The Most Isolated Man In America

By Mike Devlin on Friday, August 2, 2013
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“In the ice of solitude, man becomes most inexorably a question to himself.” —Martin Buber

In a Nutshell

Locked away in federal supermax prison, Aryan Brotherhood member Thomas Silverstein has been held in solitary confinement for 30 years. Known for murdering fellow inmates, he was very carefully monitored, but in 1983, he managed to kill a corrections officer. Since then, he has passed barely a word with another human being.

The Whole Bushel

Described by a former warden as “a clean version of Hell,” The United States Penitentiary, Administrative Maximum Facility (ADX Florence) is likely the most secure prison in the world. Located in the foothills of Colorado, it is sometimes referred to as “the Alcatraz of the Rockies.” Approximately 490 of the most savage and infamous inmates in the world make their home there, including al-Qaeda operative Zacarias Moussaoui, “Unabomber” Ted Kaczynski, and Thomas Silverstein—the most isolated man in the American prison system.

Now his early sixties, Silverstein resembles someone’s kindly old grandfather, but he is one of the planet’s most dangerous men, known for cunning ruthlessness. Originally sentenced to 15 years in USP Leavenworth for armed robbery in 1977, Silverstein quickly fell in with the Aryan Brotherhood. In 1980, he killed inmate Danny Atwell, who refused to mule heroin for the Brotherhood, and was transferred to the high-security facility at USP Marion.

While incarcerated at Marion, he made promptly made enemies, and in 1981, he and another inmate were accused of killing D.C. Blacks prison–gang member Robert Chappelle. Despite proclaiming his innocence, he was targeted for murder by Raymond “Cadillac” Smith, the leader of the D.C. Blacks. Silverstein got to him first. After this, he was kept under strict watch, but in 1983, he managed to stab Corrections Officer Merle Clutts to death, allegedly as revenge for being taunted by the guard. Hours later, Silverstein’s friend Clayton Fountain also stabbed an officer to death.

These events actually inspired the building of ADX Florence. Silverstein is kept there under “no human contact” status in a specially designed cell, where he will most likely spend the rest of his life. He holds the distinction of spending the longest time in solitary confinement of any American inmate—30 years and counting. Claiming that “no human contact” status is a form of torture for the murder of Clutts, Silverstein filed suit against the prison. In 2011, a judge threw out Silverstein’s claims.

Thomas Silverstein is eligible for parole on November 2, 2095.

Show Me The Proof

Thomas E. Silverstein
America’s Most Isolated Federal Prisoner Describes 10,220 Days in Extreme Solitary Confinement
Supermax: A Clean Version Of Hell