Thomas Silverstein
Thomas Silverstein is a convicted American murderer. He has been in prison for armed robbery and has been convicted of four separate murders while imprisoned, one of which was overturned. He has been in solitary confinement
Solitary confinement
Solitary confinement is a special form of imprisonment in which a prisoner is isolated from any human contact, though often with the exception of members of prison staff. It is sometimes employed as a form of punishment beyond incarceration for a prisoner, and has been cited as an additional...

 since 1983, when he killed prison guard Merle Clutts at the Marion Penitentiary
United States Penitentiary, Marion
The United States Penitentiary is a Federal Bureau of Prisons facility located in Southern Precinct, unincorporated Williamson County, Illinois. The facility is located south of Marion, from St. Louis, and from Chicago. It was built in 1963 to replace the Alcatraz prison in San Francisco, which...

 in Illinois. Prison authorities describe him as a brutal killer and a former leader of the Aryan Brotherhood
Aryan Brotherhood
The Aryan Brotherhood, also known as The Brand, the AB, or the One-Two, is a white supremacist prison gang and organized crime syndicate in the United States with about 20,000 members in and out of prison...

 prison gang
Prison gang
Prison gang is a term used to denote any type of gang activity in prisons and correctional facilities. Prison officials and others in law enforcement use the term security threat group or STG...

. Silverstein maintains that the dehumanizing conditions inside the prison system contributed to the three murders he committed. He was held "in a specially designed cell" in what is called "Range 13" at ADX Florence
ADX Florence
The United States Penitentiary Administrative Maximum Facility is a supermax prison for men that is located in unincorporated Fremont County, Colorado, United States, south of Florence. It is unofficially known as ADX Florence, Florence ADMAX, Supermax, or The Alcatraz of the Rockies...

 federal penitentiary in Colorado. He is currently the longest held prisoner in solitary confinement within the Bureau of Prisons.

Early life

Thomas Silverstein was born in Long Beach, California
Long Beach, California
Long Beach is a city situated in Los Angeles County in Southern California, on the Pacific coast of the United States. The city is the 36th-largest city in the nation and the seventh-largest in California. As of 2010, its population was 462,257...

, to Virginia Conway. Conway had divorced her first husband in 1952 while pregnant with Tommy and married Thomas Conway, whom Silverstein claims is his biological father. Four years later, Virginia divorced Conway and married Sid Silverstein, who legally adopted her son. Silverstein remembered the marriage as rocky and fights as common. Many erroneously assumed that Silverstein was Jewish because of his last name.

Silverstein was timid, awkward, shy, and frequently bullied as a child in the middle-class neighborhood where the family lived. Virginia Silverstein demanded that her son fight back, telling the boy that if he ever came home again crying because he had been beaten up by a bully, she would be waiting to give him another beating. Silverstein states, “That’s how 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.” At age fourteen, Silverstein was sentenced to a California Youth Authority reformatory where, he said, his attitudes about violence were reinforced. “Anyone not willing to fight was abused.”

In 1971, at age nineteen, Silverstein was sent to San Quentin Prison in California for armed robbery. Four years later, he was parole
Parole may have different meanings depending on the field and judiciary system. All of the meanings originated from the French parole . Following its use in late-resurrected Anglo-French chivalric practice, the term became associated with the release of prisoners based on prisoners giving their...

d, but he was arrested soon after along with his father, Thomas Conway, and his cousin, Gerald Hoff, for three armed robberies. Their take was less than $11,000. A probation officer
Probation officer
Parole officers and probation officers play a role in criminal justice systems by supervising offenders released from incarceration or sentenced to non-custodial sanctions such as community service...

 later blamed the older man for getting Silverstein, then age twenty-three, involved in the crimes. In 1977, Silverstein was sentenced to fifteen years for armed robbery.Earley, P: “The Hot House Life Inside Leavenworth Prison”. Bantam Books, 1993

Murders at USP Marion

In 1980, Silverstein was moved to USP Marion in Illinois after being convicted of the murder of inmate Danny Atwell. The conviction was overturned in 1985 after it emerged that the jailhouse informants who testified at his trial had perjured
Perjury, also known as forswearing, is the willful act of swearing a false oath or affirmation to tell the truth, whether spoken or in writing, concerning matters material to a judicial proceeding. That is, the witness falsely promises to tell the truth about matters which affect the outcome of the...

 themselves on the stand.

At Marion, Silverstein was housed in the “Control Unit,” a virtual solitary confinement regime reserved for extreme 'management problems' (prisoners prone to assaultive and disruptive behavior) in the prison.

In 1981, Silverstein was accused of the murder of Robert Chappelle, a member of the D.C. Blacks
D.C. Blacks
The D.C. Blacks is an African-American prison gang in the United States whose members are from Washington D.C.. They are allied with the Black Guerrilla Family and some other black prison gangs. The Aryan Brotherhood is one of their main enemies....

 prison gang. Silverstein was again convicted based on testimony from informants and sentenced to life in prison. Silverstein maintains he was innocent. While Silverstein was on trial for Chappelle’s murder the BOP transferred Raymond “Cadillac” Smith, the national leader of the D.C. Blacks prison gang, from another prison into the control unit in Marion and put him in a cell near Silverstein’s. From the moment Smith arrived in the control unit, prison logs show that he began trying to kill Silverstein.

“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 recalled. “Everyone knew what was going on and no one did anything to keep us apart. The guards wanted one of us to kill the other.” Silverstein and another prisoner killed Smith with improvised weapons. After Smith was dead, they dragged his body up and down the catwalk in front of the cells, displaying it to other prisoners. Silverstein received another life sentence.

Murder of Merle E. Clutts

On October 22, 1983, Silverstein killed Marion Officer Merle E. Clutts by stabbing him with a shank
Shiv (weapon)
A shiv is a slang term for any sharp or pointed implement used as a knife-like weapon. However, the word in practical usage is frequently used when referring to an improvised bladed weapon. Shivs are commonly made by inmates in prisons across the world...

. After being let out of his cell for a shower, Silverstein used a ruse to get Clutts to walk ahead of him, placing Silverstein between Clutts and other officers. He then stopped at another cell, where an inmate called Randy Gometz passed him the shank and unlocked his handcuffs using a homemade key. Silverstein attacked Clutts, stabbing him several dozen times. Silverstein claims that Clutts was deliberately harassing him. Following the murder of Clutts, Silverstein was transferred to a special ”no human contact” cell at USP Atlanta
United States Penitentiary, Atlanta
United States Penitentiary, Atlanta is a medium-security federal prison for men in Atlanta, Georgia. It also has a detention center for pre-trial and holdover inmates and an adjacent camp for minimum security male inmates...

. Within a few hours, Silverstein's friend Clayton Fountain used the same strategy to kill another prison guard. Following these two murders, Marion was placed on an indefinite lock-down. Fountain and Silverstein are credited with having laid the foundations for the upcoming ADX supermax prison.

Riot in Atlanta and transfer to Leavenworth

During the 1987 Atlanta Prison Riots
Atlanta Prison Riots
The Atlanta Prison Riots were a series of riots that occurred at the U.S. Penitentiary in Atlanta, Georgia, USA in November of 1987. The riot coincided with a similar riot at the Federal prison in Oakdale, Louisiana.-Cause:On November 10, 1987, the U.S...

, Cuban detainees at the Atlanta federal penitentiary released Silverstein from his isolation cell. They handed Silverstein over to the Federal Hostage Rescue Team one week later. BOP officials were reportedly afraid that Silverstein would begin killing correctional officers held hostage by the Cubans. Before the Cubans released Silverstein to BOP, the Cubans let Silverstein out of his isolation cell and Silverstein was able to roam freely about the prison. One of the prison guards being held hostage had a history of being kind to Silverstein. (When the guard would handcuff Silverstein he would make it a point to ask Silverstein if his handcuffs were too tight.) Silverstein visited the captured guard and made sure that he was being treated well by the Cubans. Silverstein made a special point in asking are the handcuffs okay. Silverstein brought some fruit to the guards. BOP negotiators were able to convince the Cuban riot leaders to hand over Silverstein as a gesture of good faith, a relatively easy decision for them, given that Silverstein's status was peripheral to the aims of the Cuban leaders during the riot.

Silverstein was subsequently moved to Leavenworth Penitentiary
United States Penitentiary, Leavenworth
The United States Penitentiary , Leavenworth was the largest maximum security federal prison in the United States from 1903 until 2005. It became a medium security prison in 2005.It is located in Leavenworth, Kansas...

 in Leavenworth, Kansas, with his security recorded as "no human contact." Silverstein was placed in a cell located underground. The lights were kept on 24 hours a day in his cell, and he was watched by guards constantly.

In 2005, when USP Leavenworth was downgraded to a medium-security facility, Silverstein was moved to ADX Florence, a supermax facility in Colorado. His earliest theoretical date of release is November 2, 2095.

Allegations of torture and injustice

Silverstein claims that "no human contact” status is essentially a form of torture reserved for those who kill correctional officers. "When an inmate kills a guard, he must be punished," a BOP official told author Pete Earley
Pete Earley
-Career:A former Washington Post reporter, he is the author of books about the Aldrich Ames and John Walker espionage cases. His book Circumstantial Evidence: Death, Life, and Justice in a Southern Town. won an Edgar Award from the Mystery Writers of America for Best Fact Crime Book in 1996. This...

. "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. Every convict knows what Silverstein is going through. We want them to realize that if they cross the same line that he did, they will pay a heavy price."
Ted Sellers, a former convict who met Silverstein during 25 years spent in prison, said he became a "legend" at Leavenworth. Sellers told BBC News
BBC News
BBC News is the department of the British Broadcasting Corporation responsible for the gathering and broadcasting of news and current affairs. The department is the world's largest broadcast news organisation and generates about 120 hours of radio and television output each day, as well as online...

Online, "He is not as bad as they portray. Sure he is dangerous if they push him to the wall. But there were some dirty rotten guards at Marion.... They would purposely screw you around. You are dealing with a person locked up 23 hours a day. Of course he's got a short fuse."

Silverstein also maintains that since he was in USP Marion on a conviction that was later overturned, he should have been released long before, and would never have killed anyone but for this false conviction and the brutality of the prison system.

External links

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