By Michael Roberts
By Amber Taufen
By Patricia Calhoun
By William Breathes
By Michael Roberts
By Melanie Asmar
By Michael Roberts
By Michael Roberts
The sedition trial was one of the longest and costliest in federal history. Levasseur acted as his own attorney, delivering a lengthy defense of radical resistance that has since circulated in pamphlet form. In the end, the jury decided for acquittal on some charges and deadlocked on the rest. The last remaining charges Levasseur faced, for an alleged assault on a police officer in the course of a Maine bank robbery, were dropped two years ago, "when they started looking at the cost of the security to bring me back," he says.
Levasseur contends that the UFF's campaign against apartheid was not much different from that of Nelson Mandela, who was jailed under South Africa's sedition laws. That argument hasn't earned him any brownie points with BOP officials. Despite numerous reviews of his classification level during his years at Marion, he remains in the big nowhere of 22-hour-a-day lockdown.
BOP guidelines list a number of criteria ADX prisoners must meet before they can move into the step-down units. "Positive adjustment" is demonstrated by everything from personal hygiene to cell sanitation to "appropriate interaction with staff." The overriding consideration, though, is the same as it was at Marion--whether the factors that led to an inmate's placement in lockdown have been sufficiently "mitigated."
"In some cases," the policy states, in dazzling bureaucratese, "the original placement behavior may have been based on sophisticated, even covert behavior rather than overt physical aggression...In these or other cases, the minimum clear conduct time regarding superficial compliance with institution rules may not be indicative of sufficient mitigation in the original placement behavior."
At Marion, Levasseur filed appeals in an effort to discover what the factors were that he'd failed to mitigate. Responses cited his "leadership role in a group advocating the violent overthrow of the United States government," his prior "fugitive status" and his continuing contact with "individuals in the community who likewise advocate the overthrow of the government"--presumably through articles he's had published in small-circulation leftist publications.
"The factors in my case are my radical views and affiliations," he says. "How is that going to be mitigated? What am I going to do, renounce my political beliefs?"
Whether anyone has ever demonstrated positive adjustment to isolation is an open question. In early nineteenth-century prisons in Pennsylvania, prisoners were kept in separate cells and never spoke to another human being. Some quickly went mad.
Studies of the psychological effects of solitary confinement have found it can produce symptoms of paranoia, hypersensitivity to noise, panic attacks, hallucinations and even episodes of amnesia. One article by Harvard psychiatrist Stuart Grassian reported "the emergence of primitive, aggressive fantasies of revenge, torture, and mutilation of the prison guards" among solitary inmates in Massachusetts. His findings were published around the same time that Silverstein and Fountain were slaughtering guards in the control unit at Marion.
At ADX, every cell is equipped with a "duress button" prisoners can use if they need to summon help. The prison has two full-time psychologists and contracts psychiatric services. Associate warden Vanyur, who has a doctorate in psychology himself, says every staff member has been trained to recognize "mental health emergencies."
"There is the potential that in a more harsh environment, with people who've had some mental health problems, this may cause them to potentially have some deterioration," he says cautiously.
Panic buttons aside, everything about ADX seems designed to discourage prisoners from human contact--not only with each other but with the outside world. Lopez Rivera says he was strip-searched a total of four times before and after a noncontact visit with a relative, a charge prison officials deny. He also claims to have been strip-searched just to use the telephone. (Prisoners are permitted one collect call a month.)
Vanyur says multiple searches are necessary because honor-camp inmates, who sometimes work inside ADX, might "plant" something in the corridors. But Levasseur scoffs at this, noting that the corridors are always cleared of outsiders before he's allowed to move through them, shackled and under the watchful eyes of guards and video cameras. "I haven't been out of my cell without restraints since I've been here," he says.
For Levasseur, the most difficult part of what passes for life at ADX is the noncontact visits themselves. He has three daughters, all born during his years underground. "I haven't touched them since 1989," he says. "That's something that plays with my mind a lot."
Both he and Lopez Rivera say that their political convictions and outside support network--factors they believe contributed to their placement in isolation--may also help them survive ADX better than other inmates. These days Levasseur keeps busy writing articles in defense of journalist and former Black Panther Mumia Abu-Jamal, who was convicted of killing a Philadelphia police officer and is scheduled for execution next month.
Newly arrived in the intermediate unit, Lopez Rivera is still adjusting to the increase in privileges, however slight. He now has a pencil sharpener and fingernail clippers. And access to a larger exercise yard. It's still a cage, but one with a small plot of dirt inside it.
"Last week, for the first time, I saw grass," he says. "Something alive."
end of part 2