"I Didn’t Come In Here A Killer, But In Here You Learn Hate." The Aryan Brotherhood And The American Prison.

Each year we spend billions of dollars on prisons to house and support inmates in order for them to do the time our justice system determines based on their crime. This sentence is what our system has decided will allow inmates the appropriate time needed to recover in order to re-enter society. But ultimately how much recovery and progress is made in inmates lives? Is our prison system only a breeding ground designed to bring out the worst in an individual as we spend billions of dollars on housing and supporting inmates when it would be cheaper to actually allow healing in an environment based on education and therapy. (2 out 3 children in inner city juvenile detention centers suffer from a mental illness...Harper's Index, Nov. 2009) Our prisons are out of control and downright horrifying. I read this fantastic New Yorker article by David Grann profiling The Aryan Brotherhood many years ago and recently found it again online. Here are some excerpts:

"On a Saturday morning in the fall of 1983, at Marion federal prison, in southern Illinois, Thomas Silverstein waited for guards to take him for a routine shower. Marion, which is about a hundred miles southeast of St. Louis, was opened in 1963, the year that Alcatraz closed, and was designed to cope with the profusion of violent gang members—in particular, men like Silverstein, who by then had been convicted of murdering three inmates and had earned the nickname Terrible Tom (as he often signed his letters, with looping strokes). Before taking Silverstein to the bathroom, the guards frisked him, to make sure he hadn’t fashioned any weapons. (He often had pens and other sketching tools for his art work.) They also shackled his wrists. Three guards surrounded him, one of whom was a hard-nosed, nineteen-year veteran with military-style gray hair named Merle Clutts. Clutts, who was to retire in a few months, was perhaps the only guard in the unit who didn’t fear Silverstein; he once reportedly told him, “Hey, I ’m running this shit. You ain’t running it.” As the guards escorted Silverstein through the prison, he paused outside the cell of another gang member—who, as planned, suddenly reached between the bars and, with a handcuff key, unlocked Silverstein’s shackles. Silverstein pulled a nearly foot-long knife from his conspirator’s waistband.“This is between me and Clutts,” Silverstein hollered as he rushed toward him. One of the other guards screamed, “He’s got a shank!” But Clutts was already cornered, without a weapon. He raised his hands while Silverstein stabbed him in the stomach. “He was just sticking Officer Clutts with that knife,” another guard later recalled. “He was just sticking and sticking and sticking.” By the time Silverstein relinquished the knife—“The man disrespected me,” he told the guards. “I had to get him”— Clutts had been stabbed forty times.He died shortly afterward."

"In the case of Silverstein, who was already serving multiple life sentences when he killed the guard Clutts, in 1983, the Bureau of Prisons had established a separate unit for him at Leavenworth, where he was held in a Hannibal Lecter style cage.Though Silverstein continued to sketch, he was for years not permitted to have a comb or a hairbrush, and when the reporter Pete Earley visited him, in the late eighties, he had long wild hair and a beard. “They want me to go crazy,” he told Earley.“They want to point their fingers at me and say, ‘See, see, we told you he is a lunatic.’ . . . I didn’t come in here a killer, but in here you learn hate. The insanity in here is cultivated by the guards. They feed the beast that lingers within all of us. . . . I find myself smiling at the thought of me killing Clutts each time they deny me a phone call, a visit, or keep the lights on. I find it harder and harder to repent and ask for forgiveness, because deep inside I can feel that hatred and anger growing.” Jessner told me, 'Within the gang’s lore, Silverstein has become its Christ figure.' "

"By the mid-nineties, Jessner says, the gang had evolved to the point that it had to appoint members to lead different branches of its operations—such as the “department of security” and the “department of narcotics.” Though the Aryan Brotherhood’s profits never rivalled those of the Italian Mafia or outside drug lords, its reputation for violence did. The gang had some of the most highly trained and ruthless hit men in the country. And inside the prison system the Baron had so grown in stature that he overshadowed the imprisoned head of the Italian Mafia, John Gotti. According to authorities, in July, 1996, after a black inmate attacked Gotti at Marion prison, bloodying his face, the Mafia leader, who seemed ill prepared for the explosion of prison violence, sought the Baron’s help in murdering his assailant.The Brotherhood seemed receptive to the idea—the Baron allegedly used sign language to communicate the price of the hit to an associate—but Gotti died before the hit could be executed."