Clipped From Delaware County Daily Times
10 Tuesday, June 22,1976 DELAWARE COUNTY DAILY TIMES Violence is way of life inside Lewisburg prison fTrr,. Editor's Note: In less than one year, there have been 12 stabbings -- six that resulted in death numerous numerous assaults, five escapes and almost 100 fires at Northeastern Penitentiary, a federal prison in Lewisburg, Pa. The U.S. Bureau of Prisons is now investigating the violence, and the penitentiary is closed to news organizations for the duration of the probe. Shortly before the prison was sealed to reporters, however, Pattie Mihalik of the Shamokin Newsltem, was allowed inside. Here are excerpts from her revealing six-part series on what it is like behind the prison walls. By PATTIE MIHALIK Shamokin News-Item LEWISBURG, Pa. (AP) - For two years, nobody paid much attention attention to Mark Silver. He was just another inmate -- number 40110 -serving -serving time at U.S.Northeastern Penitentiary, Lewisburg. A few weeks ago the 29-yearold inmate came to everyone's attention in a traumatic way. He was found on a stairway outside his cell block stabbed to death. Eighteen knife wounds covered his body. The murder weapon, a homemade knife, was found protruding from his heart. In and of itself, the incident would not normally stir much interest from the outside world. But Silver's murder was not an isolated incident of violence at the prison. In less than a year, there have been 12 stabbings, six of which have resulted in deaths. In fact, the very day Silver's body was discovered, another inmate, Randolph Randolph Scipio, 24, was stabbed in the face, the 14th stabbing in as many months. Twelve knifings, several serious assaults, five escapes and a series of fires (almost 100, says one informed source), all took place within the past year at the previously quiet Lewisburg penitentiary, a medium security federal prison with a record of tranquility in the equally peaceful countryside of Lewisburg. Behind the wall, the Lewisburg penitentiary is impressive. Italian Renaissance architecture adds grandeur along with a sense of tranquility to the cathedral-like rooms. One almost expects to see a monk in flowing robes. Instead of monks, however, one sees men in ordinary work clothes walking leisurely through the massive halls. Some of the men stare intently at each new visitor. It can come as a shock to learn that those men are actually inmates. inmates. "What are those prisoners doing walking around without a guard?" asks many a startled visitor who is surprised to find himself surrounded by inmates just minutes after entering entering the prison. With no guards in sight, other than one officer who is busy checking in visitors behind a desk, the inmates stroll leisurely while they converse in pairs or in sma 1 ' groups. fS*fc Warden F. E. Arnold heads violence torn Northeastern Penitentiary at Lewisburg. Especially around noon time, the "red top," (a name given by prisoners to the red bricked main traffic area) is crowded with inmates. inmates. Some inmates chat quietly as they walk to one of three cafeteria-style dining halls. Others hurry back' to quarters for a quick snooze while still others climb to other floors to visit friends or participate in indoor recreation. All prisoners at Lewisburg are free to spend their noon break and any time after the work whistle blows at 4:00 p.m. in any way they choose. They may walk (unescorted) (unescorted) outside to "the yard" for recreation, or they may elect to visit the law library or other parts of the 12acre prison complex. Whereever 'What are those prisoners doing walking around without a guard?" asks many a startled startled visitor who is surprised to find himself surrounded by inmates inmates just-minutes after entering entering the prison. they go during this time period, it is by their own choice. Although correctional officers are posted strategically throughout the prison, inmates enjoy what is called "unregulated" movement. There is no one to order them where to go during their free time. It is this freedom of prisoner movement which is now the biggest point of contention within the prison. Many prison employes bluntly state that it is responsible for much of the recent stabbings and violence at the prison, "The prisoners run around loose! That's what's wrong with this place. They couldn't do all those stabbings if there were tighter control on prisoner movement," said one correctional officer. Typically, one officer is responsible responsible for three floors, each of which has 50 inmates on a floor. That officer officer must travel from floor to floor unlocking doors and checking in- mates. While an officer is patroling, prisoners are not confined to cells during designated free hours. If an officer rubs an inmate the wrong way, it doesn't take much for the inmate to "get him," said one guard, as he pointed again to his list of "casualties," officers who were assaulted while on duty. According to a veteran prison employe, changes in prison procedure since 1961 have made an officer's job even harder. "Before then, prisoners had less programs so there was less inmate movement to control. When inmates began going to counselors and to school within the prison, this made our job that much harder," he explained. Changes since 1970 have made a correctional officer's job harder still. Because of court rulings, a prisoner now has more rights than an officer. New guards used to be taught the ropes from oldtimers who knew how to handle prisoners. "If a prisoner wants to murder somebody, he'll find a way to do it. Believe me, he'll spend all his time day and night looking for a way. If he wants to badly enough, he'llfind a way, no matter how closely we watch the inmates," says prison administrator Al Butler. "Even in the days when we marched prisoners to chow single file, then marched them back again, there were prison murders." "But we sure as hell didn't have as many stabbings and murders as we shave now!" counters a longtime prison employe. The lack of value some inmates place on another man's life adds to the probability of inmate stabbings. "The going price for murder is two cartons of cigarettes," testified one former Lewisburg inmate as he appeared before a federal judge. "Two cartons of cigarettes" -that's -that's what's what my life is worth if someone wants me killed," lamented another inmate. "My life is only worth five or 10 years tacked on to someone's life sentence -- in other words, nothing!" said a prison guard.. "Inmates rule the prison." That statement was echoed frequently by both correctional officers and inmates. inmates. How do they rule? "With weapons, violence and the 'unspoken code' -Don't -Don't squeal; don't complain; or you're dead," according to inmates. Prison officials acknowledged(hat acknowledged(hat some inmates resort to carrying weapons in self-defense. "There is one guy in here who is notorious for walking around with a razor blade in his mouth," said one officer. "Periodically, I walk up to him and say, 'Okay, Harry, spit it out! Then, out it comes -- a sharp razor blade. He has never used it on anyone; but then, who would fool with a guy like that?" said the officer. officer. "In the past, most prisoners have pushed for more freedom. It's strange, but now they want less freedom -- for their own protec- View shows one of the many long cellblock corridors Penitentiary, throuflh which inmates move freely in Northeastern tion," notd one correctional officer. He observed that the overwhelming majority of prisoners in his cellblock were glad to see grills installed to control inmate movement. At Lewisburg, correctional officers officers are issued periodic "hot- sheets" which contain names of prisoners who require extra supervision. This list includes those who have been involved in murders, stabbings, or previous prison assaults. The list is now at an unprecedented unprecedented high --100 inmates who exhibit dangerous behavior. That there is easy availability of drugs within the prison is no secret. "Lewisburg has enough drugs to keep every junkie in Philadelphia happy for years," one former Lewisburg inmate testified. How do the drugs get into the prison? Prison administrators don't deny that one source of supply comes from the parade of visitors that streams each day through prison doors. Because of "right to privacy" laws, visitors cannot be searched before entering the prison. Each visitor walks through a metal detection device, but that is the extent of the screening. "A visitor can walk in here with anything," concedes one administrator. administrator. He should know! Before the metal detecting device was installed, he was held captive for 48 hours by one woman who hid a gun under her wig. Still, he firmly states: "Open visiting is worth the risks." One of these risks, of course, is the filtering of drugs to the prison population. Although prisoners are searched before and after leaving the visiting area, officials concede that much dope slips in. "The number of places a prisoner can find to hide dope is surprising -up -up his rectum ... in his mouth -there -there are many ways to bring it (dope) in," states the high ranking prison official. Correctional officers concede that it is impossible to check each shipment or prisoner that passes through the gate. "To do this, we would have to hire two men full time, in addition to gate guards and tower guards, just to strip each prisoner," said the officer. To reduce prisoner movement and to cut down on inmate opportunity for unobserved behavior, Warden Floyd E. Arnold ordered grills to be If on officer rubs an inmate the wrong way, it doesn't take much for the inmate to "get him," said one guard, as he pointed again to his list of "casualties," officers who were assaulted while on duty. installed on each cellblock and throughout the prison. These grills must be unlocked by a security officer, who now has more control over who enters each section of the prison. Arnold has ordered additional metal detection devices to be placed strategically throughout the prison. Before an inmate leaves a shop, he can now be screened for a weapon in a matter of seconds. Lewisburg Penitentiary is facing a problem it shares with prisons throughout the nation -- the overcrowding overcrowding of facilities. A steadily climbing crime rate, the abolishment abolishment of capital punishment, and a deepened national demand to "bring more criminals to justice" have resulted in a tremendous increase in prison inmates. Built in 1932 with a capacity to house a maximum of 1,411 inmates within its walls, Lewisburg Penitentiary now has a prison population of 1,599. This is an increase increase of 566 inmates over last year alone. Result: Less space for more prisoners. Up until five years ago, it was common for regional residents to refer to Lewisburg Penitentiary as "the country club prison." That was because the prison's population consisted mainly of middle class inmates serving time for crimes such as embezzling or other nonviolent nonviolent crimes. A large majority were first offenders. Today.Lewisburg Penitentiary houses a new breed inmate. Records reveal that of the prison's 1,800 inmates, only 59 are first of fenders..,.-; Astonishingly, 457 prisoners nbw 1 ' serving time in Lewisburg Penitentiary have been arrested 11 or more times, according to documented prison records. Today's inmate is also 'younger and smarter than in the past. The average age of the present inmate population is 34, as compared with 39 five years ago. Average inmate I.Q. is also now well above aveage inmate I.Q. of the past. The number of black inmates which has risen from 30 per cent of the prison population five years ago to 60 per cent. Although prison officials officials refuse to delve into racial questions, they admitted that ths new racial balance is causing its share of problems. "If cultures outside a prison don't understand each other, how can anyone expect it to be any different inside a prison?" asked one young black inmate.