Thomas Silverstein

Last updated

Thomas Silverstein
Thomas Silverstein.JPG
Thomas Silverstein
Born(1952-02-04)February 4, 1952
Died (aged 67)
Other namesTerrible Tom, Tommy
Known forFormer leader of the Aryan Brotherhood prison gang
Criminal statusDeceased
Parent(s)Virginia Conway, Thomas Conway
Criminal chargeMurder, Armed Robbery
Penalty Life imprisonment (without parole)

Thomas Edward Silverstein (February 4, 1952 – May 11, 2019) was an American criminal who spent the last 42 years of his life in prison after being convicted of four separate murders while imprisoned for armed robbery, one of which was overturned. [2] Silverstein spent the last 36 years of his life in solitary confinement for killing Corrections Officer Merle Clutts at the Marion Penitentiary in Illinois. Prison authorities described him as a brutal killer and a former leader of the Aryan Brotherhood prison gang. Silverstein maintained 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 federal penitentiary in Colorado. [3] He was the longest-held prisoner in solitary confinement within the Bureau of Prisons at the time of his death. [4]

Solitary confinement is a form of imprisonment distinguished by living in single cells with little or no meaningful contact to other inmates, strict measures to control contraband, and the use of additional security measures and equipment. It is specifically designed for disruptive inmates that are security risks to other inmates, the prison staff, or the prison itself. It is mostly employed for violations of discipline, such as murder, hostage-taking, deadly assault, and rioting. However, it is also used as a measure of protection for inmates whose safety is threatened by other inmates.

United States Penitentiary, Marion

The United States Penitentiary, Marion is a medium-security United States federal prison for male inmates in Illinois. It is operated by the Federal Bureau of Prisons, a division of the United States Department of Justice. The facility also has an adjacent satellite prison camp that houses minimum security male offenders.

The Aryan Brotherhood, also known as the Brand or the AB, is a neo-Nazi prison gang and organized crime syndicate in the United States with an estimated 15,000–20,000 members in and out of prison. According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Aryan Brotherhood makes up an extremely low percentage of the entire US prison population but is responsible for a disproportionately large number of prison murders.

Contents

Early life

Thomas Silverstein was born in Long Beach, California, to Virginia Conway. Conway had divorced her first husband in 1952 while pregnant with Silverstein and married Thomas Conway, who Silverstein claims is his biological father. Four years later, Virginia divorced Conway and married Sid Silverstein, who legally adopted her son.

Long Beach, California City in California, United States

Long Beach is a city on the Pacific Coast of the United States, within the Los Angeles metropolitan area of Southern California. It is the 39th most populous city in the United States and the 7th most populous in California, with a population of 462,257 in 2010. A charter city, it is the second largest city in the Los Angeles metropolitan area, and the third in Southern California behind Los Angeles and San Diego.

Silverstein was timid, awkward, shy, and frequently bullied as a child in the middle-class neighborhood where the family lived, in part because his peers mistakenly believed he was Jewish. 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."

American Jews Ethnic group

American Jews, or Jewish Americans, are Americans who are Jews, whether by religion, ethnicity, or nationality. Today the Jewish community in the United States consists primarily of Ashkenazi Jews, who descend from diaspora Jewish populations of Central and Eastern Europe and comprise about 90-95% of the American Jewish population. Most American Ashkenazim are US-born, with a dwindling number of now-elderly earlier immigrants, as well as some more recent foreign-born immigrants.

In 1971, at age nineteen, Silverstein was sent to San Quentin Prison in California for armed robbery. Four years later, he was paroled, 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. In 1977, Silverstein was sentenced to fifteen years for armed robbery, to be served at United States Penitentiary in Leavenworth, Kansas. [2] [5]

Parole is the release of a prisoner who agrees to certain conditions before the completion of the maximum sentence period, originating from the French parole. The term became associated during the Middle Ages with the release of prisoners who gave their word.

United States Penitentiary, Leavenworth civilian federal prison in Leavenworth, Kansas, near Fort Leavenworth

The United States Penitentiary, Leavenworth is a medium-security United States federal prison for male inmates that is located in northeast Kansas. It is operated by the Federal Bureau of Prisons, a division of the United States Department of Justice. It also includes a satellite federal prison camp (FPC) for minimum-security male offenders.

Murders at USP Marion

While at Leavenworth, Silverstein developed ties with the Aryan Brotherhood. In 1980, Silverstein was convicted of the murder of inmate Danny Atwell, who reportedly refused to serve as a mule for heroin being moved through the prison. He was sentenced to life without parole and transferred to the United States Penitentiary in Marion, Illinois (USP Marion), which was then a high security facility. [2] The conviction was overturned in 1985 after it emerged that the jailhouse informants who testified at his trial had perjured themselves on the stand. [6]

Mule (smuggling) person who smuggles contraband across a border for a smuggling organization

A mule or courier is someone who personally smuggles contraband across a border for a smuggling organization. The organizers employ mules to reduce the risk of getting caught themselves. Methods of smuggling include hiding the goods in vehicles or carried items, attaching them to one's body, or using the body as a container.

Marion, Illinois City in Illinois, United States

Marion is a city in and the county seat of Williamson County, Illinois, United States. The population was 17,193 at the 2010 census. It is part of a dispersed urban area that developed out of the early 20th-century coal fields.

Perjury is the intentional act of swearing a false oath or falsifying an affirmation to tell the truth, whether spoken or in writing, concerning matters material to an official proceeding. In some jurisdictions, contrary to popular misconception, no crime has occurred when a false statement is made while under oath or subject to penalty. Instead, criminal culpability attaches only at the instant the declarant falsely asserts the truth of statements that are material to the outcome of the proceeding. For example, it is not perjury to lie about one's age except if age is a fact material to influencing the legal result, such as eligibility for old age retirement benefits or whether a person was of an age to have legal capacity.

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 prison gang. Silverstein and another inmate, Clayton Fountain, were convicted and Silverstein received an additional life sentence. Silverstein maintained his innocence. While Silverstein was on trial for Chappelle's murder, the Bureau of Prisons transferred Raymond "Cadillac" Smith, the national leader of the D.C. Blacks prison gang, from another prison into the control unit in Marion. From the moment Smith arrived in the control unit, prison logs show that he began trying to kill Silverstein. [2] [5]

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 rivals. The D.C. Blacks make up one of the largest single ethnic groups in the overall federal prison population by 10 percent. They are known for being well educated in violence, locker knocking, petty theft, and rape from their time spent at Lorton, a D.C. penitentiary. Although the D.C. Blacks are one of the largest prison gangs within penitentiaries, they are small compared to the gangs outside of the prison system, such as the Bloods and the Crips.

Clayton Anthony Fountain was a federal prisoner, member of the Aryan Brotherhood, and convicted murderer. Clayton was born on September 12, 1955, at the U.S. Army Hospital in Fort Benning, Georgia. Clayton was the oldest of six children, having one brother and four sisters, and was named after his father, Clayton Raleigh Fountain. The family moved every 1½ to 2 years. While his father served combat tours in Korea and Vietnam and his mother was working, Clayton, as the oldest child in family, became a surrogate for both parents when he was very young. He recalled maternal responsibilities for cooking, ironing, serving, cleaning, and caring for his young siblings. While serving in the Marines, he was convicted of murdering his staff sergeant in 1974, while stationed in the Philippines. He was sentenced to life imprisonment, and was ultimately sent to the United States Penitentiary, Marion, which was at the time the highest-security prison in the nation. Fountain murdered three prisoners and one correctional officer with a shiv while serving time at Marion, and was labeled the "Most Dangerous Prisoner" in the federal system.

"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." [5] Silverstein and Clayton Fountain killed Smith with improvised weapons, stabbing him 67 times. After Smith was dead, they dragged his body up and down the catwalk in front of the cells, displaying it to other prisoners. [7] Silverstein received another life sentence.

Murder of Correction Officer Clutts

Correction Officer Merle Clutts Merle Clutts.jpg
Correction Officer Merle Clutts

On October 22, 1983, Silverstein killed Correction Officer Merle Clutts at USP Marion. [8] After being let out of his cell for a shower, Silverstein used a ruse to get Clutts to walk ahead of him and positioned himself between Clutts and other officers. He stopped outside the cell of another inmate, Randy Gometz. Gometz passed a homemade prison knife, known as a shank, to Silverstein and unlocked Silverstein's handcuffs with a homemade key. Silverstein then attacked Clutts, stabbing him several dozen times. Silverstein later claimed that he murdered Clutts in retaliation for Clutts' deliberately harassing him. [5] Among other things, Clutts was accused of destroying paintings by Silverstein. [9]

A few hours later, Silverstein's friend, Clayton Fountain (also an Aryan Brotherhood member) used the same strategy to kill another correction officer, Robert Hoffmann.

USP Marion was subsequently placed on an indefinite lockdown, which ultimately lasted for 23 years. Following the murder of Clutts, Silverstein was transferred to the United States Penitentiary, Atlanta, where he was placed in solitary confinement. His security status was recorded as "no human contact." [2] The events surrounding the murders of Correction Officers Clutts and Hoffmann inspired the design of the federal supermax prison, the United States Penitentiary, Florence ADX (USP Florence ADX) in Colorado, which opened in 1994 and was built to house the most dangerous inmates in the federal prison system. Silverstein and Gometz were both held at ADX Florence. Fountain died at the United States Medical Center for Federal Prisoners in Springfield, Missouri in 2004.

Riot in Atlanta and transfer to Leavenworth

During the 1987 Atlanta Prison Riots, Cuban detainees at the Atlanta federal penitentiary released Silverstein from his isolation cell. They handed Silverstein over to the Federal Bureau of Investigation's Hostage Rescue Team one week later. Bureau of Prisons officials were reportedly afraid that Silverstein would begin killing correctional officers held hostage by the Cubans. Before the Cubans released Silverstein to Bureau of Prisons, 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). He was confronted by Silverstein and was ultimately spared by him. Bureau of Prisons 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. [5]

Silverstein was subsequently moved back to Leavenworth, where he stayed for the next 18 years. [2]

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 was November 2, 2095. [10]

Allegations of torture and injustice

Silverstein claimed 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 Bureau of Prisons official told author Pete Earley. "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." [5] 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 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." [4]

Death

Silverstein died of heart failure on May 11, 2019, after spending 36 years in solitary confinement.

Related Research Articles

ADX Florence Federal prison located in Fremont County, Colorado

The United States Penitentiary, Administrative Maximum Facility is an American federal prison that provides a higher level of custody than a maximum security prison. It is classed as a supermax, or "control unit" prison, where the safety of inmates and staff is paramount. Located in Fremont County, Colorado, and opened in 1994, it is informally known as the "Alcatraz of the Rockies".

Supermax prison Most secure levels of custody in the prison systems of certain countries

A super-maximum security (supermax) or administrative maximum (ADX) prison is a "control-unit" prison, or a unit within prisons, which represent the most secure levels of custody in the prison systems of certain countries. This is often the most secure form of security within a certain prison system. The objective is to provide long-term, segregated housing for inmates classified as the highest security risks in the prison system—the "worst of the worst" criminals—and those who pose an extremely serious threat to both national and global security.

United States Penitentiary, Atwater prison near Atwater, California

The United States Penitentiary, Atwater is a high-security United States federal prison for male inmates in California. The institution also includes a minimum-security satellite camp. It is operated by the Federal Bureau of Prisons, a division of the United States Department of Justice.

United States Penitentiary, Florence High Federal Prison

The United States Penitentiary, Florence High is a high-security United States federal prison for male inmates in Colorado. It is operated by the Federal Bureau of Prisons, a division of the United States Department of Justice. USP Florence High is part of the Florence Federal Correctional Complex, which is situated on 49 acres (20 ha) of land and houses different facilities with varying degrees of security. It is named "Florence High" in order to differentiate it from the United States Penitentiary, Florence ADX, the federal supermax prison located in the same complex.

Federal Correctional Complex, Terre Haute United States federal prison complex

The Federal Correctional Complex, Terre Haute is a United States federal prison complex for male inmates in Terre Haute, Indiana. It is operated by the Federal Bureau of Prisons, a division of the United States Department of Justice, and consists of two facilities:

The Atlanta prison riots were a series of prison riots that occurred at the U.S. Penitentiary in Atlanta, Georgia, United States in November 1987. The riot coincided with a similar riot at the Federal Detention Center in Oakdale, Louisiana.

United States Penitentiary, Hazelton high-security United States federal prison for male inmates in West Virginia

The United States Penitentiary, Hazelton is a high-security United States federal prison for male inmates in West Virginia. The high-security facility has earned the nickname "Misery Mountain" by the inmates who are incarcerated there. It is operated by the Federal Bureau of Prisons, a division of the United States Department of Justice. The facility has a satellite prison camp for minimum-security male offenders.

United States Penitentiary, Pollock

The United States Penitentiary, Pollock is a high-security United States federal prison for male inmates in Louisiana. It is part of the Pollock Federal Correctional Complex and operated by the Federal Bureau of Prisons, a division of the United States Department of Justice. The facility also has an adjacent satellite prison camp for minimum-security male offenders.

United States Penitentiary, Beaumont

The United States Penitentiary, Beaumont is a high security United States federal prison for male inmates in Texas. It is part of the Federal Correctional Complex, Beaumont and is operated by the Federal Bureau of Prisons, a division of the United States Department of Justice.

United States Penitentiary, Big Sandy High-security federal prison in Kentucky

The United States Penitentiary, Big Sandy is a high-security United States federal prison for male inmates in Kentucky, near Inez. It is operated by the Federal Bureau of Prisons, a division of the United States Department of Justice. The facility also has a satellite prison camp which houses minimum-security male inmates.

Colorado State Penitentiary is a Level V maximum security prison in the U.S. state of Colorado. The facility stands in the state's East Cañon Complex with six other state correctional facilities of various security levels.

United States Penitentiary, Victorville

The United States Penitentiary, Victorville, CA is a high-security United States federal prison for male inmates in California. It is part of the Victorville Federal Correctional Complex and is operated by the Federal Bureau of Prisons, a division of the United States Department of Justice.

The Federal Correctional Complex, Florence is a United States federal prison complex for male inmates in Colorado. It is operated by the Federal Bureau of Prisons, a division of the United States Department of Justice, and consists of four facilities:

References

  1. Prendergast, Alan (May 13, 2019). "Thomas Silverstein, America's Most Isolated Prisoner, Dead at 67". Westword.
  2. 1 2 3 4 5 6 Prendergast, Alan (August 16, 2007). "The Caged Life". Denver Westword. Retrieved September 15, 2011.
  3. Supermax: A Clean Version Of Hell - 60 Minutes - CBS News
  4. 1 2 ”America’s Most Dangerous Prisoner?” BBC News August 2001
  5. 1 2 3 4 5 6 Earley, P: The Hot House Life Inside Leavenworth Prison. Bantam Books, 1993
  6. "UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Plaintiff-Appellee, v. CLAYTON FOUNTAIN, THOMAS E. SILVERSTEIN, and RANDY K. GOMETZ, Defendants-Appellants". Project Posner. Retrieved May 28, 2007.
  7. Peters, Justin (October 23, 2014). "How a 1983 Murder Created America's Terrible Supermax-Prison Culture". Slate . Retrieved March 6, 2015.
  8. "Merle E. Clutts". Office Down Memorial Inc. Retrieved May 29, 2011.
  9. The Hot House, inside Leavenworth. Book.
  10. "Inmate Locator" . Retrieved May 20, 2015.

No. 2, 60 Minutes video is behind paywall as of checking March 26, 2018