Florence ADMAX: The prison OKC bomber Terry Nichols calls home

Posted at 3:13 PM, Apr 17, 2015
and last updated 2015-04-17 15:13:09-04

On April 19, 1995, the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City was bombed, killing 168 and injuring more than 680 people. Three conspirators were charged in connection with the bombing: Timothy McVeigh, Michael Fortier and Terry Nichols.

Timothy McVeigh, the man who carried out the bombing, was sentenced to death on June 13, 1997. McVeigh’s execution on June 11, 2001, was the first federal execution in 38 years.

Michael Fortier was sentenced to 12 years in prison on May 27, 1998, and was released under the Witness Protection Program in January 2006 after serving more than 10 years.

Co-conspirator Terry Nichols remains in prison, serving 161 consecutive life sentences with no parole. He was sentenced to life on June 4, 1998, and sent directly to the highest-level security prison in the Bureau of Prisons system, located at Florence Federal Correctional Complex in Florence, Colorado.

USP Florence ADMAX is an administrative security United States penitentiary, where the most dangerous prisoners in the country are housed. Part of the Florence Correctional Complex, it houses 425 inmates, all of them male offenders.

Nichols is one of only five percent of the prison population who were directly committed to ADMAX from court — 95 percent of the inmates housed there are repeatedly violent offenders who are eventually sent there after serving time in other prisons.

An attempt was made to contact Terry Nichols for this interview. He declined to be interviewed.

Scripps National Desk spoke with Public Information Officer Juan Segovia about the conditions at the prison known as “Supermax.”

Why was ADMAX created?
Segovia: It was created so we can manage the high-risk escape and violent inmates throughout the Bureau of Prisons in one area, instead of in maximum security at several prisons across the country.

Is it the most secure prison in the country?
Yes. We have never had an escape. What high-profile inmates are housed at ADMAX, aside from Nichols? The Unabomber, Ted Kaczynski, for one. Several national terrorists, those that are well-known that cannot be in general prison populations due to risk. (Note: Zacarias Moussaoui, convicted in civilian court of the September 11 attacks; Ramzi Yousef, who masterminded the 1993 World Trade Center bombing; and Robert Hanssen, the former FBI agent who betrayed several spies to the Soviet Union and Russia, are housed at ADMAX.)

What is a day in the life like for an inmate under the level of security that Terry Nichols is under?
They are isolated in individual cells. They’re not allowed to interact with each other — they’d never be in the library at the same time, for example. They may be able to talk to each other cell-to-cell, but that’s it. We offer them recreation, we offer programs, they are fed meals in their cells. They have TVs in their individual cells that offer 24-hour programs. There are educational, psychological, exercise and life-enhancing programs they can choose to participate in. We push to help improve them in the long run, most will be released at one time or another.

What is security like?
There is much higher security. For example, at a regular-security prison a normal escort for an inmate might be two staff members. Here, they have at least three staff escorts. We have very violent offenders, and it takes highly trained staff and 24-hour security.

Are there any misconceptions about the prison?
A lot of people are anticipating that Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, the Boston Marathon bomber, will be sent here. That’s not necessarily the case, and for a lot of reasons. We’re producing a video that we’ll distribute soon that explains some of those reasons. You have to remember, only five percent of our population are direct-from- court commits.