When a criminal is deemed to be the "worst of the worst," they're sent to the United States Penitentiary Administrative Maximum Facility in Florence, Colorado, otherwise known as ADX. This high-security prison in the middle of nowhere is meant to keep hardened offenders as far away from the general population as possible. It's unlikely anyone could escape, and for many of its residents, ADX will be the last place they ever see.
ADX has been operating since 1994 and it's the only prison in America that offers no real means of rehabilitation. Most of the people who end up there have either committed enough terrible acts that the system doesn't know what to do with them, or they've committed crimes against the American Government.
The institution has come under fire for its lack of medical facilities and treatment of its patients, and in the mid-2010s, after a significant amount of legal pressure, ADX reevaluated its practices. Still, the day-to-day life for an inmate at ADX isn’t a cakewalk, and most of them spend their time in solitary confinement.
The 7-By-12-Foot Cell Is Made Entirely Of Concrete
There's nothing cushy about any correctional facility, regardless of whether it's a supermax or a county jail, but the cells at ADX are a different kind of uncomfortable. They're only 7 feet by 12 feet and are made completely out of concrete. There's nowhere anyone can relax or sit without feeling some sort of physical stress.
Former ADX inmate Travis Dusenbury explained, "My cell was all concrete. Every single thing, made out of concrete. The walls, floor, the desk, the sink, even the bed - a slab of concrete. Then you get a little fortified [recreation cage] that's outside that you get to go walk around in for an hour a day."
The Worst Inmates Are Kept In The Control Unit
It may not seem like there could be anything worse than being in a personal cell at ADX, but within ADX, there is a more secure facility known as the H-Unit, or the Special Security Unit, where those who are marked by the Department of Justice are held. The Special Security Unit is where inmates like Ramzi Yousef (the man behind the 1993 World Trade Center attack), and September 11, 2001, attack participant Zacarias Moussaoui are currently held.
The H-Unit doesn't just block these inmates off from the rest of the world - it blocks them off from everyone else at ADX. Warden Hood described the residents of the unit, saying, "They've been in jail. They've been in prison. They've [slain] staff. They've [slain] a visitor. They've earned, if you will, the right to go to Supermax."
Inmates Exchange Messages On Rolls Of Toilet Paper Through The Drain Pipes
Inmates inside ADX may be in cells next to one another, but they're not arranged in a way that makes conversation easy. In order to have anything that resembles a one-on-one chat, inmates have to be creative and use the very architecture of the building to their advantage.
Former ADX inmate Travis Dusenbury said that one way to communicate was to use a toilet paper roll as a combination bullhorn and ear horn that projects sound through the water pipes of the facility. In order to use this method, inmates have to make sure the water is cleared from the pipes and that they're next to someone who's comfortable chatting in such a way. It's not a perfect means of communication, but it allows them more intimate contact. Dusenberry explained:
You could take a whole toilet paper roll, put it over the drain in your sink or shower, and blow as hard as you could. That would blow the water down the pipes just far enough that the pipes were empty between you and your neighbor's cell. Then you keep holding the toilet paper roll over the drain, you talk into it, and your neighbor can hear what you're saying clearly. It depended on the cell you were in, if the pipes were lined up and all that, but you could usually contact your neighbor this way or even one more inmate down the line.
The Closest Human Contact Is 'Finger Handshakes' Through The Fence
There's no real personal contact inside ADX aside from whatever communication with a guard an inmate might have. Inmates rarely see one another, and when they are out of their cells, they have to wear leg irons, handcuffs, and chains.
If inmates do happen to see one another while they're getting in their one hour of recreation time, they can exchange a "finger handshake" through the fence that separates their recreation space. It's not a lot of contact, but in ADX, it's one of the few things that reminds inmates they aren't alone.