October 26, 2016 | Christie Thompson and Josh Shapiro | The Marshall Project
In this federal prison, inmates have a choice: live with a violent cellmate or end up in shackles.
On Feb. 3, 2011, corrections officers at Lewisburg federal penitentiary in rural Pennsylvania arrived outside Sebastian Richardson’s cell door. With them was a man looking agitated and rocking back and forth. He stared 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 also went by a nickname: "The Prophet." He 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 “cellies.”