America’s Most Isolated Federal Prisoner Describes 10,220 Days in Extreme Solitary Confinement
- “Control Unit” by Thomas Silverstein
Thomas Silverstein, who has been described as America’s “most isolated man,” has been held in an extreme form of solitary confinement under a “no human contact” order for 28 years. Originally imprisoned for armed robbery at the age of 19, Silverstein is serving life without parole for killing two fellow inmates (whom he says were threatening his life) and a prison guard, and has been buried in the depths of the federal prison system since 1983.
In his current lawsuit against the Federal Bureau of Prisons, Silverstein contends that his decades of utter isolation in a small concrete cell violate the Constitution’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment, as well as its guarantee of due process. (The lawsuit, brought by the University of Denver’s Civil Rights Clinic, is described in detail in our article “Fortresses of Solitude.”) Update: On Friday, federal District Court Judge Philip Brimmer set a court date of January 23, 2012 for a jury trial in the Silverstein case.
In support of that lawsuit, Tommy Silverstein, now 59, has written a long “declaration,” the purpose of which “is primarily to describe my experience during this lengthy period of solitary confinement: the nature and impact of the harsh conditions I have endured in spite of a spotless conduct record for over 22 years, and my lack of knowledge about what, if anything, I can do to lessen my isolation.” After apologizing “for the actions that brought me here in the first place,” particularly the murder of corrections officer Merle Clutts, Silverstein contends that he has “worked hard to become a different man.” He continues, “I understand that I deserve to be punished for my actions, and I do not expect ever to be released from prison…I just want to serve out the remainder of my time peacefully with other mature guys doing their time.”
The bulk of the declaration is a detailed account of Silverstein’s experiences and surrounding in a series of what constitute the most secure and isolated housing in the federal prison system: in the notorious Control Unit at Marion, the supermax prototype; at USP Atlanta in a windowless underground “side pocket” cell that measured 6 x 7 feet (“almost exactly the size of a standard king mattress,”); at Leavenworth in an isolated basement cell dubbed the “Silverstein Suite”; on “Range 13″ at ADX Florence, where the only other prisoner was Ramzi Yusef; and finally in ADX’s D-Unit, where he can hear the sounds of other prisoners living in neighboring cells, though he still never sees them.
The following is from Tommy Silverstein’s description of his life at USP Atlanta:
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.
My bed took up the length of the cell, and there was no other furniture at all…The walls were solid steel and painted all white.
I was permitted to wear underwear, but I was given no other clothing.
Shortly after I arrived, the prison staff began construction on the side pocket cell, adding more bars and other security measures to the cell while I was within it. 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.
During my first year in the side pocket cell I was completely isolated from the outside world and had no way to occupy my time. I was not allowed to have any social visits, telephone privileges, or reading materials except a bible. I was not allowed to have a television, radio, or tape player. I could speak to no one and their was virtually nothing on which to focus my attention.
I was not only isolated, but also disoriented in the side pocket. This was exacerbated by the fact that I wasn’t allowed to have a wristwatch or clock. In addition, the bright, artificial lights remained on in the cell constantly, increasing my disorientation and making it difficult to sleep. Not only were they constantly illuminated, but those lights buzzed incessantly. The buzzing noise was maddening, as there often were no other sounds at all. This may sound like a small thing, but it was my entire world.
Due to the unchanging bright artificial lights and not having a wristwatch or clock, I couldn’t tell if it was day or night. Frequently, I would fall asleep and when I woke up I would not know if I had slept for five minutes or five hours, and would have no idea of what day or time of day it was.
I tried to measure the passing of days by counting food trays. Without being able to keep track of time, though, sometimes I thought the officers had left me and were never coming back. I thought they were gone for days, and I was going to starve. It’s likely they were only gone for a few hours, but I had no way to know.
I was so disoriented in Atlanta that 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…
There was no air conditioning or heating in the side pocket cells. 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…
The only time I was let out of my cell was for outdoor recreation. 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…
My vision deteriorated in the side pocket, I think due to the constant bright lights, or possibly also because of other aspects of this harsh environment. Everything began to appear blurry and I became sensitive to light, which burned my eyes and gave me headaches.
Nearly all of the time, the officers refused to speak to me. Despite this, 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.
In the side pocket cell, I lost some ability to distinguished what was real. I dreamt I was in prison. When I woke up, I was not sure which was reality and which was a dream.
In a summing up, Silverstein reflects on the physical and psychological effects of 28 years in solitary and on his own development as a self-taught artists and practicioner of yoga and Buddhist meditation. He reiterates his plea to be allowed into the BOP’s “Step-Down program” toward less isolated confinement. The complete declaration, which runs to 64 pages, can be read here.
Update: A declaration submitted as an exhibit in the case, by Dr. Craig Haney, one of the nation’s leading experts on the effects of prolonged solitary confinement, can be read here.
Please, note: we could watch each week, several times, reports about America`s prisons & prisoners. We could watch Isolation Cells, we coul see persons, sitting in those cells. Even they shawn a man like the author of this article… a life under a tombstone
- “Truly Civil” Torture (lawprofessors.typepad.com)
- PROFILE of an ADX PRISONER: “Just Half Crazy & Trying to Hold on to the Other Half” (inprisonedwomen.wordpress.com)
Oregon Supreme Court orders new trial for Samuel Adam Lawson
on November 29, 2012 at 9:01 AM, updated November 29, 2012 at 5:15 PM
In a groundbreaking decision, the Oregon Supreme Court Thursday ordered a new trial for Samuel Adam Lawson — convicted in the 2003 murder of Noris Hilde at an Umpqua National Forest campground — and established new procedures for determining the admissibility of eyewitness identification evidence.
Lawson, 37, was convicted largely on the problematic eyewitness testimony of Sherl Hilde, who did not identify him as her husband’s killer until two years after the crime. He has spent the last nine years in custody.
Hilde — who was critically injured in the late-night shooting that killed her husband — was aided in her identification of Lawson by Douglas County Det. Chris Merrifield, the lead investigator in that case.
Merrifield not only showed Sherl Hilde an individual photo of Lawson, but escorted her to a pretrial hearing so she could get a fresh look at the accused.
A divided Oregon Court of Appeals did not dispute that “those actions were unduly suggestive,” but still upheld Lawson’s conviction. Former chief Judge David Brewer argued that Hilde’s eyewitness ID was valid because, as proscribed by a 33-year-old Oregon law (State v. Classen), it still had a “source independent of the suggestive procedure.”
On Thursday, a unanimous Supreme Court disagreed, and revised the Classen reliability tests in the process.
In an 80-page opinion, Justice Paul J. De Muniz notes the Court’s “serious concerns regarding the reliability” of Hilde’s eyewitness identification, including stress, suggestive questions, memory contamination and conflicting statements.
“In light of current scientific knowledge regarding the effects of suggestion and confirming feedback,” De Muniz concludes that questions about the reliability of the ID evidence admitted at trial are impossible to ignore and remands the case to the Douglas County trial court for a new trial.
What’s more, the court revises the tests for eyewitness identification set out in Classen to “better take into account” three decades of scientific research.
“That’s what’s so exciting about this opinion,” said Laura Graser, the Portland attorney who coordinated the amicus briefs in Lawson’s appeal. “The court acknowledged that science is not something that can be pinned down, it’s something that moves.
“I think Classen is overruled. The court doesn’t say that, but it’s out the window.” …
Please, read whole article there! Thank You!
- Top Oregon Court Overhauls Eyewitness ID Rules (reed.edu)
- New eyewitness procedures in Oregon trials (ualbertalaw.typepad.com)
- Ore. Supreme Court orders new trial in 2003 campground shooting (koinlocal6.com)
- Oregon high court sets new rules for eyewitness accuracy (seattletimes.com)
- The Catch-22 of Eyewitness ID (slate.com)
- Oregon Supreme Court orders new trial for Samuel Adam Lawson (oregonlive.com)
- Oregon Supreme Court orders new trial in 2003 Douglas County murder over faulty identification evidence (oregonlive.com)
- Editorial: A Check on Bad Eyewitness Identifications (nytimes.com)
- Oregon Supreme Court orders new trial for Samuel Adam Lawson | OregonLive.com (justcrim.typepad.com)
- Oregon Supreme Court ruling described as ‘landmark’ decision on eyewitness testimony (oregonlive.com)
I started a therapy center for children with special needs because of my son, Julian. Julian has autism. When he was a baby, Julian was so withdrawn that he wouldn’t even eat.
Horseback riding therapy changed Julian’s life, and mine too — so much so that I decided to sell my house and build a therapy center to help children who were struggling like Julian. More than 40 children with special needs come to Parkwood Farms Therapy Center to learn and grow by working with and riding horses — but I could be forced to shut down my home and the therapy center because the bank is threatening me with eviction.
I was making all my mortgage payments until my bank sold my loan and my bills skyrocketed. Every three months, the rates increased until my monthly payments were double what they used to be.
I need to stop this now — not just for me, but for the kids who need this therapy center. I started a petition on Change.org asking HSBC Bank to stop my eviction and work with me to modify my loan. Will you sign?
I’m so glad I opened the horseback riding therapy center: every day I see kids opening up, connecting with the horses, learning to communicate, and so much more. I can’t tell you how rewarding it is to help parents like me, who wanted to help their children but didn’t know how. For some kids, working with animals is the key to helping them open up and relate to the world.
I’ve been trying to negotiate to get my payments back down, but after following the bank’s instructions for two years, my credit has been damaged and I’m facing eviction.
I don’t want to shut this center down. People in my community need it. That’s why the mayor and the entire city council came out to the center this month and gave speeches in support of Parkwood Farms. But I need your help too to put more pressure on the bank to negotiate with me. I know that Change.org petitions have helped push banks to meet with other homeowners facing foreclosure, and if enough people sign my petition, I’m confident that HSBC will follow suit.
Thank you so much for your help.
Dr. Marilyn Peterson
- Playing Indian: Endemic Issue of Indigenous Stereotyping Back In The Spotlight (intercontinentalcry.org)
Allowing male guards to oversee female prisoners is a recipe for trouble, says former political prisoner Laura Whitehorn. Now a frequent lecturer on incarceration policies and social justice, Whitehorn describes a culture in which women are stripped of their power on the most basic level. “Having male guards sends a message that female prisoners have no right to defend their bodies,” she begins. “Putting women under men in authority makes the power imbalance as stark as it can be, and results in long-lasting repercussions post- release.”
Abuse, of course, can take many forms, from the flagrant – outright rape, groping, invasive pat-downs and peeping during showers or while an inmate is on the toilet – to verbal taunts or harassing comments. And while advocates for the incarcerated have long tried to draw attention to these conditions, they’ve made little to no headway. But that may be changing thanks to…
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