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The Circle Game

A "prisoner of war" plays ball with the feds--and gets beaned.

The federal government has consistently denied trying to isolate inmates on the basis of their political beliefs--but Lopez Rivera, Susler believes, is one of a handful of prisoners whose top-security status owes more to the nature of their crimes than it does to their behavior within the system. "You can't say there are no political prisoners in the United States and then single him out and treat him like this," she contends. "If they really think their program works, then he shouldn't be an exception."

Technically, Marion is no longer the most restrictive prison in the federal system. But prison activists claim that conditions there have changed little since the murder of two guards thirteen years ago resulted in a lockdown of the entire penitentiary and ongoing complaints about the alleged brutal treatment of inmates. Lopez Rivera says his freedom of movement is even more limited than it was during his previous stay and that he prefers ADX overall. "It's hard to understand the adversarial relationship between prisoner and staff that exists here," he says.

Marion spokeswoman Tereser Banks says the prison has revised its program and that inmates can now earn their way out in two years rather than three. But the situation poses a special Catch-22 for Lopez Rivera; one reason his previous trip to Marion lasted eight years was his refusal to work for the federal UNICOR operation at the prison, which assembles coaxial cables for the military.

"I will not work in Marion," Lopez Rivera vows. "Everything made here is for the military. I guess I won't be leaving anytime soon."

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