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Marked for Death

Trapped in a prison race war, Tony Francis had three choices: kill, snitch or run. He found another way out.

In other cases, inmates in lockdown are put in jeopardy by the very guards who are supposed to protect them. A group of corrections officers who worked in the SHU in Florence, a group known as "The Cowboys," is currently under investigation by the Justice Department for allegedly beating prisoners ("Fight Club," December 16, 1999). And instances of guards placing members of rival gangs together in enclosed arenas, like gladiators, have been reported even in the federal supermax, ADX.

(One example of what David Lane calls "BOP cockfighting" was presented at the Francis trial. Robert Jones, a black ADX inmate, was attacked in the spring of 1998 by an "Aryan Nations guy," who slashed him in the face with a razor. According to Jones, the attack occurred in a narrow sallyport on the way to the exercise yard and went on for several minutes before guards intervened. Asked why a total stranger would attack him, Jones responded, "The race war. That was his duty. That was his job." Lane is now representing Jones in a lawsuit against the BOP.)

Some prisoners go to great lengths to get removed from the general population without being labeled a snitch. They drop an anonymous note for the guards to find, declaring that a certain inmate is in danger and should be placed in the SHU, or they start a fight with a cellmate, or halfheartedly stab a stranger. But these "check-in moves" are usually transparent.

"I don't care how you check in -- it's always found out," said Paul Chartier, a career felon who's spent close to thirty years in state and federal prisons. "It's going to follow you. You get messed up. You get killed."

A tough-talking, shaved-head, mustachioed figure with an uncanny resemblance to G. Gordon Liddy, Chartier was one of the white inmates Francis approached for advice about the threat he'd received. "I told him what he had to do," Chartier recalled. "I told him to get a knife and hope he lived through the stabbing."

Chartier's advice was echoed by other prisoners whom Francis consulted, including Joseph McGee and Taylor, the skinhead leader. Earlier, McGee had jammed up Francis about the rumors that he was AB. Francis peed; in other words, he denied it.

"I wanted to find out who he was," McGee recalled. "He didn't give the proper response. There's a certain etiquette, a certain persona you have to put forth. He didn't have it."

When Francis told him about the threat on his life, McGee gave him a speech about the best defense being a good offense: "I grew up in prison. If you make me feel threatened, I'm not going to strap up and wait. I'm going to take it to you. That's what I told Tony: "Go deal with it right now. Don't let them bring it to you.' But Tony didn't want to accept the fact that he had to go take care of business."

Taylor offered to help Francis with his problems. He went to black gang leaders, men with names like "Pimp" and "C-Note," and satisfied himself that Francis was indeed a target. Then he offered Francis a deal: All Francis had to do was knife a black gang member, and Taylor and his people would back him up in the eruption that would follow.

In court, Taylor made no effort to conceal his disgust with Francis's response. "He did a lot of backstepping," he said. "Tony's a little bitch. He ain't about nothing. He ain't with nothing. He hides in his goddamn cell and reads books. But when the shit hits the fan, he wants some backup."

A couple of weeks after he was threatened on the yard, Francis had another visit from McGee, who showed him an official-looking typed form he said he'd obtained from a female guard. The "kite" appeared to be a report from an anonymous informant, identified only by a code number, and stated that if Tony Francis wasn't taken off the yard, he'd be stabbed.

Francis didn't know if the note was legitimate or concocted by McGee to pressure him into taking action. But checking in was clearly impossible. So was strapping up, as far as he was concerned. He wasn't afraid to defend himself, he insists, but he had less than five years left; stabbing someone could easily double his time. If the victim died, he might never get out or even live through the racial havoc that would follow.

It was time to figure out what time it was.

"I decided to do something I'd done before," Francis told his jury. "But I didn't think I could escape by myself."

Q: Would you agree that, from an inmate's perspective, USP Florence is a very dangerous place to be living?

A: I don't think I can speak from an inmate's perspective.-- Cross-examination of Louis Eichenlaub, former housing unit manager, USP Florence

Robert Haney is a lean, soft-spoken bank robber from North Carolina who's spent 21 years in federal custody and has at least another dozen to go. He is 44 years old, part Cherokee, and denies any gang affiliation. He has done time at five federal penitentiaries, including Florence -- where, by some accounts, he was Tony Francis's only friend.

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