Thomas Silverstein, who earned the title of "America's most isolated man," endured an astonishing 28 years of complete solitude during his 42-year prison sentence.
Imagine being alone for nearly three decades, with no human interaction whatsoever. That was the reality for Silverstein, who spent the first 28 years of his sentence in total isolation.
Silverstein's journey began when he was just 19, sentenced to prison for armed robbery. But his story took a dark turn when he brutally took the lives of two fellow inmates and a prison guard, leading to a life sentence without the possibility of release.
For 28 long years, he lived in a cramped concrete cell, forbidden from any human contact. It was a harsh existence, one that he believed violated the US Constitution's ban on cruel and unusual punishment.
In 2011, Silverstein filed a complaint against the Federal Bureau of Prisons, seeking to shed light on his unimaginable experience in solitary confinement.
While his legal efforts ultimately led to dismissal, his "declaration" meant "to describe [his] experience during this lengthy period of solitary confinement."
Silverstein proceeded by discussing "the nature and impact of the harsh conditions I have endured in spite of a spotless conduct record for over 22 years, and my lack of knowledge about what, if anything, I can do to lessen my isolation."
In the document, he began by expressing remorse for the murder of a prison officer named Merle Clutts, the very act that had led to his incarceration.
"I understand that I deserve to be punished for my actions, and I do not expect ever to be released from prison…I just want to serve out the remainder of my time peacefully with other mature guys doing their time," he shared.
Besides the murder of Clutts, Silverstein, who was part of the Aryan Brotherhood, also took the lives of two other inmates.
Yet, he argued that due to his fatal assault on a fellow prison officer, the staff members at his facility chose not to engage with him as a sign of respect for their deceased colleague.
Throughout his sentence, he occupied a sequence of highly secure and solitary living spaces. Sometimes, he could hear other inmates nearby, but he couldn't see them.
Reflecting on his days at USP Atlanta, he penned: "The cell was so small that I could stand in one place and touch both walls simultaneously. The ceiling was so low that I could reach up and touch the hot light fixture."
"My bed took up the length of the cell, and there was no other furniture at all…The walls were solid steel and painted all white."
"During my first year in the side pocket cell I was completely isolated from the outside world and had no way to occupy my time."
"I was not allowed to have any social visits, telephone privileges, or reading materials except a bible. I was not allowed to have a television, radio, or tape player."
"I could speak to no one and there was virtually nothing on which to focus my attention. I was not only isolated but also disoriented in the side pocket."
"This was exacerbated by the fact that I wasn't allowed to have a wristwatch or clock. In addition, the bright, artificial lights remained on in the cell constantly, increasing my disorientation and making it difficult to sleep."
He continued: "Not only were they constantly illuminated, but those lights buzzed incessantly."
"The buzzing noise was maddening, as there often were no other sounds at all. This may sound like a small thing, but it was my entire world."
"Due to the unchanging bright artificial lights and not having a wristwatch or clock, I couldn't tell if it was day or night."
"Frequently, I would fall asleep and when I woke up I would not know if I had slept for five minutes or five hours, and would have no idea of what day or time of day it was."
"I tried to measure the passing of days by counting food trays."
"Without being able to keep track of time, though, sometimes I thought the officers had left me and were never coming back. I thought they were gone for days, and I was going to starve. It's likely they were only gone for a few hours, but I had no way to know."
"I was so disoriented in Atlanta that I felt like I was in an episode of the Twilight Zone. I now know that I was housed there for about four years, but I would have believed it was a decade if that is what I was told. It seemed eternal and endless and immeasurable…"
When it came to the allotted time for physical activity, he remarked: "The only time I was let out of my cell was for outdoor recreation."
"I was allowed one hour a week of outdoor recreation."
"I could not see any other inmates or any of the surrounding landscape during outdoor recreation. There was no exercise equipment and nothing to do…"
"Nearly all of the time, the officers refused to speak to me."
"Despite this, I heard people who I believed to be officers whispering into my vents, telling me they hated me and calling me names. To this day, I am not sure if the officers were doing this to me, or if I was starting to lose it and these were hallucinations."
"In the side pocket cell, I lost some ability to distinguish what was real. I dreamt I was in prison. When I woke up, I was not sure which was reality and which was a dream."
It's crucial to remember Silverstein's actions and the group he belonged to before feeling too sympathetic, even though his experience sounds like an unimaginable nightmare.