works. Credibility is slurred as good officers are discredited if they speak out against the system. The only way you will discover the “truth” is through a “mole” in the system that keeps a log of the events as they occurred.
    NOTE: the code of silence protects both the guilty and the innocent… the “team” remains intact and the brotherhood remains intact protected by select upper management who endorse such “extreme” practices but defend them in a public forum. Administrators get promoted for following the program and the practice continues to exist as the morality suffers and new rules are imposed with every successive administrator and supervisor that works the SHU or SMU

  4. I wrote a piece on Solitary Watch about two laws that contribute to mass incarceration.

    The Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act (AEDPA) of 1996.

    And The Prison Litigation Reform Act (PLRA), also passed in 1996.

    They are still as relevant today.

    Here is the link to the post I wrote:

    Due to the space limit I was given I was unable to fully address the subject of all the other factors that contribute to mass incarceration in this article.

    The following is the result of my research sparked by that assignment which I accumulated over time thereafter.

    Bear with me for I tie this into Silverstein’s case a few paragraphs into it.

    I have attempted to document the issues that were relevant to each of parties involved notably the system, the murder victims, and that of Silverstein himself.

    Mass incarceration has affected people of color disportionately and thus has created a volatile and hostile environment in prisons throughout the country. The resulting violence between racial groups has been never ending. This is the environment that shaped Silverstein as he grew into a man.

    Sorry for the length but I hope you find it illuminating.

    “The Gates of the Abyss Are Opened Wider”

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

    Oscar Wilde in Duchess of Padua (Act 4)

    In 1970 the Comprehensive Drug Abuse Prevention and Control Act set the legal foundation for the government’s “War on Drugs”, first declared by President Richard Nixon, but which had actually begun under President LBJ with the passing of the Omnibus Crime Control and Safe Street Act of 1968.

    The Edward Byrne memorial Justice Assistant Grant program which grew out of the Omnibus Act has since become the cornerstone of a massive federal assistance program to wage this war. The resulting flood of cash from these grants has inadvertently created huge incentives for those receiving the funds to increase arrests, prosecutions, and incarceration.

    Politicians were eager to build their tough on crime image and the media sought higher ratings as they both focused their attention on inner city crime where an abundance of crimes of opportunity were highly visible. The result was greater resources were allocated to fight inner city crime in the form of policemen, squad cars, communication equipment, and crime labs than rural areas. These resources resulted in a greater number of arrests and convictions of minorities.

    Once arrested efforts were made to hold onto suspects. So in 1984 Congress replaced the Bail Reform Act of 1966, which had based release on bail solely upon the risk of flight, with new bail law which allowed for pre-trial detention of individuals based upon their danger to the community; persons charged with a crime of violence, an offense for which the maximum sentence is life imprisonment or death, certain drug offenses for which the maximum offense is greater than 10 years, repeat felony offenders, or those suspected of witness tampering could be held without bail after a special hearing to determine if the defendant fell into one or more of these categories. Those that did were at an obvious disadvantage in mounting an effective defense.

    That same year congress passed The Sentencing Reform Act, which under President Reagan established the United States Sentencing Commission which in turn established guidelines enacted in 1987 to alleviate sentencing disparities. These guidelines provided for determinate sentencing at the time that the sentence was imposed, as opposed to indeterminate sentencing, which would later be determined by a parole commission after the prisoner had already started serving his or her sentence. As part of the guidelines, Federal parole was abolished.

    The Sentencing Reform Act was followed by the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986, which set mandatory minimum sentences for drugs, including marijuana. Under this act the same mandated minimum sentence of 5 years without parole was established for the possession of 5 grams of crack cocaine as for 500 grams of powder cocaine. Crack cocaine was primarily consumed by Blacks and powder cocaine by Whites.

    (This 100:1 disparity was later reduced to 18:1 by the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010.)

    The first President George Bush maintained President Reagan’s hard line, when he created the First National Drug Control Strategy to establish policies, priorities, and objectives to eradicate illicit drugs issued by the Office of National Drug Control in 1989.

    With a National War on Drugs Strategy firmly in place an evolution of changes resulted in weakening the prisoner’s chance of mounting an effective defense.

    An inadequate defense leaves a defendant at the mercy of what the U.S. Supreme Court has called the “machinery” of law enforcement. In acknowledgment of this vulnerability the 1963 Supreme Court’s ruling on Gideon v. Wainwright established the constitutional right of criminal defendants to an attorney, even if they had no money to pay for one. When Gideon v. Wainwright was decided, fewer than half of all defendants were poor currently over 80 percent are. In the 1969, there were less than 200,000 people in prisons. Today, we have 2.3 million people in jails and prisons so our need for lawyers is much greater. But this increased need is not being met so we find that over 90% of all cases in this country are being resolved by a plea deal.

    Twenty years after Gideon, Strickland v. Washington created minimal standards for a lawyer’s conduct; we’ve discovered over time that they had been set too low. Even the U.S. Department of Justice has found that the right-to-counsel services in America “exist in a state of crisis and are unworthy of a legal system that stands as an example to the world.”

    We all know the result; the gates of the abyss opened wider and the prison population grew ever faster with many suffering the duel consequences of longer sentencing and harsher prison conditions.

    Unable to pay for proper legal representation the jail house lawyers were their only hope of salvation. Appeals written by such inmates increased along with the incarcerated population with many an inmate filing frivolous shot in the dark appeals.

    So in 1996 the Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act was passed. This act required that prisoners who wish to appeal their convictions under state courts must petition the federal courts within one year. In addition, inmates must make all their claims for relief at one time.

    Impoverished, and under-educated, rank-and-file prisoners operating from behind bars, were henceforth required to file their appeals quickly and correctly.

    All of these conditions have deepened the distrust of the American justice system, and this attitude is made worst by the racial imbalance in prisons and with each humiliation and abuse that prisoners endure.

    Rage against the system that had begun during the 1960’s, was by 1970 frequently leading to confrontations with the men running these prisons. With so many losing hope of ever reentering civil society, the number of violent incidents increased dramatically in the 1970’s, with much of this violence fueled by Marxist revolutionary rhetoric and a virulent, unadulterated racial hatred leading to ever more draconian measures being deployed against inmates.

    In response to this rise of institutional violence, the Control Unit was created at the United States Penitentiary in Marion, Illinois in 1973. Marion was designed as the place where prisons across the nation could send their most radicalized inmates and violent gang members. As Marion’s Control Unit received more and more, of the worst of the worst, Marion’s security deteriorated to the point where violence became the new norm. Marion’s warden may have indeed been seeking an excuse to lock down the whole population at the institution when in October 1983 Thomas Edward Silverstein and Clayton Fountain supplied him with a politically correct excuse to do so. The Supermax Prison model was thus born.

    In the INTRODUCTION of Amnesty International’s 2014 report titled, “ENTOMBED”, Isolation in the US Federal Prison System there is a quote of Thomas Silverstein’s taken from ( Silverstein v. Federal Bureau of Prisons et al, Civil Action No. 07-cv-02471-PAB-KMT, Exhibit 1) where he states:
    “Though I know that I want to live and have always been a survivor, I have often wished for death. I know, though, that I don’t want to die. What I want is a life in prison that I can fill with some meaning”

    Click to access Entombed-Report-Final-Web-15072014-1.pdf

    Thomas Edward Silverstein was born in Long Beach, California on February 4th 1952, and raised in a home that he describes as “an angry and violent place.” Silverstein’s mother, Virginia, had served time in prison for robbery as a teenager and would hit her kids with anything that she could get her hands on. Once, after Thomas was beaten up by another boy, Virginia told him that if he didn’t stand up for himself the next time, she would take a belt to him.

    The 1967 San Quentin race war had just begun in earnest when at age fifteen Thomas Silverstein got into a fist fight with a police officer and was sent to the California Youth Authority in Chino. While Silverstein was held in Chino he observed that “anyone not willing to fight was abused”.
    Silverstein was still only nineteen years old by the time that he had worked his way up to San Quentin where he found himself in the middle of its now infamous race war. At San Quentin Silverstein learned that men trying to quietly do their time and get out were in the worst predicament. They had no allies. So it is believed that Silverstein began associating with members of the Aryan Brotherhood at this time.

    Released four years later he was rearrested shortly thereafter for armed robbery along with his two crime partners, his cousin Gerald Hoff and his biological father Thomas Conway (Silverstein is not his biological father’s name).

    Silverstein was twenty three years old when he was sent to the U.S. Penitentiary in Leavenworth, Kansas in March of 1977 to serve a fifteen-year sentence for armed robbery where, like nearly all US prisons, it was strongly divided along racial lines. So, Silverstein again drew from the lessons that he had learned in the penal system and aligned himself with others willing to draw blood to survive.

    What Silverstein may not have realized at the time is that for lifers, mere survival is not enough, they want to prosper. After all, a life sentence without parole, meant the “Hot House”, was their new home. In prison, drugs, gambling, and sex are the biggest money makers. To control these avenues of profit in a concentrated environment of violent men, prison gangs use excessive violence of their own.

    What happen next is still in doubt.

    Page 148 of The Hot House: …on February 17, 1979, a convict named Danny Edward Atwell stumbled from his cell and collapsed on the tier…. He died within minutes. The next day, Silverstein and his prison buddies… were charged with murder…

    The jury found Silverstein guilty and on March 3, 1980, 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.’

    On appeal a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit said it was appalled by the quagmire of conflicting testimony and recanted statements…The judges ordered federal prosecutors to either dismiss the murder charge against Silverstein or conduct a new trail.”
    There was no retrial.

    The scene at Marion:

    Page 228: “From the outside, Marion has always looked peaceful… But in 1980 inside there was no such serenity. …between January 1980 and October 1983, there were more serious disturbances at Marion than at any other prison, including fourteen escape attempts, ten group uprisings, fifty-eight serious inmate-on-inmate assaults, thirty-three attacks on staff, and nine murders….

    Because Silverstein had been convicted of killing Atwell, he was assigned a cell in the ‘control unit’ when he first arrived….At the time, it was the only long-term facility in which prisoners were locked in single-man cells all day and allowed out only to shower or to exercise.

    On November 22, 1981, at 7:15 p.m. guards discovered the body of Robert Marvin Chappelle, a convicted killer and member of the D.C. Blacks prison gang. “

    Some information on this gang can also be found in the book “The Hot House” on Page 105:
    “The black inmates were from Washington D.C., and were known simply as “D.C. Blacks.” They were one of the most difficult groups at Leavenworth for guards to control….”

    Chappelle had been strangled while he lay on his bunk with his head facing the cell bars.

    By the time Silverstein had won his appeal for the murder of Atwell in 1984 he had already been convicted in the murder of Chappelle.

    Once again Silverstein denied that he was involved in the murder, but once again, he and Clayton Fountain, were given a life sentence.

    When called to the stand to testify Norman Matthews… was asked whether he could remember November 22, 1981, he replied, “It was the day I killed Chappelle.”

    Although Matthews had previously given a statement to the FBI confessing to the murder–his confession in open court caused a commotion.

    Defense counsel said, “All right, now, Mr. Matthews, you have right under the Fifth Amendment of the Constitution of the United States not to incriminate yourself. Do you understand that?” Matthews replied, “Yes.”

    When the judge finished explaining Matthews’ Fifth Amendment right to him, Matthews replied, “Maybe I should take the Fifth…. You convinced me I should protect my rights, sir.” The judge then instructed the jury to disregard Matthew’s testimony.

    The judge ultimately excluded the evidence of this key defense witness. Norman Matthews had been an inmate in C range on the day of Chappelle’s murder, and had been let out to recreate right after Silverstein and Fountain were returned to their cells.
    The jury convicted Silverstein and Fountain of murder, and they were sentenced to life imprisonment.

    The lapse in security that allowed Chappelle to be murdered in his cell cannot be passed over in silence. Because many of the inmates confined in Marion were serving long prison terms without the prospect of early parole, the deterrent effects of criminal punishment could not be relied upon to control the crime rate in the Control Unit. For many the price of murder must not have been perceived as being too high and to some it must have been close to zero. This made it essential that the prison authorities take precautions to protect inmates from each other but in Silverstein’s case they did just the opposite.

    Following the murder of Chappelle, which Silverstein maintained he did not commit right up to the end of his life, Raymond “Cadillac” Smith, a leader of the D.C. Blacks, was transferred from another institution and placed in a cell near Silverstein of all places. Although his street name was “Cadillac”, inside of prison he took on a new title, “The Sword of Justice” for the Moorish Science of America.

    Drew Ali founded the Moorish Science Temple in Newark, N.J. in 1931 making it a forerunner of the Nation of Islam. Today three fourths of the Temple’s congregations are inside prisons. Ali preached that, “All blacks are the original inhabitants of the earth and the progenitors of all nonwhite nations, the world’s superior race. In contrast he claimed, “Whites are a race of inferior devils.”

    As soon as Smith arrived he loudly proclaimed that he was going to kill Silverstein in retaliation for his friend’s murder. Even though Silverstein told Smith that he had not killed his friend, Smith went on to make two documented attempts on Silverstein’s life. But even after these two failed attempts the two remained housed near one another. There would not be a third. In September 1982 Silverstein and Fountain stabbed Smith sixty-seven times with shanks fashioned from pieces of bed frames and towel racks.

    Rather than stop the threats on Silverstein’s life, Smith’s murder only increased them. Thus because of the increased tension between black and white inmates BOP Officer Merle Clutts began to focus his attention on Silverstein. This attention leads to allegations by Silverstein of unfair harassment. Besides the harassment by Clutts, Silverstein claims Clutts also suggested that he might just allow Silverstein’s rivals out of their cells to kill him.

    This threat was something Silverstein felt that he had to take seriously and to prevent. So in October 1983 Silverstein slipped out of his cuffs, with the help of another inmate, as he was being escorted from the shower to his cell, then proceeded to stab Clutts to death. Although Clutts had been stabbed 29 times by Silverstein, he made no attempt to harm either of the other two guards escorting him.

    When Fountain followed Silverstein’s example later that evening murdering another C.O. at Marion, and severely wounding two others escorting him, the institution went into lockdown. Silverstein and Fountain were swiftly placed in specially constructed solitary confinement cells under “no human contact orders”.

    Fountain was taken to an underground, steel, and concrete containment cell constructed especially for him, next to the criminally insane wing of the Federal Medical Center in Springfield, Missouri where he remained until his death in July of 2004 from a heart attack.

    Silvertein was whisked away to USP in Atlanta, Georgia. In August 1984 the director of the BOP issued a memorandum detailing the “special security procedures” for Mr. Silverstein which ordered BOP staff to isolate Silverstein from any and all contact with fellow inmates and prison staff for an indefinite period of time.

    During the first year Silverstein was not allowed, social visits, to use the telephone, watch television, listen to the radio, or have any reading materials other than a bible not even a clock. The guards even refused to speak to him.

    Silverstein wrote: “The cell was so small that I could stand in one place and touch both walls simultaneously. The ceiling was so low that I could reach up and touch the hot light fixture. I became sensitive to light, which burned my eyes and gave me headaches. The buzzing noise was maddening, as there often were no other sounds at all. During the summer, the heat was unbearable. I would pour water on the ground and lay naked on the floor in an attempt to cool myself. My bed took up the length of the cell, and there was no other furniture at all.
    I was allowed one hour a week of outdoor recreation. I could not see any other inmates or any of the surrounding landscape during outdoor recreation. There was no exercise equipment and nothing to do.”

    Because of the cell’s size construction soon began to expand and harden it.

    Silverstein wrote: “I was permitted to wear underwear, but I was given no other clothing.
    In order not to be burned by sparks and embers while they welded more iron bars across the cell, I had to lie on my bed and cover myself with a sheet.

    It is hard to describe the horror I experienced during this construction process. As they built new walls around me it felt like I was being buried alive. It was terrifying.”

    When construction was finished Silverstein had three, linked 42-square-foot, windowless cells set apart from the rest of the prison population and designed to minimize his contact with prison staff.

    I lost some ability to distinguish what was real. I heard people who I believed to be officers whispering into my vents, telling me they hated me and calling me names. To this day, I am not sure if the officers were doing this to me, or if I was starting to lose it and these were hallucinations.

    I felt like I was in an episode of the twilight zone. I now know that I was housed there for about four years, but I would have believed it was a decade if that is what I was told. It seemed eternal and endless and immeasurable.”

    In 1987, after a prison riot, the BOP relocated Silverstein to the basement of USP Leavenworth. The conditions in the basement unit were substantially similar to those he experienced at USP Atlanta. While in this rat infested basement cell, he could hear no sounds of human activity in the prison only the constant buzzing sound of fluorescent lights on 24/7 without any access to fresh air or sunlight through recreation or otherwise.

    After a year in the basement cell, the BOP transferred him to “the hole” separate from the rest of the facility, where he was the only prisoner housed there.

    Here the conditions of his incarceration remained substantially the same as those he experienced in the basement unit and at USP Atlanta: he was isolated from other inmates and staff, was subjected to continuous lighting and camera surveillance, and exercised and ate alone in an 144-square foot cell with a bed, shower, desk, television, and toilet and a separate cell used as an indoor recreation area and a visitation booth.

    His phone privileges grew from one call per month, when he first arrived, to 300 minutes per month by the time he left USP Leavenworth. While held there he was provided with one hour of outdoor recreation in a confined, secure space five days of each week. However the staff would sometimes leave him in this outdoor recreation area for extended periods of time in the snow and bitter cold.

    During his time in isolation, he used art as a way to ameliorate “the extreme sensory deprivation and social isolation.”

    Except for a period of time during December 2002 and January 2003, in which he was again temporarily housed in the basement cell, he remained in this cell for 18 years.

    Then on July 12, 2005, the BOP transferred him to the USP Administrative Maximum facility, also known as “ADX,” in Florence, Colorado the most restrictive institution in the BOP.

    There the BOP had replicated the isolation and other conditions of confinement Silverstein had continuously experienced since his 1983 transfer to USP Atlanta. His contact with fellow inmates and prison staff remained very limited.

    Incredibly he actually lost some of the privileges at ADX that he had been previously given at USP Leavenworth; his telephone usage and social visits were reduced and he was given less access to the art supplies he used as a coping mechanism.

    While housed on Range 13, he left his cell only for semi-annual reviews and infrequent haircuts and then he was subject to “invasive” strip searches both upon exiting and returning to his cell.
    He remained on Range 13 until April 7, 2008, when he was moved to ADX’s “general population” unit, known as “D-Unit in what in retrospect was a calculated ploy to win the law suit over his living conditions.

    Although D-Unit is a “general population” unit, its inmates are still held in solitary confinement. D-Unit is configured to minimize contact between inmates and between inmates and staff. Inmates on D-Unit eat and are allowed two hours of, indoor or outdoor exercise each weekday alone. However, during his time on D-Unit, the BOP has often cancelled his scheduled recreation time.
    Initially more restrictive conditions were placed on him than those placed on other inmates in the unit. For example, for several months following his transfer to D-Unit, he was housed and allowed recreation only in areas where no other inmates were nearby. Furthermore, he was escorted by three correctional officers including a lieutenant while other inmates were accompanied by only two CO’s. Finally, while other inmates receive social and legal visits on Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays in the presence of other inmates, he was restricted to Mondays, Tuesdays, and Wednesdays and outside the presence of other inmates.

    Only the added visitation restrictions remained in place up until his death.

    In Dr. Hanley’s declaration:.

    Part 2 “Silverstein is caught up in several custodial Catch 22’s.”

    Page 41: “Assessment of his level of threat is based on his past conduct and the absence of any meaningful change in his cognitive orientation….” (In other words Silverstein’s resilience to the torture was evidence, in this BOP employee’s mind, that Silverstein had not been broken and remained a danger.)

    Page 56: “..the perceived need for this extraordinary treatment of Silverstein was based primarily if not exclusively on something Mr. Silverstein could not of possibly of changed over the past 22 years: ‘his criminal history, his past.’”

    Dr. Hanley rightly points out that Silverstein has had ample time and means to cause the BOP problems and a very good reason to do so in the frustrating task of dealing with all these custodial Catch 22’s.

    Judge Philip Brimmer ruled on October 5, 2011: “Conditions at the U.S. Penitentiary Administrative Maximum, or ADX, aren’t “atypically extreme.”

    Silverstein wasn’t subject to the “special administrative measures” reserved for convicted terrorists at ADX, which severely limit their ability to communicate with any outsider, even family or legal counsel. But as you just read his journey through the federal prison system had been anything but typical.

    Silverstein reported at the time that he was still being moved frequently from one cell to another to prevent any kind of ongoing communication with other prisoners. “ALL they care about (obviously) is maintaining my ISOLATION, by any convoluted means necessary,” he wrote.”

    So by having allowed Silverstein ever so slightly more communication with people than “convicted terrorists”, no matter how draconian the rest of his living conditions may have been, this had allowed the judge to claim Silverstein’s condition was not “atypically extreme”.

    And by having shuffled their cells, and carefully selecting those within ear shot of each other, the guards kept even shouting between cells to a bare minimum. The BOP had placed rivals nearby to agitate and informants, with questionable credibility, to report on the give and take between Silverstein and others. The informants had everything to gain by inventing or embellishing the goings on between such high profile prisoners. All of this, and well placed microphones to record it all had turned up nothing to indicate Silverstein still remained a threat.

    Mail: Silverstein stated that his mail was still censored by SIS unlike some of the other inmates around him. These procedures lead to bureaucratic delays of his incoming and outgoing correspondence. In addition he claimed that there were frequent intentional or unintentional delays in his mails scheduled pickup and delivery. These delays could have lead to significant legal problems when his mandated filing deadlines were not met. He also claimed that a legal document from his defense team which was marked to be opened only in front of Mr. Silverstein had arrived to him already opened by the SIS staff. And if such legal correspondence had missed its deadline the judge was more often inclined to believe the CO’s denial of interference then his claim of wrongdoing.

    Visits: Silverstein said, “mail meddling is part of their desire to cut me off from the outside world—once they alienate you, they try to break your hopes, then your resistance. I didn’t get any visits for about 10 years, because of the draconian policy that says we’re not allowed visits from anyone we didn’t know prior to prison.”

    After 35 years of incarceration at a location far from his prior home and family Silverstein received very few visits from his ever shrinking pool of relatives and old friends. Referring to this dilemma Silverstein asked, “How many folks still know people from that long ago?” Only once in the last 27 years had Silverstein ever been allowed to add one “very special person” to this list.
    He went on to state “The BOP policy statement claims to encourage visits to maintain family and social ties, but it’s only a ploy to fool the public when in reality they do just the opposite.”
    He gave this example as evidence; “Once my baby sister came to see me all the way from California, and the gate guards at first wouldn’t let her in.

    Finally Silverstein’s ability to mount a robust legal defense to end his isolation was hindered by, poor education, difficulty in accessing legal materials, and his unfamiliarity with computers. (He was allowed only 2 hours at a time on the legal computer with no law books available.)
    It is clear to this reader that the BOP planned the easing of his prior atypical, “no human contact status” to side step the lawsuit.

    All during this time the deadly rivalry continued between the D.C. Blacks (now known as the D.C. Crew) and the Aryan Brotherhood (also known as the Brand) over events that took place three decades ago at the C.U. in USP Marion. So many, tick for tack, retaliatory strikes have taken place since that time that members of the D.C. Crew, and The Brand are not housed together at any federal prison today and no influential member of either gang is knowingly allowed to interact in the general prison population.

    Even after all this time had passed it was believed that members of the D.C. Crew still wished to avenge Smith’s murder by murdering Silverstein himself.

    Denied reprieve Silverstein remained in isolation in the “General Population”, at the ADX up until his death on May 11, 2019 from heart complications having first contracted pneumonia months earlier which then developed into septic shock and lead to organ failure.

    At first Silverstein was kept in four point restraints even though he was near death. At the time of his death Silverstein had spent more time in solitary confinement (just five months shy of 36 years) than any other inmate in federal custody that was more than half of his 67 years on this earth alone in a cell the size of a closet.

    And today if such prisoners wish to challenge these harsh measures, another law waits to thwart all their efforts:

    The Prison Litigation Reform Act (PLRA) was also passed in 1996. The PLRA imposes strict filing procedures which require hard-to-come-by documentation, combined with inflexible time restraints—all of which are technically incomprehensible to almost all inmates. The result is even constitutionally meritorious cases are often thrown out of court.

    All of this is exponentially more difficult for juveniles in adult prisons to manage. But sadly they, too, must navigate this maze of bureaucratic red tape, even as they struggle just to survive another day in prison. Governor Hugh Carey of New York was the first to lobby his state’s legislature to pass the state’s Juvenile Offender Act of 1978, which allowed juveniles to be charged and punished as adults. The law is now known as the “Willie Bosket law.” After its passage a few other states quickly followed suit but by the end of the 1990’s, the rest of the 50 states, having been encouraged by financial incentives in President Clinton’s Juvenile Crime Control Act, had all passed their own laws allowing or requiring select juveniles between the ages of 10 and 17 to be charged and punished as adults. An estimated 250,000 youth are now tried, sentenced, or incarcerated as adults every year across the United States most for non-violent offenses.

    Is it right that persons who have legitimate claims should be denied legal recourse because others have filed frivolous cases? When they choose to seek justice, should they have to navigate a system obviously geared to make it next to impossible to have their grievance heard? A bedrock principle of international human rights law is the equality of all persons before the law. But in reviewing this act, Human Rights Watch has said that it is not aware of any other country in which national legislation singles out prisoners for a unique set of barriers to vindicating their legal rights in court. This is all the more alarming because the monitoring of conditions in prisons, jails, and juvenile facilities, in the U.S. is primarily left up to the federal courts.

    The result of the PLRA is that fewer law suits have been filed by prisoners, and of those filed, fewer are being won. Many acts that would be treated as serious crimes if perpetrated upon those of us in the “free world” can legally be perpetrated upon prisoners under the tenets of this act. This includes any act that is deemed to produce only “mental or emotional injury.” Thus, the internationally recognized harm that is done to inmates in SOLITARY CONFINEMENT is sanctioned and ignored, as is the emotional distress caused by the rape of inmates, whether by other prisoners or by guards.

    Robert Hood, who was the warden at ADX, nicknamed the Alcatraz of the Rockies, from 2002 until 2005 before Silverstein arrived there has called ADX, “A clean version of hell.” on CBS’s “60 Minutes” program airing on June 21, 2009.

    Since ADX Florence first opened for business in November 1994 it has been the only level 6 prison in the federal system.

    However the BOP is now retrofitting, and staffing USP/ADX Thomson in rural Illinois allocating 50 million dollars in the 2014 budget to turn it into another “ADX”. The State of Illinois had sold this new, but never opened prison, to the US Government because of necessary budget cut backs brought on by the Great Recession.

    Whether or not an inmate actively fights the system, after he has been classified as a member of a security threat group all his actions are viewed through this prism. From that moment on any resistance that he may exhibit is documented while all cases of compliance even in the face of an injustice are given no mention. With no avenue in the SHU to prove otherwise, this classification becomes his new reality. As Jorge Luis Borges once wrote, “A man gradually identifies with the form of his fate; a man is, in the long run, his own circumstances.”

    Denied the right to interact socially with the general population, and while under constant threat of gang members enforcing their own code of conduct in the SHU the prisoner is never the less asked to think independently. He is also required to act rationally while housed in an environment that has proven to impair one’s cognitive ability and impulse control. In such a socially isolated setting it has been duly noted that prisoners often obsess uncontrollably, over personal grievances which may then lead them commit further acts of violence. In short, the supermax prisoner is set up to fail and by their personal failure they ironically ensure the continuation of the failed system.
    As noted above scientific studies of solitary confinement were first held in the mid-19th century the subject was reexamined in the 1950’s in response to reports of prisoner isolation and brainwashing during the Korean War. Today, extreme cases such as Thomas Silverstein’s have shocked the public into examining the subject once more.

    Although reading has been proven to prevent the boredom that can lead to insanity, functional illiteracy is commonplace in prison and I suspect highest amongst those held in solitary confinement. Is it then surprising that this 5 percent of the total prison population held in isolation account for nearly half of suicides in prison?

    When prisoners finally are released and re-enter society, which often happens directly from isolation, they are too often unable to adjust, since prolonged isolation decimates one’s ability to live normally. I believe that just like a deep sea diver needs to decompression at varying depths on the way to the surface these tortured souls also need time to adjust.

    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.”

    But take this one man as an example, had Silverstein’s loss of hope of ever being released, really meant that he has also lost his respect for life itself, even his own? Or had his isolation driven him to value the simplest of interpersonal relationships, even if for a very short time, over a longer, safer, but tortured existence, inside an ADX tomb for the living?

    Silverstein’s statement above, as well as those in his Declaration, and in all his many appeals for relief seem to answer these basic questions.

    As for me, after reading all his words closely, and studying the case on line; I believe Silverstein had learned to respect life, both his own, an especially those of others, and now values human relationships over his own personal safety.

    But Silverstein was just one of approximately 80,000 inmates in isolation on any given day in the US. But unlike Silverstein most of these other tortured souls will one day be released back into society with too many being released directly from their solitary confinement cell.

    We didn’t get here overnight over two centuries ago the American doctrine of civil death helped pave the way for the present day advocates of capital punishment, minimum mandatory sentencing, three strikes laws, and the less-than-fully-human status of prisoners all of which contributed to the current crisis.

    In the era of social media where is the moral outrage displayed in the mid-19th Century over solitary confinement or the in late 1940’s over the horrible conditions in the nation’s asylums?

    Have we lost our compassion?

    • Alan, I hope everyone will read your detailed account of Tom’s incarceration. it portrays Tom as a full human being and not a one-dimensional killer. Thanks for all the work you put into the research and for sharing it with us.

      • I hope many read it too.

        And thank you for allowing such a long comment.

        There is no short way to cover nearly 50 years of Tom’s entanglement with the system.

        These legal measures which resulted in mass incarceration with people of color affected
        disportportionally resulted in a tense atmosphere between the races which resulted in what has been called “A War Behind Walls”

        An Israeli man recently wrote a book about the nations policy of assassination titled “Rise and Kill First”. Their government chooses to do just that when the state is threatened. How is that different than what Tom did?

  5. Good riddance to bad white trash!

    • Otis, Sorry that you feel that way about Tom’s death. Were he alive, he would no doubt respond to your post–he tried to respond personally to all posts, regardless of their sentiment–and he would no doubt be gracious in rebutting your sentiment. To each his own…

  6. Pretty short for having to cover 36 years of Solitary plus all the years leading up to it.

    • I’m not sure if Solitary Watch will write a article on his death but they mentioned it briefly in the weekly roundup of news about solitary. I would expect more to be written because if the longest serving person in Federal solitary confinement doesn’t deserve a stand alone article what does that say about their mission? It’s not even on top.

      • They had a link to a article in which Tom’s lawyer was quoted:

        Rovner believes, if the Constitution is to mean anything, then it must apply not just to people and causes that engender sympathy, but to men like Tommy Silverstein, who have been written off as “the worst of the worst.” It must prevail not only in the light of day, but in the fluorescent-lit dungeons of ADX.

        Rovner believed that the extreme nature of Silverstein’s isolation, and its duration, demanded a legal response. And it’s possible that the outcome of his case could have affected the thousands of other individuals being held in long-term solitary confinement in supermax facilities and administrative segregation units across the country, from Virginia’s Red Onion prison to California’s Pelican Bay. When a federal judge ruled, in March 2010, that Silverstein’s lawsuit could move forward, Rovner pointed out that it was “one of only two or three in the entire country where a court has held that solitary confinement alone is enough to state a claim for cruel and unusual punishment, even absent mental illness or other physical harm. We anticipated and hoped that this decision would have a positive impact on the ability of litigators across the country to challenge the disturbing trend of holding individuals in solitary confinement indefinitely.”

        Tommy Silverstein himself has described life in solitary confinement as “a slow constant peeling of the skin, stripping of the flesh, the nerve-wracking sound of water dripping from a leaky faucet in the still of the night while you’re trying to sleep. Drip, drip, drip, the minutes, hours, days, weeks, months, years, constantly drip away with no end or relief in sight.”

        Great points which I hope the editors of the piece took note of.

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