'Like Walking Into A Tomb': What It's Like In The Supermax Prison

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If the defense for convicted Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev persuades the jury to sentence him to life in prison, it's considered likely he'd be sent to the ADMAX prison in Florence, Colorado — frequently called Supermax.

Raymond Luc Levasseur served five years in that prison, after being convicted of being part of a bombing conspiracy in the 1980s.

He spoke with WBUR about the facility.

Interview Highlights

On what it felt like being locked up in Supermax

"I would say my first impression was physically like kind of walking into a tomb, because as you approach it you actually can see the Rocky Mountains. The minute you're in the place, everything disappears. You can't see anything outside, because all you're seeing is walls."

On the limited human contact he had there

"When I got there, there's 168 hours in the week, and I was in my cell 157 hours. So I'm only out for about 11 hours a week and not on weekends. It's the cell about the size of a bathroom. You can't see anything but walls. And it also prevents you from communicating. The only time I'm coming out is to go to a small, what's called 'recreation area,' with restraints on and guards who hold onto those restraints and other guards who carry clubs. It's akin to being in the deep end of a dry swimming pool."

On what being held in the Supermax did to his psyche

"It's a constant struggle day-to-day to keep your humanity from slipping through your fingers. ... I spent so much time in solitary and isolation, I'm like somebody coming out of a combat zone when I got out of there. It's like I'm hyper-vigilant, you know, you're paranoid, you withdraw, migraines, nightmares."

On how serving a life sentence in Supermax likely affects an inmate's psychological state

"That's going to weigh a hell of a lot heavier, especially on this young man, if he ends up there. To be so young with a non-parolable life sentence. Plus, this young man is going in there on a charge that's going to weigh on him. That's an extra burden to carry every single day, because every day that you wake up in a prison like ADX it's like getting slapped in the face."

This article was originally published on May 01, 2015.

This segment aired on May 1, 2015.

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Steve Brown Senior Reporter/Anchor
Steve Brown is a veteran broadcast journalist who serves as WBUR's senior State House reporter.



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