The Hot House: Life Inside Leavenworth Prison

The Hot House: Life Inside Leavenworth Prison

by Pete Earley

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A stunning account of life behind bars at the federal penitentiary in Leavenworth, Kansas, where the nation’s hardest criminals do hard time.
“A page-turner, as compelling and evocative as the finest novel. The best book on prison I’ve ever read.”—Jonathan Kellerman
The most dreaded facility in the prison system because of its fierce population, Leavenworth is governed by ruthless clans competing for dominance. Among the “star” players in these pages: Carl Cletus Bowles, the sexual predator with a talent for murder; Dallas Scott, a gang member who has spent almost thirty of his forty-two years behind bars; indomitable Warden Robert Matthews, who put his shoulder against his prison’s grim reality; Thomas Silverstein, a sociopath confined in “no human contact” status since 1983; “tough cop” guard Eddie Geouge, the only officer in the penitentiary with the authority to sentence an inmate to “the Hole”; and William Post, a bank robber with a criminal record going back to when he was eight years old—and known as the “Catman” for his devoted care of the cats who live inside the prison walls.
Pete Earley, celebrated reporter and author of Family of Spies, all but lived for nearly two years inside the primordial world of Leavenworth, where he conducted hundreds of interviews. Out of this unique, extraordinary access comes the riveting story of what life is actually like in the oldest maximum-security prison in the country.
Praise for The Hot House
“Reporting at its very finest.”Los Angeles Times
“The book is a large act of courage, its subject an important one, and . . . Earley does it justice.”The Washington Post Book World
“[A] riveting, fiercely unsentimental book . . . To [Earley’s] credit, he does not romanticize the keepers or the criminals. His cool and concise prose style serves him well. . . . This is a gutsy book.”Chicago Tribune
“Harrowing . . . an exceptional work of journalism.”Detroit Free Press
“If you’re going to read any book about prison, The Hot House is the one. . . . It is the most realistic, unbuffed account of prison anywhere in print.”Kansas City Star
“A superb piece of reporting.”—Tom Clancy

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780307808318
Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
Publication date: 11/09/2011
Sold by: Random House
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 464
Sales rank: 171,054
File size: 5 MB

About the Author

Pete Earley is a storyteller who has penned seventeen books, including the New York Times bestsellers The Hot House and Crazy: A Father’s Search Through America’s Mental Health Madness, a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. After a fourteen-year career in journalism, including six years at The Washington Post, Earley became a full-time author with a commitment to exposing the stories that entertain and surprise.

Read an Excerpt

Chapter 1
Jeffrey Joe Hicks was a snitch. Carl Bowles was certain of it. But Bowles needed proof. Convicts at the U.S. penitentiary in Leavenworth, Kansas, hated informants even more than they hated guards. A “hack,” as guards at the maximum-security prison were called, was simply doing his job. But an inmate snitch was a Judas, and the best way to deal with a rat, as far as Bowles was concerned, was to kill it.
Bowles had been suspicious of Hicks from the moment they met eight months earlier, when Hicks was still being held in an area of the ancient prison reserved for new inmates not yet assigned permanent cells. Hicks had stood out among the “fish,” prison slang for newcomers. At twenty-eight, he had a small build and pubescent appearance, but it was his demeanor that everyone noticed. Hicks was terrified. “Guys were damn near fighting each other over him,” Bowles recalled later. “They said, ‘Oh, we got to protect this poor kid! Why, he’s white and he doesn’t want anything to do with the niggers and he is afraid they are going to take him and fuck him. Somebody’s got to do something.’ ”
Bowles had been the first to actually meet Hicks. At the time, he claimed he simply wanted to give Hicks some advice, but guards suspected that the forty-seven-year-old Bowles had a different motive. The federal Bureau of Prisons identified Bowles in its files as a sexual predator, a convict who forced weaker inmates to satisfy his sexual needs. “It wasn’t the goodness of his heart that caused Carl Bowles to search out Jeffrey Hicks,” a guard remarked. “It was a lower section of his anatomy.”
Except for a short stint when he was free after an escape, Bowles had spent twenty-three consecutive years in prison. A convicted cop killer, kidnapper, and triple murderer, he had been taken into custody for the first time at age twelve. Bowles had literally grown up in jail, and few inmates knew their way as well around a prison or had better jailhouse instincts.
At Leavenworth, all convicts are released from their cells at six A.M., and are free to roam the large prison compound relatively unrestricted until ten P.M., when they are locked up for the night. Bowles had gone to the “fish tier” to meet Hicks within days after he arrived.
“First time in a penitentiary?” Bowles had asked.
“It can be pretty scary until a man figures out what is going on,” Bowles had said, shaking a cigarette out of a pack for himself and then offering one to Hicks. “Where you from?”
“A state joint in Michigan,” Hicks had answered.
“Oh yeah?” Bowles had remarked with interest. “Well, what they got you for?”
“Uh, I can’t say,” Hicks had answered. “I got an appeal, you know, still in court.”
“Sure, kid,” Bowles had replied, his mood noticeably colder. He had dropped his cigarette, stomped it on the prison’s tile floor, and left.
Months later when he recalled that meeting, Bowles explained: “When Hicks told me he was a state prisoner from Michigan and then refused to tell me his crime, I knew there was something spooky about him. You see, there are only two reasons why the feds accept state prisoners. The guy is either such a mean son of a bitch that the state joint can’t handle him or the state has to get rid of him because he’ll be killed by convicts if they put him in a state joint.
“Now, even an idiot can see that Hicks ain’t no ruthless motherfucker, so I figured there was something wrong with him. I figured he was a snitch.”
Just because Bowles had suddenly lost interest in Hicks didn’t mean others had. It took prison officials two weeks to process Hicks’s paperwork, and by that time another convicted killer and alleged sexual predator had invited Hicks to move into his cell. Guards and inmates assumed Hicks was the inmate’s “punk”—serving as the convict’s sexual partner in return for protection. But a few months after Hicks moved into the inmate’s cell, something strange had happened. Hicks and his cellmate were accused of plotting an elaborate helicopter escape. Lieutenant Edward Gallegos, who exposed the plot, said Hicks’s cellmate had tried to hire a helicopter pilot to swoop into the prison yard and rescue them.
As punishment, Hicks was moved into an isolation cell in the prison’s Hole. His cellmate received a worse punishment. He was sent to the federal penitentiary in Marion, Illinois, the harshest prison operated by the federal government. At Marion, prisoners were kept locked in one-man cells twenty-three hours a day and denied nearly all privileges.
“The only way guards find out anything in here is when someone snitches,” Bowles complained. “Someone had tipped off the cops to that helicopter plot, and it sure as hell wasn’t the guy who got shipped to Marion. After that I was certain Hicks was a snitch.”
When Hicks was released from the Hole, another white inmate took him in as his cell partner and sexual punk. Bowles knew this inmate. They were friends and Bowles was worried about him. He figured that Hicks was going to do something to get the inmate into trouble. Bowles decided to investigate Hicks’s background and he began by visiting Harold Gooden.
Every prison has its oddballs, and at Leavenworth, Gooden was one of them. A convicted counterfeiter, he was the only inmate in the penitentiary who subscribed to Architectural Digest. Gooden was college-educated, an honorably discharged navy veteran, and a bearded, pipe-smoking, self-proclaimed prison philosopher who passed his time by writing what he claimed was an epic novel. He also had the largest magazine collection at Leavenworth, much of it not the convicts’ typical reading materials—Penthouse and Hustler—but old copies of the Sunday edition of The New York Times, The New Yorker, The Atlantic, and Harper’s. But these were not what Bowles had come looking for when he paused outside Gooden’s open cell door, knocked, and waited to be invited in, a sign of respect between convicts in prison.
“I need to borrow a few magazines,” Bowles explained.
“Help yourself, Carl,” Gooden told him. “Anything in particular?”
“True crime,” Bowles replied.
Besides his rows of highbrow publications, Gooden also kept a large collection of sleazy detective magazines. He subscribed to them, not because he enjoyed reading them, but to identify inmates who had committed particularly heinous sex crimes. After snitches, the most despised inmates in Leavenworth were child molesters, rapists, and other sexual deviants. Sex offenders gave criminals a bad name, convicts claimed. Most inmates either were married or had been, and many were fathers. Like men outside prison, they didn’t want their mothers, wives, and children to be victims of a deviant.
Bowles took a few magazines and returned to his cell, where he scanned them, but he found nothing of interest and returned to Gooden’s cell.
“Carl, I think you should check out this one,” Gooden volunteered, handing Bowles a copy of Inside Detective. Page thirty-six was folded down, so Bowles turned to it. He saw a two-column, black-and-white photograph of a freckle-faced boy grinning into the camera. Above it was a headline: STOP THE SEXUAL SADIST FROM ABDUCTING BOYS! The story below said that the thirteen-year-old boy in the picture had been forced off a road while riding his bicycle on October 19, 1986, in Green Oak Township, Michigan. The driver had jumped from his Jeep, dragged the boy inside the vehicle, and sped away. A few days later, the youngster’s naked body was found abandoned in a forest. He had been sexually molested and strangled. When Bowles turned the page, the baby face of Jeffrey Joe Hicks stared up at him. The caption underneath the photograph read, “Hicks has a long history of molesting children sexually.”
Bowles closed the magazine, said “Thanks,” and took it back to his cell. There he read the entire story. It reported that Hicks had first gotten into trouble in January 1975, when he was sixteen, and abducted a twelve-year-old boy at knife-point, forced him to swallow several tranquilizers, and molested him. Despite the seriousness of the crime, Hicks was put on five years’ probation. Seven years later, he sexually assaulted two other youngsters, but was released on probation again. Only after he was accused of kidnapping and murder was he finally jailed. At his trial, Hicks’s attorneys admitted their client was guilty, but said he shouldn’t be sent to prison because he was himself a victim. Hicks had been raped as a child by a psychiatrist who was supposed to be treating him for deviant behavior, they said, and it was that molestation that caused him to attack young boys. Hicks testified in his own defense, describing how he had held his victim’s hands down and strangled the cyclist with his belt after abusing him. A jury ignored Hicks’s plea for mercy and sentenced him to life in prison, plus sixty-five to one hundred years.

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