Inside Lewisburg Prison: A Choice Between A Violent Cellmate Or Shackles

On Feb. 3, 2011, corrections officers at the Lewisburg federal penitentiary in central Pennsylvania arrived outside Sebastian Richardson’s cell door. With them was a man looking agitated, rocking back and forth and staring down at Richardson, who at 4 feet, 11 inches was nicknamed “Bam Bam.”

The man, officers told Richardson, was his new cellmate. The two would spend nearly 24 hours a day celled together in a concrete room smaller than a parking space.

Richardson, 51, didn’t know his new cellmate’s name; only that he went by the nickname “The Prophet.” Lenelle Gray, a former Lewisburg inmate, said The Prophet had a habit of screaming songs or shouting the spelling of words for hours, as though competing in his own private spelling bee. There were also rumors that he had assaulted more than 20 previous cellmates.

“Every cellie he get, he always end up fighting. He was just crazy,” Gray said in an interview.

“He’s Lewisburg’s weapon,” former Lewisburg inmate Deangelo Moore said of The Prophet. “If he like you, he like you. But if he don’t, he’s your worst enemy.”

So when officers told Richardson to cuff up — put his hands through the food slot to get handcuffed — and step aside to make room for his new cellmate, he refused.

The details of Richardson’s story are laid out in a lawsuit he filed against the Bureau of Prisons and the agency’s response to that lawsuit — and are reinforced by Richardson’s letters from prison and interviews with former inmates.

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