No one knows what freedom feels like more than the inmates of a Federal Supermax prison, who have none. What most people take for granted as mundane everyday tasks – simple things like making coffee in the morning, feeding the cat, filling up the gas tank and waiting in line at the bank – are the stuff of fantasies of those in Supermax prisons. After conviction, these men spend the rest of their lives boxed in by steel walls, their communication with the outside world shut off entirely. But it’s not easy to end up here. The criminal justice system does not throw anyone into such desolate conditions. To be admitted, the crime must seriously infringe upon the freedom of others.

What Is A Federal Supermax Prison?

Approximately 25,000 inmates in the United States spend their days in the most extreme state of non-freedom known to the West. A Federal Supermax Prison, short for super-maximum security, is a prison, or section of a prison, that is reserved for only the most dangerous criminals. It is a highly guarded containment facility in which each prisoner is kept in a single, tiny steel unit and only taken out for a solitary hour of exercise each day. That’s 23 hours of solitary confinement every day for a minimum of 25 years. They eat their meals alone, pushed through a slot in the door, they exercise alone and they are allowed absolutely no contact with the outside world.

The infographic below gives a detailed visual of the “home” of these prisoners, along with many grim facts about the reality of prison life. As you can see, the cell does not look inviting and it does not look comfortable. Freedom may only exist in memories and fantasies for these men, but could they tell you what it means in their dreams? Absolutely.

How Did They Get There?

Such highly contained and segregated prison units are determined fit only for the “worst of the worst.” Inmates kept in these extremely isolated, cold and lonely cells are deemed high-risk prisoners who pose a threat to national or international security. They are generally not white collar thieves, robbers or drug dealers; these are dangerous mass murderers who would kill again given the chance. Thus, they are not allowed any contact with other people. By contrast, medium- and low-risk prison facilities may still separate prisoners from each other, but not to the extreme degree of those souls in permanent solitary confinement.

Who Are They?

You have probably heard of or seen TV reenactments of the infamous men kept in Supermax prisons. One thing they all have in common? Pervasive plans to murder, destroy or harm mass amounts of people without remorse. Ted Kazcynski, more commonly known as the “Unabomber,” made headlines in the 1990s for his covert mail bombings, which killed three people and harmed dozens. This particular domestic terrorism was based on his belief that he needed to call a revolution against our modern technological society. He does not believe he is insane, and pleaded guilty to life in prison without possibility of parole.

Who else makes the cut? Terrorists are at the top of the list for Supermax prisons. Richard Reid is another man who harbors nefarious plans to destroy, this time in the name of Al-Queda. More commonly referred to as the “shoe bomber” because he tried to blow up an airplane using explosives hidden in his shoes, Reid also faces a sentence of life in prison without any chance of parole. Raul Leon, leader of the Mexican mafia, spends his days in solitary confinement, along with Ramzi Yousef, mastermind of the 1993 World Trade Center attack, and Terry Nichols, accomplice in the Oklahoma City bombings.

As you can see, Federal Supermax prisons are not simply for your Average Joe Criminal. Those unfortunate enough to be locked in one of these steel cages have committed heinous crimes against humanity, and would continue to do so if set free. Florence, Colorado houses the only complete Supermax prison in the U.S., though there are solitary confinement units within regular prisons throughout the country. Built in 1994, no one has ever escaped.

Criminal Justice

For these prisoners, freedom is something of the past. But for their victims and would-be victims, freedom has been preserved and upheld. Inmates like the Unabomber may have had their freedom of movement stripped of them, but such extreme punitive measures are only a result of their unashamed infringement on the rights and freedoms of others. Most everyone would agree that criminal justice has been employed, as these men are now incapable of causing harm to anyone but themselves. The dreams of prisoners in Supermax facilities may consist of anything from savoring a home cooked meal to planning their next attack strategy, but one thing is for sure: the worst prisons are reserved only for the worst criminals, and they will do neither ever again.


29 thoughts on “Anatomy of a SuperMax Prison

  1. jamesfugate

    I understand that you believe you are protecting the citizens of the unitedstates and by keeping them from writing letters to whom may possibly lead you to ay accomplice is in some way you have crippled your own by not following to who there sent to so you must say that isn’t very smart it seems you’ve made things harder for every one now these people who ever they are will continue to do there evil thanks to all you smart asses and killing innocent people so I no every one has there own strategy thank you all for keeping us all safe god bless you all and every one.

    • Kathy Marshall

      I feel very sorry for the innocent who have been convicted, and housed at this heinous institution. Everett Dutschke, who is innocent, has been put in this place to rot. How about a real investigation???

      • Anonymous

        Seriously?? He Is A Psycho Terrorist!!

    • Anonymous

      One quick comment to make here.

      What does a person with Third Grade Grammar really know???

  2. Daniel Virgil

    I Have a question. How come the supermax prisoners can’t go outside in the prison yard to walk around the yard or exercise?

    • JOHN


      • Someone...

        Have you heard of the human rights? They apply to everyone, even the worst of the worst.

    • Tan

      My guess is that many of them are pathologically brilliant, possibly with unknown accomplices/allies on the outside. If I was in charge of a facility like this I’d want no risk of covert communication to or from the inmates. Some terrorist organizations have deep pockets. Long-range surveillance is probably not entirely out of the question.

    • Bledsoe Jackson

      Because they do not allow the prisoners to have any idea of the facilities size, or layout, nor to see where the prison is by the proximity of landmarks (mountains, distant buildings, air traffic, etc).

    • James

      Because they’re bad guys! 🙂

    • Linda

      I would assume that it is because they are being punished for committing horrific murders and mayhem. Terry Nichols, Ramsi Yousef, Ted Kaczysnki and Eric Rudolph are but a few notorious prisoners being held. Do I feel sorry for them? Not when I consider what they did to their victims and their survivors.

    • Radostin L. Kowalski

      Because prisoners that are sent to ADX Florence are prisoners that are literally known as the worst of the worst. Allowing them to socialize with others would jeopardize the guards and even other inmates s well.

    • sweetsusie

      They don’t want the prisoners to know exactly where they are, or what their surroundings are like. Did you all know that Gary Ridgway (the Green River Killer) was just sent to Colorado Supermax in Florence? No reason was given, but he’s here in my home state now. No biggie..he’ll never get out of there.

    • Trent

      My guess is they want as little communication as possible. These guys are as smart as they are bad. You don’t end up in the Supermax for being a stupid criminal. They are manipulative and likely rich (on the outside). It’s the people around the criminals that we have to worry about, so I bet it’s to minimize contact with those folks.

    • Anonymous

      Because for some reason our society doesn’t believe in executing the “worst of the worst” so we just pay $100k a year to keep them in a box and try to make them pay for what they did. I have an idea…. let’s start saving a few bucks!!

  3. Erin Murphy

    Good place for a lot of these fools

  4. Radostin L. Kowalski

    After reading about ADX FLORANCE, how dose the government balance locking prisoners up for 23 hours of 24 hours without infringing on a person’s cruel and unusual PUNISHMENT? Aren’t prisoners allowed by law to socially intergrat even amongst low life’s such as themselves? Please explain that to me?

    • Bill Whiteside

      Not in anyway do I condone these criminal actions. But really twisting a persons mind Further, by locking them in solitary confinement 23 hours a day without human contact … Is just Not Right.

  5. Randy

    Just kill them the same way they killed their victims. I hate spending my tax payer money in having to support them.

    Example, have the Boston bomber just stand next to one of his own pressure cooker bombs and see him get ripped to pieces. Now that’s justice.

    • Trent

      I disagree…this is way worse than death. I wouldn’t want to give them the easy way out.

  6. Jimmy Gore

    I read the way how supermax prison treat human being is really cruel such as stay in the cell for 23 hours. That is CRUEL. What is the justify to use 23 hours? Base on what ground? Even though I know these people are dangerous to society. They have their reasons that our government system fail them. Some of them aren’t belong in USA.

  7. Hasheem m adam

    I feel sorry for those that r innocent……nd human ryt will do something to condem this house of hell

  8. J Michael

    I believe in capital Punishment and all those people should be put to death for there crimes it a big waist of tax dollars to keep them alive , the people that they killed are not alive any more

  9. Talon

    Sure, solitary confinement can be argued as cruel and unusual punishment, and guess what… THEY DESERVE IT!! I’ll gladly keep paying tax dollars for these scumbags to rot. Seriously, just imagine rotting in isolation for 1 month… or how about 1 year. Wow! I know I couldn’t do it. I’d surely lose my sanity, and probably attempt suicide. That, my friends, is the ultimate punishment. Do they deserve death? Yes, but lets make them suffer first.

    • Sam Hyatt

      How exactly are you any better than them then?

    • Gerald

      You sound like you can dish pain out, but can’t take it. People like you, who lack any sort of empathy, sometimes can end up deluding themselves into the mental gymnastics required to kill large numbers of people and feel justified in doing so, even happy. Don’t judge a man until you have walked a mile in his shoes. There is law against Cruel and Unusual Punishment for a reason. When punishments get creative, fueled by the limitless amount of pain and anger from the victims’ families, you can produce a long list of fates worse than death. Mull that over. I hope you dream of it, a lot.

  10. Steve

    One ADX inmate is Thomas Silverstein. He was convicted of several killings and then killed a corrections officer. He has been in solitary confinement at several prisons and now at ADX for more than 30 years. That’s a very long time to be in solitary, even given the severity of the crimes.

  11. Steve

    Of course, Silverstein does not hold the record for solitary confinement. That honor goes to Robert Stroud, the “Birdman of Alcatraz”. Stroud spent 42 years in solitary.
    Many people are against capitol punishment, but inmates sentenced to life in solitary might prefer it.

    • Raz

      Hugo Pinell. 46 years

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