Thomas Silverstein

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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]

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 claimed was his biological father. Four years later, Virginia divorced Conway and married Sid Silverstein, who legally adopted her son.

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."

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]

Silverstein in a police photograph taken in 1975 after an arrest for armed robbery. Thomas Silverstein mugshot.jpg
Silverstein in a police photograph taken in 1975 after an arrest for armed robbery.

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]

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]

"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] [9] 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. [10]

A few hours later, Clayton Fountain (also an Aryan Brotherhood member) used the same strategy to kill Correctional 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 Correctional Officer 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. [11]

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 on May 11, 2019, after spending 36 years in solitary confinement; no cause was given. [1]

Related Research Articles

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. The Anti-Defamation League calls it the "oldest and most notorious racist prison gang in the United States." 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.

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

The United States Penitentiary, Leavenworth is a medium security U.S. penitentiary with an adjacent minimum security satellite camp 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.

USP Florence ADMAX Federal prison located in Fremont County, Colorado, US

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Clayton Fountain American murderer

Clayton Anthony Fountain was an American 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 United States. 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.

Rufe Persful

Rufe Persful was an American criminal, convicted for murder, kidnapping and robbery. He was considered one of the most dangerous criminals of his era by the authorities. Convicted with the murder and robbery of an elderly man at the age of 18, he was sentenced to 15 years in Arkansas State Penitentiary, but unlike a standard prison, it involved farm labour. He was given the task of shooting fellow inmates with a shotgun if they attempted to escape. He killed and disabled many prisoners during his time at the Arkansas Penitentiary, punctuated by periods of parole as a reward for his prison protection, and then re-offending and being sent back to resume his role. In December 1934, Persful was convicted for kidnapping and robbery in Paragould, Arkansas and sentenced to 20 years, after which he was transferred to United States Penitentiary, Atlanta. Two inmates recognized him from Arkansas and word spread of his killing of fellow inmates and he began being severely abused. He was transferred to Alcatraz Federal Penitentiary a year later but was recognized and continued to be tortured by his fellow inmates because of his past offenses. In 1937, it was Persful who attempted to cut off his hands in sheer desperation of his experiences at Alcatraz and was diagnosed with schizophrenia. He was eventually sent to McNeil Island Penitentiary where he was again recognized and suffered much abuse from his fellow inmates, despite being heavily watched over by the prison staff. He was released in April 1948 and moved in with a relative in Gary, Indiana, never to be convicted of a crime again.

Solitary confinement in the United States

This article is about solitary confinement in the United States.

References

  1. 1 2 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. https://www.bop.gov/about/history/hero_clutts.jsp
  9. "Merle E. Clutts". Office Down Memorial Inc. Retrieved May 29, 2011.
  10. The Hot House, inside Leavenworth. Book.
  11. "Inmate Locator" . Retrieved May 20, 2015.