Amnesty International on Solitary Confinement

An interesting link, that Tommy would like us all to read. It is a press release by Amnesty International (July 16, 2014), about solitary confinement in the US.

Please click here to view it.


Thomas Silverstein Civil Case Documents and great Amicus Curiae Brief to the Court not enough to convince Court

This is from Thomas Silverstein’s website, which can also be found by going to

A message from Tommy:

To: All my friends & supporters & of course, loved ones & haters.

A long time no hear I know, I assure U, I’ve missed U all & your constant show of love & support which had helped me through many dark & hopeless storms! But sadly for legal reasons I had to take a reluctant hiatus, which is still N effect )-: However, 4 now, I wanna truly thank all of U who checks in even tho its been uneventful, 4 your due diligence & unshakable loyalty.

As U may or may not of heard, I lost my battle 2 B released from isolation )-: But the War continues as we ready another appeal. Meanwhile, we’ll post my attorneys written transcript of her Oral argument B4 the 10th Circuit appellant court 4 those interested N the intimate details. We were only allowed 15 minutes 2 plead R case )-: But sadly, when we post their decision ,u’ll C they already had made up their minds, so our 15 minutes was just 4 show, so they can claim we had our case heard.

Hopefully in the near future, we’ll B able 2 let you hear the hearing audibly, which is a riveting volley of pleas between David vs Goliath B4 a panel of 3 God – awful Judicial rulers. Only this battle, David was a petite Jewish woman with the heart of a Lioness & courage of a Blind Gun-fighter, who slain the Govt’s giant N vain when her plea fell upon Deaf ears & heartless souls )-: I realize many of U have already heared of the decision & even read it, so this is a bit ass backward, however, reading / hearing R defence may help 2 understand Y I say R plea fell upon deaf ears & Y they already had their minds made up & just gave their stamp of approval 2 what ever the B.O.P. does regardless of how it effects their charges !

We shall commence R Chat-room Guest-book when possible, so please stay tuned & thanks once again 4 your love & endless support! It truly means the world 2 me ! Your Pal….Tom Silverstein – Please read the Transcript here.
9th August 2014.

Dear Friends,

Sadly I bring you all more bad news from my personal hell-hole, last night I received notice from my Attorney that latest Appeal we filed was denied.

After the 10th Circuit appellate court denied us any action, we were left with 3 choices, actually 4, 1) Do nothing, 2) ask that they reconsider it  but judges rarely, if ever, admit they made a mistake, so that was out of the question: 3) File to the Supreme Court, but its bad enough they can use my case in the 10th Circuit, to keep prisoners isolated indefinitely so I don’t want to risk setting a precedence, since once the Supreme Beings rule on a case, that’s law for the country.

So we choose # 4 an En Banc hearing, which is rarely granted. Asking all the Judges in the 10th Circuit (12 I think) to hear our case instead of the 3 who did. We believe “Particularity” points of law or facts were overlooked or misapprehended,  which I suspect you’ll agree after reading my Attorneys’ AWSOME motion (that hopefully with accompany this kite, so those of you interested can read it for yourselves)

My Attorney and I need to re-group, so not sure what we’ll do next, but I’ll keep you posted as always.

Your pal, Tommy

Below we post the links to the case and the Amicus Curiae Brief:

Opening Brief of the Appeal in Case No 12-1450 (D.C. No. 1:07-cv-02471) of Feb 20, 2013

Oral Argument Silverstein v. Bureau of Prisons 12-1450, Sept. 24, 2013

Order and Judgment US Court of Appeal Tenth Circuit, May 22, 2014

Appelant’s Petition for Rehearing En Banc, July 7, 2014

Denial of Petition for Rehearing En Banc (with no explanation), July 18, 2014

Amicus Curiae Brief to the Court by Psychologist Organizations and Psychologists on behalf of Thomas Silverstein (Feb. 27, 2013):

This is a letter to the court on behalf of Appelant Thomas Silverstein, containing much literature and references to the torture of solitary confinement, and is endorsed/written by:

Amici include:

(1) psychiatrists and psychologists who have dedicated their careers to studying and documenting the mental health of inmates across various prison facilities, including supermax prisons and segregation units; and (2) mental health professional organizations whose efforts are directed toward improving the mental health of inmates, including those in solitary confinement.

The Association of Black Psychologists is focused on influencing and affecting social change and developing programs whereby Black psychologists can assist in solving problems of Black communities and other ethnic groups.

Coalition for an Ethical Psychology is a group of psychologists that actively opposes the involvement of health professionals in state-supported abuse with a national security rationale, including solitary confinement.

Mental Health America is a national advocacy organization dedicated to promoting mental health and achieving victory over mental illnesses and addictions through advocacy, education, research, and service.

The Mental Health Project (MHP) of the Urban Justice Center is dedicated to enforcing the rights of low-income New Yorkers with mental illness. MHP has long been involved in efforts to end solitary confinement in prisons.

The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) is the nation’s largest grassroots organization dedicated to ameliorating the lives of Americans affected by serious mental illnesses. NAMI has a long history of advocacy on criminal justice issues and is particularly concerned about the excessive use of prolonged solitary confinement on inmates with serious mental illnesses and the long-term negative effects of these practices on such individuals.

Physicians for Human Rights is an independent non-profit organization that uses medicine and science to stop mass atrocities and severe human rights violations against individuals.

Psychologists for Social Responsibility is an independent non-profit organization of psychologists and students that applies psychological knowledge to promote peace and social justice, including efforts to end solitary confinement.

Stanley L. Brodsky, Ph.D., is a Professor of Psychology at the University of Alabama. He has worked as Chief of Psychology at the United States Disciplinary Barracks in Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, inspected solitary confinement facilities in 8 states as part of his clinical-forensic work, and conducts research and clinical assessment interviews for prisoners in a variety of isolation conditions.

Carl Clements, Ph.D., is a Professor of Psychology at the University of Alabama. He has written extensively on correctional psychology for 40 years and has inspected dozens of prisons in the United States regarding the effects of overcrowding, offender classification procedures, and the mental health needs of prisoners.

Keith R. Curry, Ph.D., is a clinical psychologist who has over 20 years of experience evaluating conditions of confinement and its effects on mentally ill inmates.

Carl Fulwiler, M.D., Ph.D., is an Associate Professor of Psychiatry at the University of Massachusetts Medical School. He has extensive experience with the mental health effects of isolated confinement, having interviewed over 200 inmates in over a dozen Segregated Housing Units.

Rafael Art. Javier, Ph.D., is the Director of the Post-Graduate Professional Program and Professor of Psychology at St. John’s University. He has presented at conferences and published extensively on ethnical and cultural issues in psychoanalytic theories and practice, including on issues of violence and its impact on general cognitive and emotional functioning.

Allen Keller, M.D., is an Associate Professor of Medicine at New York University School of Medicine and the Director of the Bellevue/NYU Program for Survivors ofTorture. Dr. Keller’s scholarly work and research has included examining the impact of  prison conditions and access to health care on prisoner health.

Terry A. Kupers, M.D., M.S.P., is Institute Professor at The Wright Institute. He provides expert testimony as well as consultation and staff training regarding the psychological effects of prison conditions, including isolated confinement in supermaximum security units, the quality of correctional mental health care, and the

effects of sexual abuse in correctional settings. Dr. Kupers has published extensively on prisoners’ mental health.

David Lovell, Ph.D., M.S.W., is Research Associate Professor Emeritus at the University of Washington. Professor Lovell and his colleagues conducted systematic interviews with inmates and staff in long-term solitary confinement units, along with reviews of prison records and clinical status.

Mona Lynch, Ph.D., is a Professor and Vice-Chair of the Department of Criminology, Law & Society at the University of California, Irvine. Trained as a social psychologist, her research focuses on criminal sentencing and punishment.

Katherine Porterfield, Ph.D., is a Clinical Instructor of Psychiatry at New York University School of Medicine and a Staff Psychologist at Bellevue/NYU Program for Survivors of Torture. Dr. Porterfield has worked as a clinical evaluator on several cases of young people held in detention at Guantanamo Bay and frequently consults with attorneys handling cases involving torture, trauma, and maltreatment.

Keramet Reiter, Ph.D., J.D., M.A., is an Assistant Professor at the University of California, Irvine in the Department of Criminology, Law & Society and at the School of Law. She is an expert in corrections, punishment, and criminal law, especially the history and uses of solitary confinement.

Peter Scharff Smith, Ph.D., is a Senior Research Fellow at the Danish Institute for Human Rights in Copenhagen. During the past 10 years, his research has focused on prisons and human rights, specifically the use and effects of solitary confinement in prisons internationally and in Denmark.

Hans Toch, Ph.D., is Distinguished Professor Emeritus of Criminal Justice at the University at Albany, State University of New York. He has served as a consultant to a number of correctional systems in the United States and abroad, and has received many awards for distinguished contributions to criminology and penology.

Patricia A. Zapf, Ph.D., is a Professor in the Department of Psychology at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, The City University of New York. She has conducted over 2,500 forensic evaluations in both the United States and Canada and has served as an expert witness in a number of cases, including the prosecution of José Padilla.

Federal Appeals Court Considers Tommy Silverstein’s 30 Years in Extreme Solitary Confinement

Hands behind bars, by Thomas SilversteinSeptember 25, 2013 by Jean Casella, on SolitaryWatch

Thomas Silverstein has been called “the most dangerous prisoner in America,” based on several prison murders that took place 30 years ago. He has also been called “America’s most isolated man,” based on the conditions in which he has lived during those 30 years–conditions which, Silverstein and his lawyers contend, clearly constitute cruel and unusual punishment.

Silverstein’s closely watched lawsuit, a groundbreaking Constitutional challenge to solitary confinement, had another day in court yesterday as attorney Laura Rovner argued his case before a federal appeals court. A detailed story on the appeal and its significance appeared in the Colorado Independent, written by longtime solitary watcher (and now Independent editor) Susan Greene.

By law, you get 15 minutes to argue in the U.S. Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals. The rules are the rules.

Yet that rule comes across as painfully ironic in the case of a man who has spent a million times that limit — 15,778,470 minutes and counting – in prison isolation. Tommy Silverstein, 61, has lived in solitary confinement nearly half his life, and longer than any other prisoner held by the federal government.

Silverstein won’t be allowed to visit Denver’s Byron White Courthouse on Tuesday to challenge the U.S. District Court ruling that said he has been unharmed by living for 30 years alone in a cell that’s smaller than a wheelchair-accessible parking spot or a Chevy Suburban. Silverstein says he gets less than a minute per day of human contact, mainly in the form of officers passing food trays in and out of the slot in his cell door or asking “Rec?” — guard-speak for “would you like to go outside?” They mean for an hour in an isolated exercise cage known among prisoners as a “dog run.”

Silverstein is no choir boy. He robbed a bank as a young man. He was later convicted of killing two men in prison. And he led the Aryan Brotherhood, a national prison gang, through the early 1980s.

In 1983, he fatally stabbed officer Merle Clutts at the U.S. Penitentiary in Marion, Illinois. That killing coincided with another murder of a guard by a prisoner that same day at Marion, which had replaced Alcatraz as the federal government’s highest security prison. Those murders punctuated a rash of prison violence that decade and led to a national movement to build supermax prisons made up exclusively of solitary confinement cells for prisoners who, like Silverstein, were deemed to be the “worst of the worst.” The U.S. Bureau of Prisons built its supermax, the United States Penitentiary, Administrative Maximum Facility – commonly referred to as ADX – in Florence, Colorado. Known as the crown jewel of the federal system, ADX is considered the most secure prison on the planet. No one has ever escaped.

Greene details the conditions in which Silverstein has lived for the last three decades in a series of supermax prisons. Those conditions were described by Silverstein himself in a lengthy brief, which we reported on here. Then Greene describes the issues at hand in the federal appeal.

Two top national prison experts said the conditions Silverstein has endured are the most severe they’ve ever encountered.

“Not only has he been subjected to the most extreme forms of isolation I have ever seen — placed in housing units that were literally designed to isolate him as completely as possible from other human beings — but he also has been confined in these places for an extraordinary length of time,” wrote Dr. Craig Haney, a psychology professor at the University of California, Santa Cruz, who has studied solitary confinement for 30 years.

Steve Martin, another noted prison expert, wrote: “The level of near total isolation from all human contact is unprecedented in my 38 years experience in corrections, which includes experience with numerous death rows and ultra-high security facilities across the U.S.”

Laura Rovner, director of the student law clinic at the University of Denver, is Silverstein’s longtime lawyer who has worked with several crews of law students representing him. On Tuesday, she’ll challenge a 2011 U.S. District Court decision that upheld the Bureau of Prison’s assertions that Silverstein’s decades in solitary haven’t deprived him of life’s basic necessities. Judge Philip Brimmer sided with the BOP’s lawyers from U.S. Attorney John Walsh’s office that the case shouldn’t go to trial.

Walsh’s office refused comment on the case.

The question before the three-judge appeals panel Tuesday morning will be whether there are factual issues in dispute that would warrant a trial. Among those are:

• The Bureau’s claim that 30 years in isolation haven’t harmed Silverstein. Experts who have evaluated him have found extensive evidence of depression, cognitive impairment, memory loss, hallucinations, severe anxiety disorder, panic attacks that make his him breathless and shaky in the company of others, and paranoia that leads him to hear voices whispering to him through vents.

• The Bureau’s assertion that Silverstein is too dangerous to lessen the extreme solitary confinement conditions in which he is housed. Silverstein’s lawyers challenge this argument based on the two best predictors of a prisoner’s future dangerousness. One is age. At 61, Silverstein has statistically aged out as posing a risk of violence. Another predictor is recent behavior. His prison record has been clean for more than two decades.

Rovner will argue that Silverstein should have his day in court to determine whether 30 years in extreme isolation amounts to cruel and unusual punishment. Silverstein is not requesting anyone to lift his three life sentences. Rather, having spent years studying Buddhism in prison, he wants to demonstrate at trial that he has changed. He also wants a shot at working his way out of solitary and some day dining and playing checkers with other prisoners and hugging his two children.

“I am quickly becoming an old man. I spend most of my days crocheting items for my family and my legal counsel and working on my artwork. It is hard to reconcile the [Bureau’s] description of me as frightening and scary, when the people who see me here know I am a man peering through bifocals trying to count the number of stitches to make and afghan,” he wrote. “It’s hard, if not impossible, for me to prove what is actually in my mind and what is not. All I can do is ask that others look at my current behavior and explain that it reflects my intention never to act violently again, ever. I know the consequences – both to myself and others – that will follow. And, more importantly, I know that this is not who I wish to be.”

For Rovner and the dozens of D.U. law clinic students who over the years have revolved on and off of his case, Silverstein is an amiable and grateful client who crochets hats, mittens, scarves and blankets for them and their relatives. When he has art supplies, he uses pastels and paint to make them artwork.

That said, and despite his public apologies for his crimes, a three-time prison killer and former Aryan Brotherhood leader isn’t the most sympathetic figure in the growing national movement to end long-term solitary confinement. Silverstein’s case pivots not on redemption but on what, given all the research on the psychological harm of extreme isolation, is deemed to be cruel and unusual treatment of prisoners.

“The 8th Amendment is about what we as a society are willing to sanction as punishment. It has built into it this notion of evolving standards decency that mark the progress of a maturing society,” Rovner said. “The amendment doesn’t just protect people who are catatonic or floridly psychotic. It protects people from being harmed by the minimal civilized measure of life’s necessities, especially for what has been an unthinkable period of time.”

In 2011, Juan Mendez, the United Nations special rapporteur on torture, issued a statement calling for an “absolute prohibition” of solitary confinement beyond fifteen days. He has asked, but not been allowed to tour ADX. The prison is the subject of a federal class action lawsuit about how it treats its mentally ill prisoners, some of whom starve themselves, self-mutilate to the point of cutting off their testicles or, as was the case with prisoner Robert Knott earlier this month, hang themselves with bed sheets.

Mental health professionals, state legislatures and human rights organizations have condemned prolonged isolation, which is defined by the American Psychiatric Association as a period greater than three to four weeks.

“Given that four weeks of solitary confinement was described as potentially harmful, the 30-year duration in this case compels scrutiny. If shorter periods of solitary confinement have resulted in psychological distress and symptoms, it is not unreasonable to assume that substantially longer durations provide a greater risk of serious health consequences,” several national groups and experts wrote the court on Silverstein’s behalf.

A division of the U.S. Justice Department, under the federal Civil Rights of Institutionalized Persons Act (CRIPA), has investigated and found violations of state prisons for the overuse of solitary confinement. Perhaps the greatest irony about Silverstein’s case is that solitary confinement as practiced by the Bureau of Prisons, also an arm of the Justice Department, is exempt from that civil rights division’s review.

Step-down Program Request Rejected by BOP

These are documents about denying Tom to be entered in a “step-down program” to prepare him for general population placement. Tom was “infraction-free” for 22 years. There is no reason of any violence that he should be denied at least a try-out in a SDP.

Sept. 16th 2011:

Intermediate Unit Referral Step Down Rejecction 9-16-2011

“Intermediate (J) Unit Referral” dated Sept. 16, 2011, rejecting Tom’s request to be entered in a Step-Down Program, without any reasonable examples, context or suggestions. Just a robotic response to a human being.


Tom’s response, Oct 27, 2011:

SDP Rejection response Tom 10-27-2011

Step-Down Program rejection response by Tom Silverstein, Oct 27, 2011

Tom’s request for “Administrative remedy”:

SDP Rejection Rq admin remedy 11-8-2011

Tom’s response on Nov 8, 2011, saying that he has not received any rule infraction for the alleged “activities,” and therefore he requests a transfer, because the staff refuses to prove to him what activity he was allegedly involved in, without having been given a ticket for it.

Tom was given the denial of his Administrative remedy request on Dec 7, 2011:

SDP rejection Response 12-7-2011

More of the same, even though Tom is in a highly segregated unit.







Federal Judge Rules 28 Years in Solitary Confinement Not “Extreme,” Dismisses Silverstein Case

Reblogged from: James Ridgeway and Jean Casella on SolitaryWatch, October 6, 2011

Thomas Silverstein, plaintiff in a potentially groundbreaking case challenging his more than 28 years of extreme solitary confinement under a “no human contact” order, has had his case dismissed by a Federal District Court judge in Denver.

Silverstein’s student attorney’s at the University of Denver law school had argued that their client’s decades of utter isolation in the depths of the federal prison system constitute cruel and unusual punishment, and also violate his right to due process. But Judge Philip Brimmer, in the ruling issued on Monday, declared that Silverstein’s conditions of confinement at the U.S. Penitentiary Administrative Maximum, or ADX, aren’t “atypically extreme.”

Reporting in Denver’s Westword, Alan Prendergast notes that Silverstein’s “journey through the federal prison system has been anything but typical”:

[Silverstein] was convicted of four murders while in prison; one was later overturned. He’s now serving three consecutiive life sentences plus 45 years. The last killing, the 1983 slaying of a federal guard in the most secure unit of what was then the highest-security federal pen in the entire system, put him on a “no human contact” status that lasted for decades. For close to seventeen years he was housed in a specially designed, Hannibal-Lecter-like cell in the basement of Leavenworth where the lights were on 24 hours a day. In 2005 he was moved to a highly isolated range at ADX, as first reported in my feature “The Caged Life“…

Since Silverstein first filed his lawsuit in 2007, with assistance from student lawyers at the University of Denver, he’s been moved from his tomb in Range 13 to D Unit, which is considered “general population” at ADX. Inmates are still in solitary confinement and have meals in their cell, but they also have access to indoor and outdoor recreation and can shout to each other. That lessening in the general degree of Silverstein’s isolation seems to have been one factor in Brimmer’s decision to dismiss the former bank robber’s claims of enduring extreme deprivation and lack of any social contact.

U.S. Bureau of Prisons officials maintain that Silverstein’s placement in isolation is necessary because of his own extreme behavior — “plaintiff’s disciplinary record, in addition to the aforementioned murders, shows assaults of three staff members, a threat to a staff member, an attempt to escape by posing as a United States Marshal, and the discovery of weapons, handcuff keys, and lock picks in plaintiff’s rectum,” Brimmer notes.

But Silverstein hasn’t been cited for a disciplinary infraction since 1988, and even the BOP’s psychologists have rated the 59-year-old prisoner as having a “low” risk of violence for years.

On his official website, maintained by outside supporters — incarcerated since the 1970s, he hasn’t had much opportunity for surfing the Internet — Silverstein reports that he’s still being moved frequently from one cell to another to prevent any kind of ongoing communication with other prisoners.  “ALL they care about (obviously) is maintaining my ISOLATION, by any convoluted means necessary,” he writes.

Judge Philip Bimmer had set a court date for Silverstein’s trial in January, but has now ruled in favor of a motion by the federal Bureau of Prisons to dismiss the case. Silverstein’s lawyers, under the leadership of Laura Rovner at the University of Denver law school’s Civil Right Clinic, are consulting with their client and have not yet commented on the decision or their future plans. One possible next step would be an appeal of the judge’s decision to the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals.

For more on Silverstein’s conditions of confinement, see America’s Most Isolated Federal Prisoner Describes 10,220 Days in Extreme Solitary Confinement. For details on the Silverstein case, see Fortresses of Solitude.

America’s Most Isolated Federal Prisoner Describes 10,220 Days in Extreme Solitary Confinement

May 5, 2011 by Jean Casella and James Ridgeway, on SolitaryWatch

Thomas Silverstein, who has been described as America’s “most isolated man,” has been held in an extreme form of solitary confinement under a “no human contact” order for 28 years. Originally imprisoned for armed robbery at the age of 19, Silverstein is serving life without parole for killing two fellow inmates (whom he says were threatening his life) and a prison guard, and has been buried in the depths of the federal prison system since 1983.

In his current lawsuit against the Federal Bureau of Prisons, Silverstein contends that his decades of utter isolation in a small concrete cell violate the Constitution’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment, as well as its guarantee of due process. (The lawsuit, brought by the University of Denver’s Civil Rights Clinic, is described in detail in our article “Fortresses of Solitude.”) Update: On Friday, federal District Court Judge Philip Brimmer set a court date of January 23, 2012 for a jury trial in the Silverstein case.

In support of that lawsuit, Tommy Silverstein, now 59, has written a long “declaration,” the purpose of which “is primarily to describe my experience during this lengthy period of solitary confinement: the nature and impact of the harsh conditions I have endured in spite of a spotless conduct record for over 22 years, and my lack of knowledge about what, if anything, I can do to lessen my isolation.” After apologizing “for the actions that brought me here in the first place,” particularly the murder of corrections officer Merle Clutts, Silverstein contends that he has “worked hard to become a different man.” He continues, “I understand that I deserve to be punished for my actions, and I do not expect ever to be released from prison…I just want to serve out the remainder of my time peacefully with other mature guys doing their time.”

The bulk of the declaration is a detailed account of Silverstein’s experiences and surrounding in a series of what constitute the most secure and isolated housing in the federal prison system: in the notorious Control Unit at Marion, the supermax prototype; at USP Atlanta in a windowless underground “side pocket” cell that measured 6 x 7 feet (“almost exactly the size of a standard king mattress,”); at Leavenworth in an isolated basement cell dubbed the “Silverstein Suite”; on “Range 13″ at ADX Florence, where the only other prisoner was Ramzi Yusef; and finally in ADX’s D-Unit, where he can hear the sounds of other prisoners living in neighboring cells, though he still never sees them.

The following is from Tommy Silverstein’s description of his life at USP Atlanta:

The cell was so small that I could stand in one place and touch both walls simultaneously. The ceiling was so low that I could reach up and touch the hot light fixture.

My bed took up the length of the cell, and there was no other furniture at all…The walls were solid steel and painted all white.

I was permitted to wear underwear, but I was given no other clothing.

Shortly after I arrived, the prison staff began construction on the side pocket cell, adding more bars and other security measures to the cell while I was within it. In order not to be burned by sparks and embers while they welded more iron bars across the cell, I had to lie on my bed and cover myself with a sheet.

It is hard to describe the horror I experienced during this construction process. As they built new walls around me it felt like I was being buried alive. It was terrifying.

During my first year in the side pocket cell I was completely isolated from the outside world and had no way to occupy my time. I was not allowed to have any social visits, telephone privileges, or reading materials except a bible. I was not allowed to have a television, radio, or tape player. I could speak to no one and their was virtually nothing on which to focus my attention.

I was not only isolated, but also disoriented in the side pocket. This was exacerbated by the fact that I wasn’t allowed to have a wristwatch or clock. In addition, the bright, artificial lights remained on in the cell constantly, increasing my disorientation and making it difficult to sleep. Not only were they constantly illuminated, but those lights buzzed incessantly. The buzzing noise was maddening, as there often were no other sounds at all. This may sound like a small thing, but it was my entire world.

Due to the unchanging bright artificial lights and not having a wristwatch or clock, I couldn’t tell if it was day or night. Frequently, I would fall asleep and when I woke up I would not know if I had slept for five minutes or five hours, and would have no idea of what day or time of day it was.

I tried to measure the passing of days by counting food trays. Without being able to keep track of time, though, sometimes I thought the officers had left me and were never coming back. I thought they were gone for days, and I was going to starve. It’s likely they were only gone for a few hours, but I had no way to know.

I was so disoriented in Atlanta that I felt like I was in an episode of the twilight zone. I now know that I was housed there for about four years, but I would have believed it was a decade if that is what I was told. It seemed eternal and endless and immeasurable…

There was no air conditioning or heating in the side pocket cells. During the summer, the heat was unbearable. I would pour water on the ground and lay naked on the floor in an attempt to cool myself…

The only time I was let out of my cell was for outdoor recreation. I was allowed one hour a week of outdoor recreation. I could not see any other inmates or any of the surrounding landscape during outdoor recreation. There was no exercise equipment and nothing to do…

My vision deteriorated in the side pocket, I think due to the constant bright lights, or possibly also because of other aspects of this harsh environment. Everything began to appear blurry and I became sensitive to light, which burned my eyes and gave me headaches.

Nearly all of the time, the officers refused to speak to me. Despite this, I heard people who I believed to be officers whispering into my vents, telling me they hated me and calling me names. To this day, I am not sure if the officers were doing this to me, or if I was starting to lose it and these were hallucinations.

In the side pocket cell, I lost some ability to distinguished what was real. I dreamt I was in prison. When I woke up, I was not sure which was reality and which was a dream.

In a summing up, Silverstein reflects on the physical and psychological effects of 28 years in solitary and on his own development as a self-taught artists and practitioner of yoga and Buddhist meditation. He reiterates his plea to be allowed into the BOP’s “Step-Down program” toward less isolated confinement. The complete declaration, which runs to 64 pages, can be read here.

Update: A declaration submitted as an exhibit in the case, by Dr. Craig Haney, one of the nation’s leading experts on the effects of prolonged solitary confinement, can be read here.

A paraphrased account of Silverstein’s last post to a viewer of his guestbook

August 17, 2010

About Mail  and the Law Library

Thomas Silverstein states his mail is censored by SIS unlike some of the other inmates around him. This procedure leads to bureaucratic delays of his incoming and outgoing correspondence.

In addition he claims that there are frequent intentional or unintentional delays in his mails scheduled pickup and delivery. These delays can lead to significant legal problems when his mandated filing deadlines are not met.

Tom also claims that a legal document from his defense team which was marked to be opened only in front of him had arrived to him already opened by the SIS staff. And if such legal correspondence does miss its deadline the judge is more often inclined to believe the CO’s denial of interference then his claim of wrong doing.

Thomas Silverstein’s ability to mount a robust legal defense to end his isolation is hindered by, poor education, difficulty in accessing legal materials, and his unfamiliarity with computers. He gives this graphic account of how these factors all combine to hinder not only his defense but those of most inmates.

Thomas points out that when he was at in Leavenworth he often overheard the BOP’s tour guide, say that the inmates were allowed to use the Law library at the end of the tier, an empty room, with a new computer that the staff had just installed a few months before. However Silverstein claims that he put in 15 to 20 requests to use the facility to no avail.

Also Thomas Silverstein pointed to the fact that many prisoners are too illiterate to even read the directions for the computer. Silverstein says during the approximately 7 successful trips that he finally did make to the room, that he found the case materials too long and the legal language too difficult to interpret. Claiming “It all sounds Greek to me, including the instructions given on the prison TV station.”

With no actual law books and lacking any computer skills Silverstein was at a loss. He notes that,” Before, we could check out 3 law books at a time and return them within 24 hours. Now we’re only allowed 2 hours on the computer, (which only deals with legal cases and BOP policy, with no outside contacts. And anyone who has read legal cases, know how extensive some are, and 2 hrs is hardly enough time, especially for someone like me who reads at a snails pace. But to hear them tell it, we now have state of the art legal access.

By the way, no one comes around to show/help us either. I’m the type of guy who learns best when shown, so I asked the education guy a couple of weeks ago if he knows how to work the new computers and he said yes, so I told him I have a question to ask him, he got all hostile and snapped ‘Its not my job you were all given instructions!, and stormed off.”

Concerning Visits:

Thomas Silverstein says, “mail meddling is part of their desire to cut me off from the outside world—once they alienate you, they try to break your hopes, then your resistance. I didn’t get any visits for about 10 years, because of the draconian policy that says we’re not allowed visits from anyone we didn’t know prior to prison.”

After 35 years of incarceration at a location far from his prior home and family Silverstein receives very few visits from his ever shrinking pool of relatives and old friends. Referring to this dilemma Silverstein asks “How many folks still know people from that long ago?” Only once in the last 27 years has Silverstein ever been allowed to add one “very special person” to this list.

Tom goes on to state “The BOP policy statement claims to encourage visits to maintain family and social ties, but it’s only a ploy to fool the public when in reality they do just the opposite.”

Tom gives this example as evidence; “Once my baby sister came to see me all the way from California, and the gate guards wouldn’t let her in. Their excuse was that the paperwork hadn’t been processed. This is not that unusual since most of the guards are too lazy to do their job. So instead of the guard saying that he would call my councilor or whoever, (they know who to call) he told her to leave. When she attempted to explain, that she had already been approved and had come a long way etc, he threatened to have her forcibly removed. It was winter and snowing! Luckily she knows how they operate, since she has visited me in just about all the pens that I’ve been in. So she called my councilor, and got in a few hours later, but the delay had cut our visit short! I cannot recall if it was this same time or another but when they let her in, they cancelled our visit 15 minutes later! The reason, every few months they have a power check and turn all the lights off for about 10– 5 minutes, but even then the emergency lights are always on.

We visited in a glass booth, over bugged phones, with 2 surveillance cameras and guards parked outside, staring at us ominously through a window, as if waiting for one wrong move to cancel our visit! Only a sadist could do what these folks do on a daily basis. My conscience would haunt me, if I did that to someone’s sister, no matter how I felt about her brother. It’s more macabre than that however. Chasing away a sweet woman who came 1000 miles to see her brother, after a number of years of not seeing each other, tearful, and cold, is something that he probably bragged about to his cronies who share his sense of cruelty, especially knowing that it was my sister and me that suffered his wrath.

Messing with our mail, calls, visits, property, and recreation time is the norm. Although our recreation time is very limited the unit staff cannot always manage even to allow us this pitiful amount of time without making up some lame excuse to cancel it so they can sit in their office drinking coffee and shooting the shit. It has been better lately, but when I first got here (D unit) I was lucky to make it out of my cell for indoor or outdoor recreation, once or twice a week. You have to be heartless to work in prison.”

About transporting prisoners:

Silverstein says,  “First of all, the forced rectal exams are rape to us! I don’t know many heterosexual men willing to handle another grown man’s cock, balls and anus so there has to be some closet homosexual voyeurism underfoot, disguised as a security procedure or, it’s just meant as pure humiliation.”

About the Mentally ill:

“I’ve slept in some of the worst pens in America has to offer but I’ve never seen so many guys gone stir crazy as I’ve witnessed here at ADX! It’s daunting to see people lose their mind and knowing it’s inevitable. Everything they do here is designed to literally break us! All their security mumbo jumbo is whitewash used to conceal their real covert mission.”

And the just plain ill:

Speaking of the ADX staff Silverstein says; “I believe it’s their duty to walk each tier daily and address any issues that we have. But they just walk right by and you have to scream, because otherwise they act like they can’t hear you. If you do get them to stop, they often roll their eyes, wearing a pinched lip smirk, causing me to wish I wouldn’t have called them. So sometimes I just say never mind because I can tell that they’ll just blow me off anyway, so why bother.

The Prison Authorities mostly male nurses are the worst, and they’re the ones who are supposed to help us the most! And to add insult to injury, they charge us $2 just to talk to them so unless its serious, most guys just cant afford to get their ailments checked.”

Is all this about justice or is this just revenge? How will the other prisoners that are finally released, and many will be, look upon all of us that allowed this abuse?