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…

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America’s Most Isolated Federal Prisoner Describes 10,220 Days in Extreme Solitary Confinement


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


Samuel Adam Lawson: Oregon Supreme Court Orders New Trial!

English: Oregon Supreme Court Building stairs
English: Oregon Supreme Court Building stairs (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Oregon Supreme Court orders new trial for Samuel Adam Lawson

Steve Duin, The Oregonian By Steve Duin, The Oregonian The Oregonian
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!

Change org. Petition: Horseback Riding Therapy: Marilyn asking HSBC Bank to stop her eviction
I need your help to stop the bank from evicting me and save the horseback riding center I built for children with special needs.
Sign My Petition

Annamaria –

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 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 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.

Please help me save Parkwood Farms Therapy Center: Sign my petition to HSBC Bank now.

Thank you so much for your help.

Dr. Marilyn Peterson


Removal of Invaders from Xavante Indigenous Land of Marãiwatsédé begins

After 20 years, the Xavante peoples are finally on their way back to Marãiwatsédé. In recent weeks, the government of Brazil began to remove the remaining invaders who entered the Xavante homeland in a co-ordinated and racially-motivated effort that involved landowners, city council members, mayors and even a judge.

In this special report, Andreia Fanzeres and Daniel Santini take an in-depth look at the disintrusion and the events leading up to it.

Article originally published at:

English Translation by M.A. Kidd

(Links below are in Portuguese unless otherwise indicated)

Removal of invaders from Indigenous Land Marãiwatsédé in northeastern Mato Grosso (MT) . With the support of the Army, National Force, Federal Police and Federal Highway Police, representatives of the federal government organized an operation to secure the return of lands to the Xavante indians. The removal process…

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My Blog InCaseofInnocence

DNA Evidence Proves Joseph Buffey’s Innocence, Identifies True PerpetratorJoseph Buffey

Innocence Project attorneys asked a Circuit Court Judge in Harrison County, West Virginia, to reverse the rape conviction of Joseph Buffey and release him on bond based on DNA evidence pointing to the real perpetrator. The court stopped short of releasing Buffey, but adjourned the case for a full hearing in March.

Buffey was arrested for the 2001 rape and robbery of an 83-year-old woman. Based on the advice of his lawyer who told him he risked a sentence of 200 to 300 years in prison if he went to trial, he took a plea that he soon regretted, but unfortunately it was too late. He eventually sought the help of the Innocence Project, which was able to secure DNA testing in May 2011 that excluded Buffey as the perpetrator. Even though the victim made it clear to the…

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intercontinental cry: playing indian

English: Native American girl
English: Native American girl (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


Playing Indian: Endemic Issue of Indigenous Stereotyping Back In The Spotlight

‘Playing Indian’ is no novel phenomena, notes Philip J Deloria in the introduction to his brilliant study of the same title. Groups of white Americans have been appropriating Native American identity since before the Boston Tea Party of 1773. Such appropriations have had observably damaging effects on Indigenous Peoples of the continent who have been routinely excluded from processes that would create accurate and specific representations, allowing them to be ‘imagined’ by colonial minds often as either stereotypical Noble or Inhuman savages.

Two events of the last few months have reminded us that the injustices made possible through the rhetorical draw of imagined ‘Indian images’ are contemporary as well as historical. The most recent non-native parties to act out their fantasies of indigineity are ska/rock group No Doubt and the Victoria’s Secret underwear brand. Both have since been embroiled in controversies concerning this mimesis of Native American dress and identity.

No Doubt’s recent comeback music video featured lead singer Gwen Stefani as a partially dressed Indian maiden tied up at the mercy of her cowboy captors and, according to the song’s title, ‘Looking Hot’. Also boasting provocative lyrics, the video was removed just hours after its release due to the sheer number of complaints alleging that its subject matter was culturally inappropriate.

Despite this outcry, just a week later stills were released of model Karlie Kloss walking an impossibly skimpy leopard print bikini complimented by a feathered headdress and turquoise jewellery at the Victoria’s Secret fashion show.

Author of the Native Appropriations blog Adrienne K voiced her disbelief and dismay that so soon after the last controversy “NOBODY at Victoria’s Secret saw one of the hundreds of articles about No Doubt and thought, hm, maybe we shouldn’t include a woman in a headdress and a fake buckskin bikini?”

As a result of their apparent lack of awareness and/or sensitivity Victoria’s Secret were subsequently inundated with complaints akin to those so recently directed at No Doubt’s own screen frolics. The footage of Kloss in the offending outfit was cut from the airing of the show.

Such a swift and strong reaction against the appropriation of (inaccurately portrayed) Native American identity is certainly a good sign, especially when considered alongside efforts to promote Indigenous business. It is an indicator to the general public that strong and informed Indigenous peoples are aware of their rights and power. Similarly positive is the fact that this reaction was seemingly accepted and acted upon by the offending parties who both offered up official apologies.

Though these apologies have been graciously accepted by Native American communities, it is worrying that both No Doubt and Victoria’s Secret claim they did not ‘mean to cause any offense.’

While we may accept this as fact it seems astounding white Americans should remain ignorant of the offense and damage that can be caused by ‘playing indian’ in light of the historical depth such appropriations are shown to have in major publications such as Deloria’s book and the persistent and public flash points where such appropriations have been dragged into the mainstream media (the cases of Urban Outfitters, Paul Frank and the ‘My culture is not a costume‘ campaign all spring to mind) that white Americans should remain ignorant of the offense and damage that can be caused by ‘playing indian.’

Whilst some non-native observers have and will cry foul over what they see as political correctness gone mad, the fact is that these latest two transgressions reveal an endemic culture of Indigenous stereotyping in the US, the importance of which have seemingly passed American settlers by for many centuries.

Far from being ‘a bit of holiday fun’ dressing up and ‘playing indian’–whether on Halloween, in a music video or on the catwalk–non-native Americans contribute to a fabricated spectre designed to historicize, trivialize, eroticize and ultimately colonize actual people.

Considering the hows and whys of this process can help us understand that the impacts of appropriation and stereotyping are far from trivial and go beyond the world of images.

Regarding the two specific cases referred to in this article, we are able to see that many such appropriations and the stereotypes created by them are strongly gendered. Taiaiake Alfred has noted that Native American women have been specifically targeted by colonization activities over the centuries. Referring specifically to the Haudenosaunee, he imparts some useful information:

“The central objective of colonization, as it was practiced in our part of the world, was to impose cultural practices and to impose world views that come from Europe on Indigenous peoples. It just so happens that at the time that this project was in full force, doing its business, patriarchy and the subjugation of women was at the forefront of that culture…If you’re trying to steal somebody’s land, you have to go after the owners, and in the Haudenosaunee community, the owners, it so happened, were the females. So you put those two together, and it’s a pretty compelling reason to go after the traditional roles of women in our society.”

A key feature of these traditional roles of which Taiaiake speaks is the good degree of equity in social relations between Haudenosaunee men and women–an equity absent from European society.

Native women from many groups have experienced a similar struggle since the dawn of Western colonialism; a key feature of their disempowerment has been the creation and maintenance of hyper-sexualized stereotypes. Karlie Kloss and Gwen Stefani both provide a perfect example of how, through appropriating and amending features of American Indian identity, this stereotype has been perpetuated in the present. In their respective contexts they portray Native American females to be promiscuous, dusky maidens who have retained some kind of primordial animalistic sexual energy which must be somehow conquered. In more recent years this image has been popularized as that of the ‘sexy squaw’ for whom clothing and dignity are seemingly best kept to a minimum.

There can be no doubt that this manifestation of the non-native imagination is in part responsible for the horrifying statistics concerning the sexual abuse of Native American women in the United States. A recent study undertaken by Amnesty International showed that 1 in 3 Native American women will be raped in their lifetime with 70% of assaults committed by non-native men. Needless to say, these statistics vastly exceed the national average for such heinous crimes.

Subjection to this level of sexual terror and pressure is a key tool of the continuing mental and physical colonization of communities often isolated from access to meaningful justice (Native Americans are unable to judge crimes committed in their own communities by non-native persons). It is aided and abetted by the voracious sexualisation of the female Native American body in mainstream media and carnival practice.

This stark causal example, drawn between image and actuality, should grab the attention of those who would decry all of this as good fun. And yet perhaps not, as another key feature of the systematic racism encoded within these stereotypes is the imagining of Native Americans as historical figures. It is key to use the prefix ‘imaginary’ here as the ‘indian’ of image and stereotype is but a useful trope, a figment of Euro-American imaginations.

Returning to the work of Deloria we are shown that Native Americans have always been excluded from this process of imagining the ‘indian.’ The reason? In striving to create their own American identity in a land they tore from its Indigenous inhabitants the indian is useful but cannot simultaneously exist if such an identity is to be achieved. The claim of European settlers to be American cannot be ratified whilst the original inhabitants of the land remain. Colonialism dictates they must be eliminated or assimilated.

Whilst attempts to physically enact this elimination have failed (though not for lack of trying) the next best thing has been to create an image of the Native American in popular culture and imagination which parades the falsity that these people are gone, undermining legitimate contemporary claims to indigenous authenticity.

Images of chiefs resplendent in ceremonial head dresses, of buck skin clothing and colourful beads crowd non-native perceptions of what it looks like to be Native American and populate costume shops and TV screens alike. These heavily stereotyped images hold the key to historicizing Native American peoples who are in fact very much alive and practicing their traditions today. In this way Native Americans can be disregarded by those who cannot move past their conception of Indigenous identity as skin deep. Removing the existence of ‘real’ Native Americans from the equation leaves the way clear for Euro-Americans to claim America as their own staking their identity on their ‘ownership’ of the land and the domination necessary to gain it.

All of these factors point towards an enduring and distinctly colonial brand of discrimination. And yet another key trope of this prejudice is to homogenize, not discriminate, creating a third way in which stereotypes can act as tools for disempowerment.

How often is it that a reveler of European descent dresses up specifically as a member of the Apache, the Sioux, the Haudenosaunee or the Kwakiutl? And how often are these groups given space in the media as themselves? Almost never. Instead it offers up only the image of the ‘indian’. Again this is due to the absence of Native American access to their own representation on this stage, an absence which, echoing through the ages, has allowed White Euro-American ideologies to collapse Native American identity.

In doing so the individuality and efficacy of Native American claims to their land and multi-faceted heritage has been undermined. Until it is widely recognized that Native American peoples, though they share a common heritage of sorts in their experiences of pre- and post-colonial America, constitute more than a homogenous horde their specific needs and struggles will not be properly addressed or heard.

So, in light of the history, in light of the observable effects of the media and in the blood red glare of colonial rhetorics can anyone truly claim that this is still just a lark? To the person who dresses ‘native’ at Halloween and for those who may make a music video or curate a fashion show, ‘playing indian’ may not feel like a big deal because of the gulf which has separated their experiences of their fledgling nation from those of Native Americans, but it all contributes, it all makes the gulf wider. Essentializing difference, legitimizing dominance, stereotypes conjured by colonial imaginations rely on the over perpetuation of like images to prop them up.

It must be hoped that the informed and impassioned outcry at the latest high profile appropriations will help kick out these props and raise awareness until it reaches a point at which no-one can claim to have ‘meant no offense’ by participating in the practice of ‘playing indian.’ Only the total and equitable inclusion of Native American peoples in all narratives concerning their own lives and identities should be deemed acceptable in the fight for accurate representation. It is time Euro-Americans relinquished their grip on constructed claims to the ‘indian’ and respect the authenticity and autonomy Native American peoples have been denied by the poisoned image of themselves and countless other injustices for over 300 years.

This article owes a great depth of gratitude to those who have dedicated themselves to fighting racial injustice and inaccurate representations at multiple levels. These include Adrienne K of the Native Appropriations blog, all those running the F.A.I.R blog and the work of Philip J Deloria.

  • Philip J Deloria, 1998, Playing Indian. Yale Historical Publications.

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My Blog Women in Jail

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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