A Snapshot of Serial Killers Behind Bars
Berkowitz was one of the most famous serial killers of our time. Also known as the "Son of Sam" killer that confessed to
the New York murders of 6 people in the late 1970s, is currently
serving 6 consecutive life sentences at Sullivan Correctional Facility. After a series
of fights with fellow inmates, one of which required 65 stitches
to his throat while he was housed at Attica in 1979, Berkowitz eventually
transferred to Sullivan, where he then converted to Christianity
and began writing journal entries that are now available on his
"official" homepage at: http://www.forgivenforlife.com.
When faced with the opportunity of parole in 2002, Berkowitz declined
without hesitation. In a New York Times article he is quoted as
saying, "I deserve to be in prison for the rest of my life.
I can accept that." When responding to comments made by Governor
Pataki concerning the governor's fight to keep Berkowitz from parole,
Berkowitz noted in his prison journals, "I agree with him that
I do not deserve parole, neither am I trying to obtain it."
(March 1 prison journals)
Sullivan Correctional Facility is a maximum security prison for
males located in Fallsburg, NY. Before his death, serial killer Arthur Shawcross also stayed at Sullivan.
The "Green River Killer" Gary Leon Ridgway: in Walla
Leon Ridgway, considered America's most profilic serial killer for
confessing to the murders of 48 Seattle-area prostitutes in the
early 1980s, is serving a life sentence in Walla Walla, Washington
State, without chance of parole (9 May 2005 Associated Press
Newswires). The nickname Green River Killer reflected Ridgway's
choice of disposing the bodies in the Green River, a winding waterway
located in southeast Kings County, just east of Tacoma. He strangled
and methodically placed his victims in "clusters" near
landmarks so that he could keep a running tally of them, but because
there were so many, he eventually lost track of them.
Walla Walla, the largest of Washington state's three maximum security
facilities, has 15 armed guard towers, and is the residence of all
death row inmates in the state, where most lifers begin, and end,
their sentences. It is home to 2,240 inmates.
At Walla Walla, serious offenders may be housed in one of two units;
either "Unit 5," the "Special Housing Unit"
section of the prison that imprisons inmates on death row, those
with psychiatric problems, and those requiring the services of the
protective custody unit, or the Intensive Management Unit (IMU),
a maximum custody facility located outside the main institution.
Ridgway is serving time here, at the IMU, a unit that houses 87
of the most dangerous and famous offenders, including those who
pose a threat to themselves, others, or the operation of the prison,
and many of those serving their time on Death Row. The IMU does
not allow its inmates to come in contact with the rest of the institution,
and separates them from the rest of the inmates by 150 yards, two
fences, and razor wire coils. Inmates in the IMU mostly spend their
time in idleness, reading or writing alone. Cells have only a concrete
slab with a thin foam mattress, a steel sink, and a light that cannot
turn off. Inmates here, unlike those elsewhere in the prison, are
required to wear orange prison fatigues.
Concordant with standard "incentive
levels" practice, good behaviour and clean cells may mean
longer visits and more privaleges, including televisions and radios
for purchase. If inmates at the IMU and on death row have proven
good behaviour, they may eventually be relocated to Unit 5, which
is less stringent in its restrictions, and provides allowances like
tobacco products, greater possessions, more family visits, and the
possibility of having a cellmate.
According to the News Tribune's research done on the inside of
the facility, Walla Walla is "hard time," suffering the
most seriously-sentenced inmates to a life of noise, monotony, isolation,
and the constant threat of violence. According to one middle-aged
killer of two serving time at the prison, if the inmate accepts
the fact that he is here indefinitely and that it is the choice
of the inmate how he would like to spend it, it perhaps makes the
few enjoyable elements of prison life, such as "biscuits and
gravy on Saturday mornings," endurable (News Tribune 20 Dec
For those that wish to make the most of life at "Wally World"
by behaving properly, many opportunities exist, such as jobs in
welding, baking, cleaning, stamping license plates, making lockers
and office furniture out of sheet metal, or simple hobbies, such
as painting models, constructing belts and wallets, or designing
artwork. Inmates at the prison, including the IMU, may recieve up
to 35 cents an hour or up to $55 per month in paid employment. Some
jobs, such as those working in the license plate factory, can earn
up to $1.10 an hour. According to the News Tribune, popular items
purchased with labour earnings include Top Rame and Little Debbie
Cupcakes, cassette players, televisions, Playboy and Hustler. Although
victim awareness and anger management courses are still available
and widely used at the prison, college education is not.
For the Green River Killer, however, many such opportunities are
forbidden. According to some inmates within the prison, Ridgway
would very possibly be a murder target because of his famed status, and especially since many inmates
at the prison who have killed far fewer victims than Ridgway received
the death penalty while Ridgway did not. With his plea bargain sentence
that saved him from execution, inmates may believe the state did
not serve the justice required. Indeed, there was an unsuccessful
attempt within the prison to slit Ridgway's throat recently.
It is believed that Ridgway is spending the first years of his
sentence confined to an 81-square-foot cell, 23 hours a day, eating
alone and exercising alone. He cannot communicate with other inmates
face-to-face, and he is restricted to using a speaker on his cell
door. Allowed visits with immediate family will be similarly restricted
by a wall of plate glass, only one or two hours a week. Besides
family, other visitors might include religious leaders or social
workers. Like most serial killers housed in protective
custody units, Ridgway has to earn his privaleges through good
behaviour, although it is doubtful that many of the opportunities
open to other inmates will apply to him.
BTK Killer Dennis Rader: 10 life terms in El Dorado Correctional Facility
Rader, aka BTK Killer for "bind, torture, and kill," began
serving his 10 consecutive life sentences at the maximum-security
El Dorado Correctional Facility on Friday morning, August 19, 2005.
Chained at the ankles, garbed in an orange prison jumpsuit, and
staring out the window with tears in his eyes, Rader looked upon
the prison that would, if he were assessed as being a security risk,
likely be his home for the remainder of his sentence.
Rader spends his days in an 80 square-foot cell, with a foam-covered
concrete bunk, one sink, a metal shelf, and a plastic trash can.
He spends his one hour of free time a day, in shackles of course,
in a chain-linked, outdoor, 10x10 foot pen. He is allowed three
showers and five hour-long recreation periods a week. The District
Attorney did everything in his power to ensure that Rader lacks
access to any kind of material or medium that might help him relive
his deviant fantasies, including pencils, pens, papers, news reports
covering his own murders, audio or video recordings, or any inanimate
article that could represent a fetish of a human or animal. It was
also recommended that Rader's incoming mail be first fully censored
by prison officials. Each time Rader leaves his cell it will be
double-checked for any of the above-mentioned or simliar items.
There was also a recommendation of classifying Rader as a sex offender,
a risky label to possess inside a prison as dangerous as El Dorado.
Sex offender classification would mean Rader would receive treatment
as a sex offender instead of a violent offender. There are several
purposes for administering treatment to someone serving a life sentence
without parole, including the expanded knowledge of the inmate's
case, the reduction of prison infractions, misconduct, or violations,
and the improvement of placement decisions regarding appropriate
security level and determination of the kind of access to certain
Howerer, after a year following his placement at El Dorado, Rader
is behaving well enough to grant him several privaleges that violate
these earlier recommendations. As of April, he is allowed television
and radio access, and he can read newspapers, magazines, and books.
Even though Rader used to cut out magazine advertisements of women
and children to further his sexual fantasies, he is nevertheless
now permitted to draw upon paper with a pencil or pen. For television,
however, Rader must shell out the money to pay for it: at least
$103 for a 13-inch color, or $80 for a 12-inch black-and-white if
pruchased in prison. In addition, all televisions are protected
with a sheath of plastic molding to prevent any prohibited materials
from being stored inside, and must be listened to through a pair
of headphones. Even though materials depicting sexual or erotic
stimuli are not allowed, victims have argued that he would still
be able to read about himself, with access to popular magazines
such as Time and Newsweek, feeding his narcissistic dreams.
According to the Kansas Department of Corrections, Rader has progressed
two "incentive" levels, criteria used to measure an inmate's
good behaviour that have become popular in school-wide behaviour
management systems. In some minimum security establishments, incentive
levels, or "earning privaleges," determine the allowed
amount of cash to be spent each week, the number of total personal
possessions, and level of association or socialization time with
other inmates (which clearly would not apply to Rader).
See insideprison's profile of El
Dorado Correctional Facility.
Paul Bernardo: Kingston Penitentiary
Paul Bernardo is probably Canada's most famous serial killer. He is serving two life sentences at Kingston Penitentiary for his primary role in the torture and murder of two teenage girls in the early 1990's. His equally-famous partner in crime, Karla Homolka, was also housed in Kingston (at the recently-closed Kingston Penitentiary for Women), before being later transferred to Ste.-Annes-Des-Plaines prison and then later to Joliette Corrections Camp in Laval, QC. Like others housed in maximum and super-maximum confinement, Bernardo is only allowed outside of his small 2x3 metre cell for one hour each day.
Kingston Penitentiary is one of the oldest prisons in Canada, at 177 years old, and houses about 350 inmates currently, but it will soon be decomissioned as the Conservative government moves to more centralized units. It is assumed that Bernardo will either be transferred to one of these new complexes, or to the same prison fellow inmate Russel Williams was transferred to, at the Port-Cartier Institution in Quebec. While Millhaven and Collins Bay are fully-opeational neighbouring prisons in Kingston, they likely offer no suitable custodial accommodations for the likes of high-profile dangerous offenders.
Juan Corona: California State Prison, Corcoran
Juan Corona, who in the early 1970s slashed and hacked to death
25 farm workers before burying them in a shallow grave in a peach
orchard near Yuba City, has had a transient history of being transferred
across California's state prison system. After originally being
recommended for San Quentin, which at the time had facilities for
those with heart ailiments such as Corona's, Corona was committed
to California Medical Facility in Vacaville in 1973, where he was
later stabbed and blinded by another inmate. Corona was then transported
to Correctional Training Facility in Soledad where he stayed for
five years, including the period when his retrial was conducted.
In 1982 he was then transferred to Corcoran, but in 1999 suffered
another attack in the prison yard. This time, three other inmates
had gained access to the emergency ward that imprisoned Corcoran's
most famous prisoners, including Charles Manson and Sirhan Sirhan,
minorily injuring Corcoran and smashing Manson's guitar. According
to the Associated Press (16 Mar 1999), Corrections Department officials
said that gaining entrance into the protective housing unit of the
prison is a "badge of honor." Apparently, the three inmates,
who had been primed in wait for the moment the protective custody
unit became insecure, gained entry by taking advantage of a sensor
unit malfunction that signaled a light to authorities that there
was a breach of access. When authorities were alerted, a prison
guard fired a round from a wood block gas gun, similar to a tear-gas
rifle, to quell the disturbance.
In 2002, Corona suffered yet another attack that rendered him unconscious
in his cell. He was taken to a nearby hospital and placed into intensive
care under constant guard supervision. At 69, Corona is reported
as sick with dementia, muttering words to himself as he paces the
prison yard. Juan has been denied parole a total of six times, in
part because he consistently declined to admit to his murders.
Probably one of the world's most infamous murderers, Charles Manson was responsible for the deaths of seven people in the late 1960's, and has been serving time in Corcoran's Protective Housing Unit for most of his institutional sentence. Now 77 years old, Manson has lived in the California prison system for over 65 years. To reporters and interviewers who have met with him inside prison, many are astounded at the strength of his resolve to live in such harsh conditions. His hobbies include reading, making knotted string art, in which he crafts insects and spiders out of thread he has unravelled from clothing, and playing music. Anything but a model inmate, Mason was put in protective isolation for manufacturing a weapon inside his cell, was caught twice for possession of a contraband cellphone, and has usually refused to participate in any GED or self-improvement classes. In April of 2012, the parole board sent only 20 minutes deliberating before denying Manson his 12th request for release. He must wait another 15 years before filing again.
Sirhan Sirhan: California State Prison, Corcoran
Previously sentenced to California's Soledad Prison in 1968 for
the assassination of Robert F Kennedy, Sirhan Sirhan was moved to
Corcoran. The Arab fanatic murdered Kennedy, the brother of
John F. Kennedy and then-likely candidate for the next presidential
election, in a Los Angeles hotel kitchen, just after Kennedy had
won the California Democratic presidential primary election. Sirhan
Sirhan was an Arab radical who protested against president John
F Kennedy's support of the Israel cause against the Arabs. He was
murdered on the first day of the Six Day War in the Middle East
that ultimately saw Israel deliver a crushing blow to the Arab world.
At the time, the United States had suspended the death penalty,
so Sirhan Sirhan was spared and sentenced to life imprisonment.
However, life imprisonment in California at the time simply meant
a maximum of 13 years. Former Parole Board official James Hoover
set the murderer's (assassin's) parole eligibility date at 1984, drawing widespread
criticism that the US was sending a message throughout the world
that the penalty for political assassination was just 13 years,
a decidedly reasonable argument, if in fact Sirhan was released
in 1984 instead.
Pictures of Sirhan Sirhan show him in a relaxed state of mood in
prison, glib and seemingly unconcerned.
Serial killer Arthur Shawcross was 63 when he died at Albany Medical Center outside of Sullivan Correctional Facility in 2008, where he had been serving a 250-year sentence for the strangulation of 11 women in the Rochester area of New York State in the late 1980's. New York's State Commission of Correction reported that Sullivan died of medical neglect, specifically, negligent and incompetent medical evaluation and treatment ("Serial Killer Victim of Medical Neglect?" United Press International, 27 Jan 2010). Before his death, he was refused wheelchair access for an injured leg, and was transferred to hospital in a prison van rather than an ambulance, delaying his medical treatment for longer than was allegedly necessary. Shawcross' 13-week trial included many gruesome details of mutilation and cannibalism that he engaged in during the course of his murders. His defence pled unsuccessfully for criminal insanity.
Although he hasn't received as much media attention as other famous Canadian inmates, such as Paul Bernardo and Robert Pickton, Michael Wayne McGray is nevertheless one of Canada's most prolific serial killers, admitting to the murder of 17 people in total. Officially, he was found responsible for the death of 7 people, all of whom he stabbed to death, across the provinces of New Brunswick and Quebec in 1985, 1987, 1998, and 1999, as well as his most recent murder of his cellmate at Mountain Institution in November of 2010. Two of these stabbings were hate-motivated murders, targeting homosexual men. He was given 6 concurrent life sentences and was incarcerated in maximum segregation at Kent Institution in Agassiz, B.C. McGray is a self-described sociopath, and has professed that he enjoys killing, arguing that the "physical release" of killing satisfies a primitive sort of "hunger" inside him. He also suggested on numerous occassions that he was just as dangerous a man inside prison as he was outside of prison.
After confessing to the murder of his cellmate in 2011, it was clear that McGray's threats should have been taken more seriously. The murder occurred shortly after correctional authorities decided to transfer McGray out of his maximum-segregation cell at Kent to the neighboring medium-security facility Mountain Institution, late in 2010. The transfer shocked his fellow inmates in segregation at Kent, since McGray's reputation was of a "stone-cold" killer with no remorse, who preferred to live on his own in a single-bunk cell. Shortly after moving to Mountain, McGray's new cellmate was found blindfolded, gagged, bound around the ankles with torn sheets, and strangled to death (Sharing a cell with a killer; Serial murderer said he could kill again, National Post, 3 December 2010). When asked for his testimony of the killing at the trial, McGray said that he "didn't have problem with Jeremy," that he "didn't know the guy. It is what it is, it's just another sentence to me" (Serial killer details murder of cellmate, The Province, 30 October 2012, Vancouver Province). The victim, Jeremy Phillips, had been nearing the end of his 6-year sentence for aggravated assault.
Shawcross briefly came up in the news in 2001 when he sold a collection of 10 sketches of his own personal artwork for $540 to the public. One of them included a portrait of Princess Diana. The sale and proceeds later prompted New York's Department of Corrections to ban the sale of inmate artwork.