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Local Pride and Supermax

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The vilest deeds like poison weeds
Bloom well in prison air:
It is only what is good in man
That wastes and withers there.

--Oscar Wilde, The ballad of Reading Gaol

Some violent criminals are more desirable than others. Colorado residents take pride in the fact that although home to Supermax, its residents are, by and large, the kinds of prisoners any state would be proud to claim as residents.

Supermax is a maximum-security prison of the very best sort. It was built in 1994 at a cost of $60 million and in 2007 had a staff of 347 people and more than 400 inmates. Inmates live in cells that range in size from 77 to 87 square feet. Its construction was inspired after two guards were murdered in one day in the federal prison in Marion, Ill, a prison that was conceived as the successor to the then closed Alcatraz. Following their murder federal officials concluded that what was needed was a REALLY secure prison where prisoners would be unable to murder their minders.

Prisoners in Supermax are locked in their cells 23 hours a day in isolation and permanent lockdown. In a 78 cell "control unit" where the worst of the worst are sent, inmates are prohibited from having any contact with the outside world.

The list of prisoners who have been or are presently at Supermax is quite distinguished as prison rosters go. It includes Theodore Kaczynski, the famous "Unabomber," Harvard class of 1962 from where he went on to earn his PhD. at the University of Michigan following which he became an assistant professor at the University of California, Berkeley when only 25 years old. He left there after two years, eventually moving to a cabin in Montana slightly larger than the cell in which he now resides from which he sent out 16 bombs to people and entities against whom he had grudges, killing 3 people and injuring 23. Arrested in 1996 he is now a permanent resident of Supermax.

Although Mr. Kaczynski is the most distinguished inmate academically, he is not the only prominent resident of Supermax. Richard Reid, the famous if somewhat inept "shoe bomber" who unsuccessfully tried to use a match to ignite a fuse to a bomb protruding from one of his shoes while on a flight over the Atlantic, is another of the residents. He is at the opposite end of the spectrum intellectually from Mr. Kaczynski.

Between these two men are more than 400 other violent criminals including, Acardo Slimonelli, a professional hit man having more than 30 counts of murder to his credit and Rodney Curtis Hamrick who, while incarcerated at the U.S. Penitentiary in Leavenworth, Kansas managed to construct and mail a letter bomb to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit.

Now that President Obama has decided to close Guántanamo the question is where will he put the former detainees. One obvious answer is to put them in extant prisons in the United States, if the prisoner being placed is a person whose former activities suggest the need for further incarceration. Inmates of Guántanamo who have done nothing wrong should not be difficult to place. For the violent types, however, some members of the Colorado Legislature have let it be known they would not be welcome at Supermax.

Thirty-four Republicans and 3 Democrats have signed a petition in opposition to polluting the distinguished population now resident at Supermax by introducing unsavory sorts from Guántanamo.

The petition signing was organized by Sen. Ken Kester of Las Animas, Colorado and Representative Cory Gardner from Yuma, Colorado. The first thought the casual observer had was that Messrs. Kester and Gardner did not think it appropriate that Guántanamo inmates should be able to bypass the immigration procedural requirements imposed on all foreigners seeking to take up residence in the United States. That, however, has nothing to do with their concerns.

Although in the 16 years of operation there has never been an escape from Supermax, Messrs. Kester and Gardner and the petition signers believe the possibility of the new residents escaping once introduced into the facility poses an unacceptable threat to people living near the prison. Messrs. Gardner and Kester do not, apparently, think that Mr. Slimonelli with 30 murders to his credit would pose a threat to nearby residents were he to escape. Mr. Kester said: "I think we're putting the people of Colorado in jeopardy because in that prison there's going to be a lot of bad things happen. These are the meanest, worst people in the world. They can do so much damage with a prison." A murderer with a corpse credit of 30 is apparently not someone Mr. Kester would consider one of the "worst people in the world."

Like the petition signers, I hope that the Guántanamo detainees don't end up in Colorado. It would spoil the nice atmosphere that now exists at Supermax to have those kinds of people housed there.