Prison: the one setting that virtual reality video games will probably avoid.
It is important to lay out what needs to be known about prisons. First, prisons are filled with some of the most vile, unforgiving, soulless people on the face of the planet. It is where rapists, murderers, child molesters, thieves, and swindlers spend the majority of their lives, wasting away into oblivion because of the act, or acts, that they committed. Since nearly the dawn of civilization, prisons have served as the place where the law-abiding public can separate themselves from people that look to prey on the unsuspecting, the vulnerable, and the helpless for their own financial, sexual, or societal gain.
On the other hand, the people who run the prison can be every bit as vile as those housed on the inside. For every rapist, murderer, or child molester that exists, there is a person who is behind bars for driving drunk, selling drugs, or hiding tax money from the government. Not every prison and not every circumstance should lead people to believe that prisons are filled with bad people. For example, the magic of DNA evidence has exonerated hundreds of men who were wrongfully convicted of crimes. Still in disbelief? Watch the Netflix special called Making a Murderer, and it will become clear that the government is not always filled with noble people. Still not convinced? Listen to the Serial podcast where a man’s guilt and subsequent imprisonment come under serious scrutiny.
Generally though, life is very difficult for prisoners because they have to actually deal with the psychopaths that society is trying to quarantine. Prisoners still have to live their lives around people who are angry for being wrongly imprisoned or who are all too happy to stick a shank in someone’s side for no good reason. Some places are worse than others, though. We've found the 15 most dangerous prisons in America and put them all together on this list for your... let's call it entertainment.
Word to the wise: don’t break the law if you don’t want to end up here.
15 Attica Prison: Attica, New York
One of the most famous (or infamous) correctional facilities in the United States, Attica Prison must be mentioned on this list. Whether a prison is “most dangerous” is usually determined by analyzing two different sources: who is there and how have the inmates behaved. In terms of the first issue of who has been imprisoned in Attica, you would be surprised to find out that there is a long line of deranged men who have spent time in upstate New York. Some of Attica’s more famous prisoners include Mark David Chapman (the guy who killed John Lennon), Colin Ferguson (murdered six people in Long Island), Sam Melville (the “mad bomb”), Willie Sutton (notorious bank robber), and El Sayyid Nosair (1993 World Trade Center terrorist). These men make up a short list of New Yorkers that would freak anyone out. In looking at the second source of analysis on how inmates have behaved, the answer is simple: terribly. In 1971, prisoners were so sick of how they were being treated that they decided to simply riot and riot hard. In the end 43 people were dead, including ten officers and civilians and 33 inmates.
14 Ely State Prison: Ely, Nevada
There is a good chance that you have just put in a Google search of “Where the hell is Ely, Nevada?” Like most prisons, Ely State Prison is stuck in the middle of nowhere, just beyond the boondocks, and right around the corner from no man’s land. It is one of the most isolated and rural parts of the American west that a person would ever see. This is probably one of the reasons why it is one of the most dangerous prisons in America. Keep in mind that dangerous prisons are not just about what people actively do, but what people fail to do too. For example, a person that is driving 100 mph on the freeway is going to be a danger to everyone else. But a person who is constantly checking their phone, failing to look at the road in the meantime, is going to be just as dangerous. At Ely, this is the same thing. The target of the ACLU complaints, Ely let one diabetic inmate die after not giving him insulin for three days. Oh, and they had a huge riot in 2010. Then, they followed it up with another huge riot in 2011. The next one is probably in the works.
13 Pelican Bay State Prison: Crescent City, California
For those unfamiliar with the geographic make-up of California, here's a quick lesson. If there is going to be gang activity, it is primarily going to occur in southern California (e.g. Los Angeles, San Diego). Gang members, often known for getting in trouble with the law, have to go somewhere if they are sentenced to prison. The problem is that there are not nearly enough prisons to hold the mass of people that are gang related. This is where Pelican Bay comes in. Many gang members are sent upstate to serve their time there and the problems that plagued them before they went inside still ravage them during their sentence. To combat the gang violence, administrators have tried nearly everything, including solitary confinement, to quell the problem. This has only created even greater problems because lawsuits have arisen that the punishment here is cruel and unusual. Oh, and don’t forget that some of America’s most powerful gang members are often sent to solitary, still handing out kill orders and beatdowns from the comfort of their cell.
12 United States Penitentiary Pollock: Grant Parish, Louisiana
Although the South has given the world many good things including chicken pot pie, sweet potato pie, and gumbo, there have been many other things the South could still get a grip on. Naturally, that one thing is prison administration. Now, the U.S. Penitentiary Pollock is technically run by the federal government, but it is staffed by rural southerners who have not exactly been known for their patience, hospitality, or friendliness. What puts Pollock on this list is the fact that more murders tend to occur inside the prison than on the outside. Since 2007, at least three murders have gone unsolved inside the prison and there may be countless more that have yet to be reported. Plus, throw in the fact that Jose Robledo Nava, leader of the Almighty Latin King and Queen Nation, is serving out his life sentence, and you have one place that is hella dangerous.
11 Sing Sing Correctional Facility: Ossining, New York
Admittedly, Sing Sing has worked hard to change its reputation, but it is impossible for it to change its past. Currently, there are discussions to make Sing Sing, originally built in the 19th Century, into a museum for where 6th graders can roll their eyes in boredom over one of New York’s oldest prisons. However, the ghosts of those who once walked these halls would tell a different tale. Sing Sing is known for being one of the places where inmates routinely went to die at the hands of “Old Sparky”; Sing Sing’s electric chair. 614 men and women have been electrocuted there since its inception, making it dangerous not because of other prisoners, but because of the prison itself. The most famous cases include the execution of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, spies who were put to death back in the 50s for espionage and serial killer Albert Fish who ate a 10-year-old back in the 30s.
10 Folsom State Prison: Folsom, California
California is generally considered to be a flip-flop-wearing, Prius-driving, Democrat-loving kind of place. In many respects that is definitely true. However, California is also home to over 30,000,000 people. With that size population, the state will also have to deal with issues of violence, corruption, and safety more so than many other states in the country. One of the prisons that has gained a certain level of notoriety is Folsom State Prison. Back in 1937, in one of the earlier attempts at escape, a man was stabbed and eventually died from his wounds. Throughout the 70s and 80s, Folsom hit a peak in its violence. The main reason is because gang violence, one of California’s other wonderful exports, hit an all-time high where black, white, Latino, and Asian gangs were all forced together. This was before places like Pelican Bay were large enough to hold inmates so groups who were already warring with each other were forced to live together. Even as early as 2010, a massive riot erupted, injuring several inmates.
9 Rikers Island: Queens, New York
As mentioned previously, the level of danger of a prison is not just the chances of victimization from other inmates. The ones in power, the jail guards and prison staff, have a tendency to victimize people just as much as any killer that an inmate shares a cell with. Rikers Island, nestled in Queens, New York, has been the subject of serious inquiries by local media outlets and civil rights groups. In one horrifying incident, a female inmate alleged that a female corrections officer sexually assaulted her. The guards used an object to make it happen and there are reports that the guards had other inmates act as lookouts. The woman was bound and gagged at a Hawaiian pot roast, and violated repeatedly through the night. The New York Times is also regularly tracking stories of guard misconduct, abuse, and neglect of prisoners. The next time you are in New York City, try to avoid jail time.
8 Louisiana State Penitentiary: Angola, Louisiana
Few prisons have penetrated the folklore of American culture like Angola Prison. If you are currently picturing prisoners singing songs in a line, swinging a hoe in the air only for it to chew up the ground beneath, and a sweaty, underpaid prison guard sitting on horseback with a rifle resting on his thigh, then you have effectively summed up what life is like at Angola. Built back in the 19th Century, when the South was probably at its worst socially, Angola prison was set up to receive many of the South’s most notorious inmates. In fact, the book The Green Mile was basically set with Angola as the backdrop. Here, escapees have been shot to death. Riots are a regular, with the latest one being in 1999 where six inmates held prison guards hostage. Also, at one point, conditions inside the prison were described to be in a “state of emergency” by the American Bar Association, lending proof to the idea that once you go into Angola, there is a 50/50 chance you will make it out.
7 Penitentiary of New Mexico: Santa Fe, New Mexico
New Mexico is known as the “Land of Enchantment.” This is for good reason, too. New Mexico has beautiful sunsets and sunrises, the people are easy going, the weather is often very agreeable in most places, and there is a warm, accepting nature to New Mexico. Rarely do New Mexican politicians steal the limelight for taking bribes, serial killers seem non-existent there, and you don’t usually hear of toxic spills that killed millions of plant life going on there. Aside from the fictional Breaking Bad characters, it seems like New Mexico really is not a bad place. That is until a person takes a step inside the Penitentiary of New Mexico. Back in 1980, the PNM was the scene of what many describe was the most violent of prison riots in history. Remember, this is in comparison to Attica where dozens died. At one point, men during the right were butchered, dismembered, and burned alive, most of them being child molesters. Ultimately, 33 inmates died in the riot and a movie called Behind Bars: Riot in New Mexico covered the incident. The Land of Enchantment indeed.
6 Orleans Parish Prison: New Orleans, Louisiana
It is one thing if California has multiple, terrible prisons within its borders. Just looking at the map of California and comparing it to other countries will have a person realizing very quickly that California is kind of a country all on its own. However, if a person looks at a map of Louisiana, compares its population and size to California, they would be hard pressed to find many parallels between the states besides being on the water. What is sad is that one common thing the states have are a similar number of terrifying, awful prisons within its borders. The next on the list is the Orleans Parish Prison in New Orleans. Like many completely dysfunctional penal institutions, the big issue with this place is that the prison staff make a bad situation worse. One of the things that the prison guards have been known to do is just simply ignore inmate violence. This means that people getting beat up cannot find any justice at all once they get inside. Plus, the Southern Poverty Law Center reported that 23 inmates were sent to the emergency room in one year alone, making that emergency room bigger than most in New Orleans itself.
5 San Quentin State Prison: San Rafael, California
What kind of list concerning “most dangerous,” “most lethal”, “worst”, or “most terrible” would avoid having California on it multiple times? This list is certainly no exception. San Quentin is one of the most notorious prisons not just in the United States, but in the world. A big part of the reason is because of the sheer level of violence most inmates come into the prison with. The prison has housed notable inmates such as Richard Farley, who was convicted of killing seven of his co-workers, Raymond Lee Oyler, the man who was responsible for the death of five firefighters, and John Famalaro, who kidnapped, raped, and murdered a helpless 23-year-old woman in Newport Beach in the early 90s, putting her body into an icebox apparently for safe keeping. Along with the terrible people that live within the walls, San Quentin faces the typical Californian problems of awful gang violence, poor staffing, and strained race relations.
4 United States Penitentiary Beaumont: Jefferson County, Texas
It may be impossible to say those seven words together without faking a Texas drawl while you are doing it. Regardless, the big issue in Beaumont is that people seem to plot more murders here than just about anywhere else. Even though this place is maximum security, inmates like to plan out their dinner and who is going to die in their spare time. There’s no word on whether they do those two things together or separately, but it can only be assumed that if people have time to plot and carry out murders, someone running the prison is dropping the ball. The worst part is that this is one of the for-profit prisons, which may be adding to the trouble. If you are unaware, some prisons are operated by private, for-profit companies and are contracted to do so by the state. This may relieve the state of some administrative costs, but it is clear that no matter who is running the prison, the same problems still exist.
3 Holman Correctional Facility: Escambia County, Alabama
When a place earns nicknames like “The Slaughterhouse” or “House of Pain”, you’d better pray to God that you never get sentenced to serve your time at Escambia County, Alabama’s shining jewel: the Holman Correctional Facility. One of the issues are the repeated stabbings and beatings that take place on inmates and correctional staff. The other issue deals with the kind of man (they are always men) that enter the prison. Most notably is Bobby Frank Cherry, the overall terrible human being and Ku Klux Klan member who bombed the 16th Street Baptist Church back in the 1950s, killing four little girls in the process. The other problem is that inmates, most of whom are violent and irrational, make their own homegrown whiskey using water, sugar, and yeast. Applying this ingenuity to getting hammered, the men here engage in regular brawls in an inebriated state, adding to the list of reasons why most people will not cross into Alabama for any reason.
2 Men’s Central Jail and Twin Towers Correctional Facility: Los Angeles, California
The Men’s Central Jail is not technically a prison. It is a jail. What’s the difference? Well, the big difference is that those who are in jail are usually your less violent or heinous offenders. They are bad check writers sentenced to six months in prison. They are drunk drivers who are spending 30 days in jail. They are people who have a warrant out for drug use and have to finish out a one year sentence. Unlike the other prisons on this list, the people sentenced here are harmless... on paper. The reality is that the Men’s Central Jail is probably bigger, rowdier, and more dangerous than most prisons in the United States. Nestled in the heart of downtown Los Angeles, the jail sees all walks of life come through its doors, some of whom never leave. How bad is it? Well, in 2016, the Los Angeles County Sheriff, Lee Baca had to resign because of how many beatings inmates took at the hands of other inmates and guards and his Undersheriff, Paul Tanaka, was just recently thrown in jail for covering up all of the awful violence in the prison. The best part? Tanaka was himself a part of a correctional officer gang back when he was younger, proving that sometimes those behind a badge are no better than those behind bars.
1 United States Penitentiary, Administrative Maximum Facility (ADX) Florence: Freemont County, Colorado
Ever wonder where the United States stuck a guy who was convicted of helping to plan the September 11 attacks? Florence. The leader of the Aryan Brotherhood? Florence. The Unabomer? Florence. The Boston Bomber? Florence. Mexican Mafia leaders? Florence. Double agents who sold secrets to Russians? Florence. The list goes on and on. ADX Florence houses the worst of the worst in the criminal world. The prison hosts some of the most deranged, terrifying, psychopaths in recent history. The body count for these men is probably impossible to calculate. There is probably not enough psychiatrists in the world to figure out why these people decided to do what they did, mostly to innocent people. One of the double agents who sold secrets to the Russians simply said that he was motivated by money and nothing else. Never mind that his information lead to the death of two people working to infiltrate the Russian government. The scariest part? All these men live under the same roof.