Taking It to the Max

One inmate's quest for safety at the highest-security prison in the land.

"Inmates pound on the walls all the time," Haas testified. "That's just a normal thing that happens inside. There was hostility between the both of them...but there's hostility every day."

Witnesses who managed to appear in person included Martin Hochberg, honorary chairman of the International Coalition for Jewish Prisoner Services, and Yollette Merritt, David's sister. Both said they'd appealed to various BOP officials on his behalf, to no avail. Paluch suggested that the bulk of their information about the situation came from Merritt himself, but Yollette was quick to describe how she had visited her brother shortly after past attacks at various prisons and had seen his condition herself.

"I've never had anyone yet deny that this is going on," she said. "It's the nature of the system. David Merritt will come home dead if the situation continues. That's my absolute conviction."

But wasn't it true, Paluch asked, that the Merritts were planning to parlay their "war on the BOP" into book and movie deals? Yollette denied it, and her brother angrily objected. "Attack me; don't go after my family," he snapped.

After two days, several witnesses were still waiting to be called, and Judge Borchers ruled that the hearing would have to be continued at a later date. Amid the claims and counterclaims--Merritt seeking to demonstrate that the ADX staff was, at best, indifferent to his personal safety; government witnesses suggesting that Merritt was simply a troublemaker seeking to manipulate the prison system--one fact stood undisputed: In the bowels of a supermax, as in any other penitentiary, prisoners and their keepers aren't terribly fond of each other.

For several hours, corrections officer Bradley Anderson calmly fended off Merritt's accusations that Anderson had assaulted him and "enlisted" other inmates to harm him. Finally, asked what would happen if the cell doors in Merritt's area somehow all opened at once, Anderson managed a wan smile.

If that happened, he told Merritt, "you'd be a lot safer than I would.

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