Silverstein was timid, awkward, shy, and frequently bullied as a child in the middle-class neighborhood where the family lived. Everyone assumed that he was Jewish, and that too made him an outcast. Virginia Silverstein told her son that if he ever came home again crying because he had been beaten up by a bully, she would be waiting to give him a second licking. Silverstein states, “That’s how my mom was. She stood her mud. If someone came at you with a bat, you got your bat and you both went at it.” At age 14 Silverstein was sentenced to a California reformatory where, he said, his attitudes about violence were reinforced. “Anyone not willing to fight was abused.”
In 1971, at age nineteen, Silverstein was sent to San Quentin for armed robbery. Four years later, he was paroled, but he was arrested soon after along with his father, Thomas Conway, and his cousin for three armed robberies. Their take was less than $1,400. A probation officer later blamed the older man for getting Silverstein, then age twenty-three, involved in the crimes. Silverstein was sentenced to 15 years for armed robbery.
In 1981, Silverstein was accused of the murder of Robert Chappelle, a member of the DC Blacks prison gang. Silverstein was again convicted based on testimony from informants and sentenced to life in prison. Silverstein maintains he is innocent. While Silverstein and Fountain were on trial for Chappelle’s murder the bureau transferred Raymond “Cadillac” Smith, the national leader of the D.C. Blacks prison gang, from another prison into the control unit in Marion and put him in a cell near Silverstein’s. From the moment Smith arrived in the control unit, prison logs show that he began trying to kill Silverstein.
“I tried to tell Cadillac that I didn’t kill Chappelle, but he didn’t believe me and he bragged that he was going to kill me.” Silverstein recalled. “Everyone knew what was going on and no one did anything to keep us apart. The guards wanted one of us to kill the other.” Silverstein and another prisoner killed Smith, and Silverstein received another life sentence.
His initial conviction for the murder of Atwell (the reason why he was transferred to USP Marion in the first place) was quashed, as the testimony that convicted him was adjudged perjured..
On October 22, 1983, Silverstein killed guard Merle E. Clutts by stabbing him several dozen times with a shank. Silverstein claims that Clutts was deliberately harassing him. Following the murder of Clutts, Silverstein was transferred to a special ”no human contact” cell in Atlanta, Georgia.
Silverstein was subsequently moved to Leavenworth Penitentiary in Leavenworth, Kansas, with his security recorded as "no human contact." Silverstein was placed in a cell located underground. The lights burned 24 hours a day and he was watched by guards constantly.
In 2005, when USP Leavenworth was designated to become a medium security facility, Silverstein was moved to ADX Florence, a supermax facility in Colorado. His earliest theoretical date of release is November 2, 2095.
Silverstein also maintains that, since he was in the Marion supermax on a conviction that was later overturned, he should have been released long before, and would never have killed anyone but for this false conviction and the brutality of the prison system.
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