Killer of “Dirty Rotten Guards” Dies After 36 Years In “The Hole”

America’s most isolated prisoner dead at 67

Alan Prendergast, May 13, 2019

Thomas Edward Silverstein, a federal prisoner whose ability to wreak havoc in even the most restrictive high-security conditions played a significant role in the creation of the modern supermax prison, died on Saturday, May 11, after more than three decades spent in solitary confinement.

Silverstein had been hospitalized in Lakewood for weeks with complications following heart surgery, according to information posted on a website maintained by friends and supporters.

His death was confirmed by a U.S. Bureau of Prisons spokesman. Silverstein was 67.

Before his recent health problems, Silverstein had spent the past fourteen years as a resident of the U.S. Penitentiary Administrative Maximum, or ADX, in Florence, Colorado — the highest-security facility in the entire federal system, where he was serving several life sentences.

But his notoriety as “Terrible Tommy” stems from an earlier time at a prison in Marion, Illinois, when Silverstein was convicted of committing three murders behind bars — including the killing of a federal corrections officer.

“He is not as bad as they portray. Sure he is dangerous if they push him to the wall. But there were some dirty rotten guards at Marion… You are dealing with a person locked up 23 hours a day. Of course he’s got a short fuse.” – Ex-con Ted Sellers

Born in 1952, Silverstein grew up in a middle-class neighborhood in Long Beach, California.

As a teenager,  he began using heroin and committing burglaries to feed his addiction.

At 23, he was sentenced to fifteen years in federal prison for armed robbery.

Suspected of committing other crimes in prison on behalf of the Aryan Brotherhood, he was moved to the control unit at Marion, where prisoners were locked in their cells 23 hours a day and escorted to the showers handcuffed and under heavy guard.

Despite the restrictions, Silverstein was convicted of murdering two rival gang leaders at Marion. (He would later deny involvement in one of the killings while characterizing the other as an act of self-defense.)

Then, on October 22, 1983, with the connivance of other prisoners, Silverstein slipped his cuffs and fatally attacked corrections officer Merle Clutts. Hours later, another inmate pulled a similar handcuff trick and killed another officer.

The shock waves from the two homicides compelled the U.S. Bureau of Prisons to rethink how it handled its most dangerous prisoners, eventually leading to the construction of ADX … Read more. 

Is longterm isolation in solitary confinement a necessary tool for the management of violent prisoners, or is it cruel and unusual punishment? Share your views below in the comments area. 


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