But then, he says, he saw he could carry on the fight, that he still could be useful. He sees his human-rights activism as “redemption” for his past crimes. He abandoned his suicide plans and decided he could be an investigator within the Supermax. He had been a weekly prison “correspondent” by phone for a Rockland radio station as well as a source for the Phoenix.
Specifically, he wanted to see “what Ryan Rideout went through before he died.” Twenty-five-year-old Ryan Rideout, a severely mentally ill man in prison for robbery, committed suicide by hanging himself from a sprinkler head in a Supermax cell. (See “Death in the Supermax,” October 11, by Lance Tapley.) His suicide — as well as several others in the Supermax in recent years — had upset Brown greatly (he has been imprisoned since the mid-1990s). He thought Rideout’s treatment on suicide watch might have driven him to kill himself.
(Brown may have been mistaken about Rideout’s status in the Supermax. Warden Jeffrey Merrill has said publicly that Rideout was not considered a suicide risk, despite a long history of suicide threats.)
Brown apparently outfoxed himself: prison officials used his suicide-watch status to deny him access to the outside world, in spite of my requests to see him, while they prepared to send him 500 miles from family and friends — in spite, also, of being “cleared by five different mental-health people,” he says. It turned out he couldn’t get off suicide watch in Maine, though he was taken off suicide watch in Maryland. He had told me several times of threats from prison authorities to send him out of state.
Actually, this drama is more complicated, murky, and bizarre (welcome to the weird world of covering a prison). Brown says he was put in the Supermax on October 24 because he was mistakenly connected by prison authorities with an inmate, Gary Watland, 44, a murderer, whose wife, Susan Watland, has been charged with attempting to bring a gun into the prison on that day to help her husband escape.
Brown’s letter to Bethany Berry suggests the prison’s connection of him with Watland was made because of bad luck and judgment on his part and bad will on the part of prison officials. He says that on the previous day he had obtained what he believed to be proof of mail tampering: that the prison was opening and scanning prisoners’ outgoing mail without a search warrant or consent, which he thought to be a federal crime.
(Here, too, he may have been mistaken. The postal service gives prisons the right to “open, examine, and censor” mail, if the prison rules allow it, according to postal regulations.)
Brown says an inmate gave him the address of an Internet server that the inmate said contained Department of Corrections files, including copies of prisoners’ mail. Brown writes that he wanted to get this information to me so I could “get it to a federal prosecutor.” From his words, it appears that Brown never accessed the server. He believes some inmates cracked “the DOC mainframe.”