Wonders never cease at the highest-security supermax prison in the free world, the U.S. Penitentiary Administrative Maximum outside Florence. This week, for the first time in more than five years, journalists will be allowed inside the place. And a 69-year-old woman visiting from Great Britain, whose visit with a notorious prisoner at ADX was approved months ago, has been informed she won't be permitted past the gate after all.
Federal prison authorities have been feeling the heat lately over their policy of banning all inmate media interviews, or even tours by reporters, since 2001, citing unspecified "security concerns." (The policy was disclosed in our article "Fortress of Solitude" last month.) With 60 Minutes planning to air a big piece on the prison next month, officials finally decided to let a small group of national media representatives into the place for a quick peek.
Somehow Westword's invitation to the party got lost in the mail. When we asked if we could join the tour, a Bureau of Prisons spokeswoman promised she'd try to get us a place on some future junket. But that's okay; we've been there before and even managed to interview a few residents, including Puerto Rican separatist Oscar Lopez Rivera and Columbian assassin Dandenis Muñoz Mosquera. It doesn't look like this group of gawkers will actually get to talk to any bombers, terrorists or other hangers-on.
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At the same time, a British senior citizen will be in Washington this week, trying to convince BOP director Harley Lapin to reconsider a decision to revoke her planned visit with Thomas Silverstein (pictured above), the subject of our recent cover story "The Caged Life." Silverstein, who's been held in high-level isolation since his 1983 murder of a corrections officer, has been corresponding with the woman for 15 years, but they've never met. She'd already purchased her airline ticket for a five-day visit when ADX warden Ron Wiley nixed the idea, claiming that the woman had breached prison security and was no longer welcome.
The woman's infraction? Reading over the phone to Silverstein a letter from his daughter, whom he hasn't heard from for some time. The daughter apparently was recently in jail in California, and federal prison rules prohibit incarcerated individuals in other facilities from communicating with their inmates through a third party.
Silverstein supporters say the woman was unaware that she was breaking any rules and has even determined that the daughter wasn't in jail at the time of the phone call. "They're just taking away an elderly woman's life savings," says Melissa Webb, who administers Silverstein's official website. "It's ridiculous."
No word from Silverstein what he thinks of the decision. Maybe the visiting dignitaries of the Fourth Estate can ask him, if they're allowed within shouting distance of his cell. But don't count on it. Silverstein hasn't been allowed a face-to-face interview with a reporter since the early 1990s. – Alan Prendergast