100 Copies Of My New Book Being Given Away: NO HUMAN CONTACT Explores The Lives Of Longest Held Prisoners In Isolation

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This is not about mental illness. 

(3-20-23) My new book, NO HUMAN CONTACT: Solitary Confinement, Maximum Security and Two Inmates Who Changed the System, will be published in April and beginning today, the popular website, Good Reads, is giving away a 100 copies to those who enter its giveaway.

For the past 16 years, the focus of my blog has been mental illnesses and the problems exposed in my book, CRAZY: A Father’s Search Through America’s Mental Health Madness. I care deeply about improving our system for those we love.

But I also have written books about American spies,  the wrongful conviction of an innocent man, everyday life inside a federal penitentiary, and the government’s witness protection program.

One of my continued interests is conditions in prisons and jails, and how we deal with those incarcerated in them.

No Human Contact takes readers inside a Super Max penitentiary by exploring the lives of two convicted murderers, Thomas Silverstein and Clayton Fountain.  Both entered the criminal justice system as teenagers. Both were affiliated with the brutal Aryan Brotherhood prison gang. Both committed savage murders inside prisons and in 1983 each separately killed two federal correctional officers. Because there was no federal death penalty at the time, the federal Bureau of Prisons condemned them to the harshest punishment allowed by law. It was dubbed NO HUMAN CONTACT – literally being cut off from all other humans and society.

Eventually, both men apologized for their actions and renounced the AB prison gang and white supremacy. Incredibly, both found purpose in their lives in isolation. Silverstein became a skilled artist during his 36 years in solitary confinement – the longest of any federal prisoner. He died in 2019. Fountain became a Trappist Monk after 21 years in isolation.

I am the only reporter ever to interview Silverstein face-to-face and we continued to communicate for more than three decades. My new book is based largely on our letters,  conversations and his writings.

If you are interested, please enter the Good Reads giveaway!


NO HUMAN CONTACT: Solitary Confinement, Maximum Security, and Two Inmates Who Changed the System. Copyright Pete Earley Inc. 2023, published by Citadel Press-Kensington Publisher Corp.


    “I grabbed the shank he was holding with my bare right hand as he struggled to stand. He tried to rip it from my fingers, but I held on and managed to pull the blade away from him. I slammed it into his chest before pulling it out and then jabbing it again and again and again as quickly as I could.”

                                                   -Thomas Silverstein 

 September 27, 1988

Isolation Cell, Maximum Security

U.S. Penitentiary, Leavenworth Kansas

“Don’t wear a tie, unless it’s a clip-on,” Associate Warden Lee Connor warned me. “Silverstein might grab it through the bars to choke you.”

Connor unlocked the solid steel door that led from the prison’s administration building into the bowels of the ancient penitentiary. I was being taken to interview Thomas Edward Silverstein. It would be the first and only time a journalist would be allowed to speak to him face-to-face during his lifetime. He was being held in a dungeon-like basement cell isolated from the rest of the prison population as punishment for murdering a correctional officer and committing other killings in prison.  Silverstein had fatally stabbed Officer Merle Eugene Clutts forty times on the morning of October 22, 1983. Eight hours later, another prisoner, Clayton Anthony Fountain, pulled a shank on three officers and murdered Officer Robert L. Hoffman Sr..

Thomas Silverstein, copyright, Pete Earley Inc.

Never before in the history of the Federal Bureau of Prisons (known by the initials BOP) had two officers been murdered by convicts on the same day in the same prison inside the same cellblock. The fallout from these brutal murders would usher in a new era in corrections – the emergence of so-called “Super Max” penitentiaries where the “worst of the worst” inmates would be locked in solitary confinement for 23 hours a day, only being allowed to leave their cells in shackles and under heavy guard.

Silverstein’s and Fountains’ actions would condemn both to the most draconian punishment permitted under the U.S. Constitution. At the time of the two killings, neither man could be executed because there was no federal death penalty. Both already had received multiple life prison terms for murders they’d committed earlier. They had nothing to fear by continuing to kill, authorities said. To prevent them from hurting prison staff and other convicts, the BOP placed both under “no human contact.” They were to be cut off from the outside world – as if they were characters in Edgar Allan Poe’s classic, The Cask of Amontillado, where victims were entombed behind a brick wall with no escape.

Silverstein and Fountain were housed initially inside tiny isolation cells where they received only the minimum constitutional requirements. Silverstein spent nine months wearing only a pair of prison-issued boxer shorts inside a steel lined cell that was only six-feet-by-seven feet, almost the size of a king mattress, with nothing but a thin mattress pad and toilet inside it. He could touch its celling. The cell’s door was solid steel. Food came through a slot that otherwise was locked shut. None of the correctional officers watching him would speak to him out of deference to their fallen co-workers. No newspapers, magazines, radio, television or visits with those outside of prison were permitted. No writing materials – neither pencils nor pens. No mail, either incoming or outgoing. The lights in his cell were kept on 24 hours per day and never dimmed. Clayton Fountain lived under equally harsh conditions at a different federal penitentiary. They had no meaningful human contact and nothing but their own minds to occupy their time. In private conservations, prison officials expected and quietly hoped both would break mentally and choose to end their own lives rather than spend the coming years along in such isolation. Neither did.

Silverstein had endured five years under “no human contact” when I began my descent into Leavenworth prisons’ underbelly to meet with him. By then, the BOP had begrudgingly provided Silverstein with a few niceties. This was not done out of kindness, but for control. It had proved difficult to manage him if there was nothing the he valued that could be taken away. Good behavior, for such simple acts as returning empty food trays, was being rewarded with clothing, letters from the outside world, a once a month telephone call and drawing materials. I was being allowed to meet him because I was writing a book entitled  The Hot House: Life Inside Leavenworth Prison  about everyday events that happened inside the maximum-security prison. Never before had the BOP agreed to allow a writer unlimited access at one of its penitentiaries. I was allowed to roam free inside the penitentiary without an escort and speak to any convict or staff member who agreed to speak to me. Initially, I intended to spend a year watching events and conducting interviews, but my research took twice as long. This was because I began alternating my prison visits. I would spend a month behind the walls and then return home for a month to review my notes, do other research and write. At least that is what I told everyone. What I didn’t disclose was that I needed a mental break after spending a month in the predatory world that I was documenting.

Associate Warden Conner and other staff at the prison told me they were surprised that I was being permitted to interview Silverstein. I suspected the BOP’s then-Director, Michael J. Quinlan, agreed to allow me access because he was convinced my sessions with Silverstein would confirm the bureau’s view that he was evil and unable to live safely outside his isolation cell. What neither Quinlan nor I had anticipated on the morning when I first met Silverstein was that our encounter would lead to a 32-year-long relationship carried out through letters and phone calls that only ended when Silverstein died unexpectedly on May 11, 2019.

Hated By Prison Staff 

“Silverstein is a worthless piece of shit,” Associate Warden Connor warned as we descended a stairway into the prison’s catacombs for my first encounter with the BOP’s most hated inmate. A second, solid steel door was locked at the bottom of the stairwell. It opened into a labyrinth – a sprawling dark chamber that housed the prison’s massive boilers and served as storage for stacks of dust covered cartons filled with yellowing prison records dating to the early 1900s. Making our way along a narrow basement path between boxes and mothballed equipment through the dimness, we reached yet another steel door. Connor unlocked it, and we stepped into a small foyer containing a metal table, single folding chair, and black-and-white monitor. Its screen showed what was happening on the other side of yet another steel door.

Using a separate key, Connor opened that doorway so I could enter a rectangular room that had two sets of cell bars with a five-foot gap between them. Silverstein was locked at the far end of this shoebox shaped chamber.

“You did sign a release, right?” Connor asked me. He already knew that I had signed a liability release on my first day inside the prison that said the BOP could not be held responsible if I were attacked, taken hostage or worse during my visits. I suspected his question was a not too subtle reminder that Silverstein had killed multiple times.

U.S.Penitentiary, Leavenworth, Ks. (BOP photo)

Connor unlocked the first set of steel cell bars and stepped aside so I could enter the five-foot gap that separated this barrier from Silverstein’s caged cell front. Connor shut the gate behind me, twisted the key and with a loud ‘thunk,’ I was locked inside.

Silverstein’s cell reminded me of an old fashion sideshow circus cage, like the ones I’d seen in movies that housed an exotic animal. Its walls and ceiling were solid steel. Heavy wire mesh was welded across the cell bars facing me. It would have been impossible for Silverstein to reach through those thumb size holds and grab my tie to choke me.

Silverstein came from the rear of his cell much like a fish emerging from the depths of a like. His ratted hair touched his shoulders. His beard was unkept. He was not allowed to own a comb, brush, razor or mirror.

“Sometimes my words can’t keep up with my thoughts,” he said in a ghostly voice. “I have trouble talking because I’m out of practice.”

The fluorescent ceiling lights above us cast a greenish tint. They were never turned off because the video cameras monitoring him – including one positioned directly over his toilet – needed lighting.

“Hear that?” he asked. Neither of us spoke for a moment. A steady buzzing sound, like bees circling a hive. He glanced upward at the lights.

“Welcome to my tomb.”

(This is the first of several excerpts coming before my book is published on April 25th.) 

About the author:

Pete Earley is the bestselling author of such books as The Hot House and Crazy. When he is not spending time with his family, he tours the globe advocating for mental health reform.

Learn more about Pete.