Why Was This Prisoner Kept Locked Away In Permanent Total Isolation – There seems to be some disagreement as to who has spent the most time in solitary confinement, but you can find a handful of people that did over forty years without much contact with other people. The record might well be smashed by the British prisoner called Robert Maudsley, aka, the brain eater, or the real life Hannibal the Cannibal, who’s now done over 40 years in solitary.
The man we are going to talk about today might be some way behind in terms of years spent kept away from the other prison population, but there’s another reason he is called the most isolated prisoner in the world. Mr. Silverstein, who was born in 1952, has been in prison since 1977. Back then he was convicted of armed robbery and sent to the United States Penitentiary in Leavenworth, Kansas, to do his time.
You might be curious why armed robbery with no deaths would warrant such a long sentence, but it’s what Tommy did inside prison that made the difference. He has been given the epithet “America’s Most Dangerous Prisoner”, and while the media is prone to exaggeration at times, he certainly has been very dangerous within the confines of U.S. prisons.
During his time behind bars he has been convicted of killing four people, although one of those convictions was overturned. For that he was later given a specially designed solitary cell, and one that he would have to spend 24 hours a day in, seven days a week. According to blog posts written not long before we started writing this show, Silverstein has some very serious health complications, but we are told the Bureau of Prisons will not release any information as to his condition.
He was put into intensive care, although we are told not even his family were allowed to visit him. This is how isolated this prisoner is, and we should add that by the time you watch this show there might not even be a Tommy Silverstein. But now let’s have a look at how he got to this point in his life. We are told that Tommy grew up in in Long Beach, California.
While pregnant with him, his mother got a divorce, though she then married again. Silverstein claims that this second man is his real father. He wasn’t around that long anyway, because his mother divorced again and married a Mr. Silverstein, and this man legally adopted the young Tommy. From what we can see he didn’t exactly come from the wrong side of the tracks.
It’s said he lived a middle class kind of life, but was very shy and certainly not a tough kid at the start. He was bullied for various reasons, but it’s written that because of his name other kids used to pick on him for being Jewish in a neighborhood where they weren’t many Jewish people. It’s said he soon toughened up and fought back, with Silverstein saying his mother didn’t suffer fools, or bullies, gladly.
Most bio websites post this comment that Silverstein once made about his childhood: “That’show my mom was. She stood her mud. If someone came at you with a bat, you got your bat and you both went at it”. So, it seems he was a slightly troubled kid, but he didn’t get into serious trouble until he was 19-years old. That’s when he was arrested for armed robbery the first time. He was sent to San Quentin and served four years.
Not long after getting out he met his father, the real one that he says is his biological father, and also his uncle. The three were eventually arrested for three armed robberies. It seems Silverstein being so young garnered some sympathy, with those people saying the young man had been taken in by the older men.
The judge wasn’t buying any of that lack of parental guidance stuff though and sentenced Tommy to 15 years. He wouldn’t get out of prison again, and might never if his present sickness gets the better of him. Even if he survives that, it’s very unlikely he will ever get out of prison again. It’s said his releases date is officially 2095, so if he makes it to 143 he might feel the wind on his back again.
While in prison in Kansas he developed a friendship with members of the Aryan Brotherhood. In 1980, Tommy, now 28, was convicted of killing a fellow inmate. The story goes that the inmate had turned down an offer he couldn’t refuse. That was to be a drug mule for the white gang. This is what the TV show Crime Investigation had to say, “As an inductee of the Aryan Brotherhood, ‘Terrible Tom’ happily committed acts of violence which soon escalated to murder. He violently killed DC Blacks gang member Danny Atwell”.
We should say, though, that this conviction was overturned with some of the witnesses later charged with lying in court. Silverstein was then sent to the United States Penitentiary in Marion in Illinois, which was said to be a very tough prison. Silverstein had been given a life sentence for that murder, but obviously that had been reversed after the perjury charge. But then he was accused of killing another DC Blacks member, Robert Chappelle.
Silverstein always denied this, and then the Bureau of Prisons did something one could call worthy of redress. They moved the nationwide leader of the DC Blacks, Raymond “Cadillac” Smith, to Marionwhile Silverstein was on trial for Chapelle’s murder. “I tried to tell Cadillac that I didn’t kill Chappelle, but he didn’t believe me and he bragged that he was going to kill me”, Silverstein would later say.
He added that no one tried to keep the men apart and it was believed by him and the other prisoners that the guards wanted one of the men to kill the other. A more cynical person would say the system wanted one less violent inmate. The one less they eventually got was Cadillac, who was stabbed 67 times by Silverstein. He did this with another member of the Aryan Brotherhood called Clayton Fountain.
Crime Investigation writes that Silverstein walked up and down the wing with the dead body to show the others what might happen if they decided to try and take him out. We are told after this he became one of the top guys in the Aryan Brotherhood. He was also given another life sentence. So now we bring in an officer called Merle Eugene Clutts.
He was supposed to maintain order in the violent wing of the prison, but Silverstein has always maintained that Clutts came in with a very heavy hand. He was there to especially watch Silverstein and the latter has said he didn’t only watch him, but regularly tormented him. That culminated with the death of Clutts.
One day in 1983 he and other guards were taking Silverstein to the shower block. On the way, with the help of another prisoner, Silverstein got out of his handcuffs with a homemade key and stabbed the officer with a shank he had been handed. The autopsy report revealed that Silverstein stabbed Clutts around forty times.
Silverstein has always said he did this because Clutts had treated him particularly badly,even for prison. An investigation revealed that wasn’t the case, but Silverstein said that investigation itself was corrupt. He was transferred to a different prison at this time, where he murdered another guard. What followed was 23 year lock down at Marion. Some say these two incidents were the reason the first Supermax prison was built in the U.S.
You might guess that this was the beginning of Silverstein’s days in solitary. It wasn’t normal solitary, though, it was what’s called total isolation. That means 24 hours a day in the cell and the lights are on all the time. His security status was, “no human contact”. Not many prisoners get this, with Silverstein and the British maniac we mentioned at the start of the show being the most notorious.
Advocates of human rights have said such isolation is not far from a torture technique used by the military and sometimes extremists called whitewashing. Gradually the BOP started giving Silverstein books and a TV, but skeptics say this only happened because the bureau realized that in order to really punish someone in prison the prisoner can’t just have nothing. You need to give him something and then take it away.
This is the torture 101 style we see in movies, such as Silence of the Lambs when Dr. Lecterhas his books taken away. We should add that his self-contained cell is a bit bigger than usual cells. For one thing, it has to have a shower as he can’t go to the shower room. We have seen plenty of sketches online that Tommy himself drew of his cell.
We might also add that Silverstein didn’t hate all guards. In a now famous case one part of a prison was overtaken by Cuban rioters in 1987. Silverstein was let out of his cell and he could go anywhere he liked for a short time. The Cubans held guards hostage, and so the authorities were concerned that Silverstein would hurt or even kill them. One of those guards had known Silverstein for a long time, but no bad came to him.
It’s said he had always been kind to the prisoner, asking him on occasions if his handcuffs were too tight. Still, Silverstein said some guards would torment him often. In fact, you can read a blog that includes a note written by Silverstein that must have been written just before he fell ill. There he talks about deprivation, saying, “Dear Friends & Supporters, As I’ve noted for decades, with each new warden that they rotate every 3 years or so, usually takes away from what we’ve got instead of gives us more”.
He adds, “they gotta flex their muscles as cowards do with the hopeless & helpless”. In the last paragraph he talks about what his solitary confinement is like, saying, “Like the monotone bars & walls that entomb me, they’ve stamped out the colors of happiness that I enjoy sharing with the outside world, enforcing a black & white existence in this colorless hole of madness”.
Other blog posts written by friends of Silverstein tell us that his writing and art have been confiscated at times, and getting anything creative out of prison has been hard. We found quite a lot more of Tommy’s thoughts that have been published on blogs. He writes in another post that unlike even the worst case of confinement, he can’t even shout across a corridor. His isolation is what you might call extreme solitude.
He writes that things have happened to him that have never been reported and he adds that inside the prison walls things go on that seldom make it onto those prison TV shows. For him the penal system is unjust; the prison system in general is not about rehabilitation for the most part, he believes.
As for solitary, he writes, “History and studies clearly show that solitary confinement does more harm than good, that it reveals the idiocy and sadistic mentality of prison administrators who embrace this barbaric, medieval practice, and that it is a crime against humanity”. The guards didn’t see it that way, with one prison official once telling an author, “We can’t execute Silverstein, so we have no choice but to make his life a living hell. Otherwise other inmates will kill guards too. There has to be some supreme punishment”.
We should add that Silverstein does get to visit people now and again, but never in close quarters and always with glass and a telephone. One visitor recently wrote, “He was told there were certain things he was not allowed to discuss with me. One being the book he is writing. Tom talked about his desire to further his education I had no idea there is no longer funding for prisoners to study”.
So, what do you think about all of this? Do you blame the prison system partly for this loss of humanity, or do you think Tommy has gotten everything he deserves? Tell us in the comments.