Supermax: A Clean Version Of Hell

60 Minutes' Scott Pelley Reports On Supermax Prison And Its Inmates

Pelley wasn't allowed interviews with prisoners in Supermax, but 60 Minutes did find Garrett Linderman, an inmate who actually got out.

Linderman had been in another prison for robbery until his cellmate there was found stabbed to death. Linderman wasn't tried for the murder but they transferred him to the ADX or Supermax. He was released, robbed a bank, and 60 Minutes found him in a Washington State prison.

"How is the ADX different than other lockups you've been in?" Pelley asks.

"Your connections to the outside. Your family. Through phone calls, visits, all those are pretty much stopped at the ADX. There's no comparison," Linderman explains.

"You talk about the brutality of isolation, what do you mean by that?" Pelley asks.

"It breaks down the human spirit. It breaks down the human psyche. It breaks your mind," Linderman says.

What does the world look like to a Supermax inmate? Linderman showed 60 Minutes photos of his former 7x12 foot cell, which have a shower, a concrete bed, as well as a window with red concrete bricks behind it.

"It's the only prison I've ever heard of that allows you to take a picture in your cell," Linderman remarks. "I guess they're quite confident in their security."

Confident, but there has been trouble. Until 2005, some general population inmates were allowed in the "rec" yard together and there were occasional fights. In the 14 years it has been open, two inmates have been murdered. And remember Lawrence Klaker, the inmate seen in video shot by prison staff as he arrived at the Supermax? He later killed himself, one of four prisoners who committed suicide.

And there remains another concern for safety. Barbara Batulis told 60 Minutes that the prison is dangerously understaffed, with more than a quarter of the staff jobs unfilled.

"We've been told that entire housing units that house notorious gang members and terrorists have gone uncovered and have been monitored by officers elsewhere in the prison during these staff shortages. Is that true?" Pelley asks.

"I can't really say anything about that. That's internal security and I can't talk about that. I can tell you that we are very short staffed," Batulis says.

What's at stake?

"Lives. I firmly believe staff lives are at stake," Batulis says.

It's not just her opinion. In 2006, a federal arbitration judge agreed that the prison was short staffed and said that assaults and threats from inmates were increasing. The current warden met with 60 Minutes briefly and told us the staffing shortage is overblown by the union. But he wouldn't appear on camera. In fact, no one at the Federal Bureau of Prisons would sit down for an interview. Supermax remains the least known prison in America.

"I've heard it described as a clean version of hell," Pelley remarks.

Says former ADX inmate Garrett Linderman, "The perfection of isolation, painted pretty."

"The perfection of isolation. Is that the way it felt to you?" Pelley asks.

"Yeah, they perfected it there," Linderman says.

There have been some new developments at Supermax. Union officials say staffing levels are better but still below what they consider safe. There've been more hunger strikes and force feedings. And both Tommy Silverstein and Ramzi Yousef have been moved to new cells, which leaves Range 13 empty, at least for now.

Produced By Henry Schuster