A Chained Society: Life Inside Americas Prisons
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The only things nearby are a golf course, the sleepy mining town of Florence pop. Denver is a two-hour drive north. Many prisoners comment on the emotional impact of losing sight of the mountains when they enter the prison. Ray Luc Levasseur, a year-old leftist radical who participated in a series of bombings in the early s, was among the first prisoners placed in ADX when it opened, arriving in February He said it felt like going underground.
Photos of maximum-security prisons in Norway and the US reveal the extremes of prison life
Levasseur did 13 years in solitary, including four at ADX. Prior to ADX, he was held at the U. Likewise, inmates at Marion were also allowed limited interaction — until two guards were murdered on the same day in by Aryan Brotherhood members. He was housed in a special unit deep in the bowels of the prison known as Range 13 , where he went weeks with minimal human interaction or outdoor exercise, despite exemplary behavior later in his life.
Prolonged solitary confinement began in the U. The incarceration rate went from In many places isolation is now the de facto way to deal with unruly inmates and those with mental illness. He recalled one man who smashed a shampoo bottle and shoved a plastic splinter into his penis so he could go to the hospital and interact with doctors and nurses. While some high-profile prisoners serve almost their entire sentence at ADX, regular inmates can be transferred out to finish their time in another facility.
Joker Unit has 32 cells that face a common area with showers. Tuttamore said he saw a year-old inmate getting bullied by a younger man in the program and decided to intervene. Last September, an inmate in Joker Unit was sentenced to an extra three years in prison after he was caught with a 4. He now works for a think tank in Washington, D.
Every time the cell doors would open, he recalled, he was prepared to fight for his life. The process takes a minimum of 36 months to complete.
Eventually, they are allowed to eat and exercise in small groups, and spend nearly 25 hours per week out of their cells. Several ex-inmates felt like it was impossible to complete the process. But Tuttamore had a similarly frustrating experience. Tuttamore was eventually transferred to a high-security penitentiary in Kentucky in December , after he was identified as having a serious mental illness during a lawsuit against the BOP. He stayed at the other prison for about a year and a half.
Roughly three months before he was due to be sent home to Ohio, he attacked another inmate who he suspected of stealing, bludgeoning the man in the back of the head with padlocks on a belt. He believes his time at ADX only made him more aggressive and did nothing to prepare him for his eventual freedom.
They got all these stupid little courses you take. It doesn't help you. It doesn't help when you get out of prison.
Tuttamore spent a few months in a halfway house starting in November , but was sent to the local jail after he was accused of smoking K2, or synthetic marijuana. I'd just ball up and shake. He acquired a tattoo machine and has been offering body art in exchange for assistance from friends and family members. He desperately wants to avoid going back to prison, but he knows anything can happen.
It was and the lawyer was peering into the darkest depths of the ADX. They were highly dysfunctional and many of them profoundly mentally ill. Folks were chained down hand and foot on a concrete bed for up to 30 days at a time — just really medieval, crazy behavior.
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Accordingly, allegations of staff misconduct are investigated and appropriately addressed when they are made. Currence would come to take on a key role in the case as both a plaintiff and witness. Knott, 48, was usually quiet, but he had been screaming and babbling incoherently for a week, Currence said. Food was scattered all over the cell. Ed I have seen a lot.
But you are never prepared to see any human being fall into such a state of mental illness that he or she is forced to do the irreversible. Especially when you witness it play out before your eyes day by day. Over the next five years, Aro got to know dozens of inmates at ADX, including several who were eventually released. Currence was always polite and friendly during their interactions, but he was among the most difficult to deal with for prison staff. He frequently exposed himself and masturbated in front of female nurses and guards at ADX.
Currence estimated that he was placed on suicide watch over 45 times.
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Beyond the grim mental health situation at ADX, Aro was startled to learn how prisoners were being released when he first took the case. He had been in and out of mental hospitals and prisons his entire life, and was sent to supermax after repeatedly assaulting other inmates and throwing urine on a guard. Jones did not do well in isolation. He cut himself and hoarded his medications, taking it all at once to overdose.
He honed his body into a weapon, doing up to 3, push-ups per day in his cell. I didn't know what I was going out to. I was afraid to the point I tried to kill myself. The suicide attempt was serious enough that he was sent to a hospital outside the prison, where he stayed for a week. He returned to ADX three days prior to his scheduled release and spent his last days there in the SHU disciplinary unit.
When the time came to go home, Jones was escorted from his cell just after breakfast. From there, he was flown to another prison in Maryland. After another van ride, again in full shackles, he was dropped off at around 9 p. Upon his arrival home, he learned his father had passed away a few weeks prior. Everyone in his family had been afraid to deliver the news while he was in ADX. When he woke up on his first morning out, he forgot that he could leave his bedroom and sat waiting for his mother to open the door and bring him breakfast. Boy, you home, stop acting like you in prison, you know where the bathroom is.
He slipped back into his old ways and began selling synthetic marijuana on the streets of D. Finding work became even more difficult. When Jones applied for a job stocking shelves on the graveyard shift at Safeway, the manager had read the article and refused to hire him. Now 51, Jones lives in suburban Maryland, where he works construction. She pulled me out. She seen the road I was heading down, she seen the trouble I was getting into, and she pulled me up out of that.
Jones also had support from Aro, who bought him a jacket and boots during his first days on the streets, and another attorney who once talked him off the D. Aro has offered assistance to others in various ways, including paying for transitional housing to keep one from being homeless. Aro and the ADX inmates eventually settled their lawsuit against the BOP, reaching a deal in that requires independent monitors to inspect ADX twice a year to ensure that conditions at the prison continue to improve. Aro said the BOP now tries to avoid hard exits for ADX inmates, but Currence was among those who declined to take advantage of the pre-release services.
He was afraid there had been some kind of mixup.
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They would probably be coming back for him any minute. It was February, 5, and Jabbar Currence was a free man for the first time in nearly two decades. Currence recalled his few days out of prison while seated on a metal stool in the visitation area of the Hampton Roads Regional Jail in Portsmouth, Virginia. Flecks of silver had crept into his hair and beard since his deposition with Aro two years ago at ADX. He said his journey home to Virginia began in late December when he was transferred out of ADX to the penitentiary in the same complex. After a brief stopover in Oklahoma City, he was taken to a high-security federal pen in Atlanta, where he stayed for almost a month.
He was briefly assigned a cellmate, but said the man protested and was moved elsewhere after a day or two. In early February, he was shipped to another federal prison in Lee County, Virginia, and from there it was a seven-hour drive to Newport News.
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He said he was shackled in a van with armed U. This so surreal right now. Like, I just did almost 19 years in federal prison.
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This has gotta be a mistake. I couldn't believe that I was out. Are you kidding me? With everyone looking at their phones, he felt like nobody made eye contact anymore. He was flummoxed by self-checkout. Then he approached Mary and asked to borrow her lighter.