Con Heir

Meet a truly dangerous prisoner. Literate. Political. Published. His teacher: the Birdman of Alcatraz.

Carey knew Campbell and had spoken to him in the prison dining hall the night he was killed. The two men shared certain anti-government sentiments, including a belief that the Articles of Confederation provided more protection for individual liberty than the U.S. Constitution and should not have been abandoned. Carey considered Campbell, who had written passionately about the "massacre" at Ruby Ridge and was serving eleven years for stealing timber and threatening the lives of federal officials, a kindred spirit; he rejects news reports that suggest Campbell was murdered because he informed on other inmates.

The night Campbell died, Carey says, a spotlight had traced the separatist's movements from the dining hall back toward his cellblock, as if pointing him out to people in the shadows. "I believe it was an assassination," he says. He adds that he has also written to Campbell's attorney: "I got a statement out with regard to what went down."

The truth about any violent death behind bars may never be known. There are too many versions of what went down, too many ways to entomb the secrets every prisoner--and every keeper--must carry. But even condemned men have a choice. They can despair, or they can develop the mind. They can curry favor, or they can embrace principle. They can perish, or they can publish and then perish. Like the Birdman, Carey has made his choice.

"I know I'm going to die in prison," Carey wrote to Westword a few weeks ago. "The only thing I fear is that at some weak moment, while they are laughing while they stomp on me, that I [will] beg for mercy. I want above all to die with the honor of cursing them down to my last breath. If another prisoner stabbed me fifty times, I would not testify against him. No matter how much I might hate him, I could not live with myself for helping these people get a conviction."

Shortly after that letter was written, Carey was moved from Florence to the Federal Transfer Center in Oklahoma City--the same prison where Kenneth Trentadue died. He is expected to be there only a few weeks before he is shipped to another, as-yet-unidentified penitentiary. His privileges are minimal, but he does have access to a golf pencil and scrap paper.

The letters keep coming.

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