As a member of the FBI Swat Team that put down the Atlanta prison riot in 1987, I recognized the need to separate the average inmate from the violent prisoners quick to instigate a prison uprising as the killing of a fellow inmate. Supermax Prison does a remarkable job of informing the reading public of an important and little known subject. Highly recommended.
Jack Owens, Special Agent of the FBI(Ret.) Author of “Pock Trilogy.”
Rarely does a book come along that truly shows the final point in the life of a violent criminal. Supermax Prison does just that. It brings the reader into the lowest depths constructed for human life in the United States: incarceration for the human being too violent to live with others, even other convicts. A must read for everyone interested in criminality, law and order, and well written books.
Terry Turchie, Special Agent FBI (Ret.) Unit Director of Unabomb Task Force, author of “Unabomber: How the FBI Broke Its Own Rules to Capture the Terrorist, Ted Kaczynski.”
Supermax Prison is a splendid work. The authors have captured how civil authorities have managed to separate the bad from the very worst. This book captures the soul, if that is the right word, of a place in this world where those who inflict carnage on their fellow man are prevented from doing so again. To the authors, I say “well done.”
John Monaghan, Capt. NYPD (Ret.) Author, forthcoming novel: “Head On: NYPD Takes on ISIS.”
This book provides the reader with a history of the burgeoning growth of supermax prisons within the United States and an insider’s knowledge regarding many of the problematic inmates housed in such prisons. The complex dynamics leading to the bizarre self-injurious behaviors demonstrated by a small but significant number of supermax inmates is explored in this well-written book. The authors’ conclusion that the mental health treatment offered to inmates with a serious mental illness at Tamms was often better than the treatment available at other Illinois prisons, related to class action litigation, is ironic and concerning.
The authors attempt to provide a balanced review of the pros and cons of the supermax prison, which was largely successful. A chapter entitled “Silent Voices” includes success stories of inmates who benefited from their stays at Tamms in contrast to the many other inmates who did poorly in reaction to “dark, blackness of isolation,” that was inherent in the Tamms environment.
This book will be very interesting reading to both staff working in correctional facilities as well as the lay public related to both its content and public policy implications.
Jeffrey L. Metzner, M.D.
Clinical Professor of Psychiatry
University of Colorado School of Medicine
Supermax Prison is the best of Franklin’s books to date. It’s a must-read for anyone interested in the US criminal justice system and its supermax prisons. Franklin provides the historical context for the supermax and the philosophy behind it, the pros and cons, the supporters and detractors, and whether it can actually work in practice. The supermax at Tamms, Illinois, is his case in point. Covering its rise and fall, Franklin shows how local developers in Southern Illinois, one of the state’s most impoverished areas, convinced the governor to award the supermax to the village of Tamms, bringing with it hundreds of jobs. Soon, though, it became a subject of controversy, lauded on one hand as a model of rehabilitation, therapeutic support, and security for both inmates and employees and on the other as a torture chamber. Recognizing that there are no easy answers to the problem of what to do with the most dangerous inmates, Franklin gives a fair hearing to all sides of the supermax question, providing documents and interviews with Tamms inmates and their court appeals, guards, psychiatrists, therapists, the warden, and even the chaplain. Though the story of the Tamms Supermax ends with its closing. Franklin draws on his research to imagine a prison of the future that might just work.
Elizabeth Theresa Klaver
Professor of English
Southern Illinois University, Carbondale, Illinois
Author of “Images of the Corpse: From the Renaissance to Cyberspace,” and “The Body in Medical Culture.”
This book provides a frank and fascinating look at life in maximum-security prisons. It is both uplifting and depressing reading, and some parts are even difficult to read, especially those with graphic descriptions of heinous crimes. While the main focus is on the relatively short life of Illinois’ supermax prison named Tamms, after the small town in the southernmost part of the state where it was built, the story is relevant for all institutions of incarceration. The challenge of balancing the safety of custodians and inmates with the goal of rehabilitating dangerous criminals to re-enter society as law-abiding citizens is immense indeed. The book details both successes and failures and culminates with proposals to improve the chances of success. In the end the prison was closed only after 15 years due to pressures from outside humanitarian groups, a terrible financial situation in the state, and other factors; however, the authors feels its ultimate demise was ultimately a political decision, one that they feel was mistaken. Changing prison cultures from the traditional emphasis of punishment to preparation for a meaningful life requires many support programs, but especially those empathizing improving mental health. Due to the trend to decentralize mental health treatment into the community, prisons today are defacto taking the place of closed mental health hospitals by having to house those who have such serious mental health that community centers can’t handle them. But neither are the prisons adequately prepared to deal with this population. The book ends on a high note with a hypothetical rebirth of a Tamms with the proper structure, procedures and structures that result in providing secure containment for those unable to be rehabilitated and a path to mental health recovery for the rest. It can only be hoped that that the lessons learned from the past can result in better results in the future, and that the dream of such a Tamms can be realized as soon as possible.
William M. Vicars, Ph.D.
I finished the book and couldn’t put it down. Loved the stories. My daughter is one of the psychologists at the maximum-security prison in San Diego. I am going to buy a copy when it comes out for her. I am sure she will enjoy reading it. My husband, Estus Hood, was a correctional officer at the U.S. Penitentiary in Marion, Illinois during the 23 year lock down.
I am a big believer in reform, treatment and education of inmates. I am very happy you wrote this story. Can’t wait to see it in stores. Great job. I am proud to call you and Rakesh my friends.
While it reads like a novel, this is a work of creative nonfiction with factual names, places, and events. If you work at, administer with, or have anything to say about dangerous or mentally ill inmates, then this book is for you.
You will learn how the brain functions, how medications affect one’s mind, and the role of free will. The Court’s interpretation is discussed as well. And finally, the authors examine the likelihood of “the prison of the future,” and how it could function within a modern-day society.
Father Leo J. Hayes, M. Div., M.A.
Author of “Evil in Mirror Lake,” and soon to be published, “A Country Pastor Goes to Prison.”
Larry Franklin is no stranger to the world of prison inmates. In his previous works, he documented the lives of women imprisoned for life. Now he has chosen to give us a view into the lives of men whose crimes have been so heinous that they are confined within the most isolated conditions: the Supermax prison. Each of their stories provide a fascinating insight into the crimes they committed. More importantly, he portrays how each is coping with the isolation and psychological stress of living within the Supermax environment. It is a fascinating read.
Janet Coffman, Ph.D.
It was an enjoyable read. I believe you did an excellent job of capturing the essence of life at a supermax for not just inmates, but staff as well. Although it can’t be measured I believe that the work done there by mental health staff saved some lives. I say this based on my experiences with the inmates there and a few that were full of hate and really only focused on destruction and by the time we finished our work together they had developed not a only a sense of self, but a true desire to do better and develop relationships with others. I know some of my colleagues had similar experiences.
Now with that being said Tamms HAD to be closed because of the way it was run. It was never designed to keep inmates isolated for multiple years. This only created more of a sense of Learned Helplessness and a mindset of I’m never going to be given an opportunity to leave so I will let the hate and despair build and manifest into a person only focused on destruction.
Rocky Peppers, LCSW
Veteran’s Justice Outreach Coordinator
Supermax Prison: Controlling the most dangerous criminals tells the story of men who were sent there through Franklin’s compelling and compassionate writing. A special emphasis is placed on the treatment of mental illness throughout the prison setting. The book concludes with an imaginary prison of the future.
Supermax Prison gives so many different perspectives of the prison that was in the village of Tamms. The stories from staff and inmates made this book come to life. I loved the detail of everyone’s personal stories and what the prison staff went through. The thought of using Tamms again would be something to see for sure.
This comprehensive view of one supermax prison in Illinois is illustrative of the wider complexities of incarceration and society’s larger responsibilities to the humans locked in prisons. The book features the prisoners’ hard-edge stories, the views of wardens and guards, the therapy needed from mental health professionals and what happens to men in long-term isolation cells at Tamms Supermax. The book weaves a story of good intentions that were not fully realized due to the monumental task of discipline, treatment and care for men that many consider beyond help.