Inside Devens Prison: New Home for Dzhokhar Tsarnaev
At Devens, there’s floor hockey, continuing-ed classes—and mental-health treatment. By Eliza Shapiro.
As of Friday, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev has a new home: the Federal Medical Center at Devens, a federal prison about 40 miles west of where he allegedly planted the bombs that killed three and injured hundreds, at the finish line of the Boston Marathon. The prison is for men requiring specialized or long-term medical or mental-health care.
If convicted (and depending on his health and the sentence), Tsarnaev could spend the rest of his days at Devens, or even await his execution there—so he may as well get comfortable.
A spokesman for the Federal Bureau of Prisons said there’s no special protocol at Devens for Tsarnaev at this time. The administrative-level facility can deal with inmates requiring minimum lockdown and all the way up to maximum security.
At least Devens offers bridge classes.
Tsarnaev will be welcomed to Devens with a monthlong admission and orientation program—perhaps slightly less fun than the freshman orientation he received at UMass Dartmouth this past fall—to meet prison staff and acquaint himself with the facility.
During that time, he’ll get a physical exam and educational, vocational, and psychological tests.
Tsarnaev will also be introduced to the prison’s inmate count system: prisoners are checked on five times a day, at 12:05 a.m., 3 a.m., 5 a.m., 4 p.m., and 10 p.m. On holidays and weekends, there’s an additional count at 10 a.m.
“The correctional officers must see living, breathing human flesh,” Devens’s inmate handbook explains. That means prison staff can use flashlights to check on sleeping inmates at night—and if an inmate is unresponsive, officers can “lightly tap” on an inmate’s bed to make sure they’re there. No talking or radio playing is allowed during counts.
Inmates at Devens are subject to random, unannounced urine and Breathalyzer tests, as well as searches for contraband.
But it’s not all 5 a.m. counts and pee tests at Devens.
Tsarnaev will have access to medical and dental care, and the handbook states that inmates have the right to a healthy, nutritious diet, as well as information about staying healthy while behind bars.
Inmates are allowed six visits a month, but some rules apply. According to the handbook, embracing, kissing, and hand-shaking is allowed only on arrival and departure, but “excessive physical contact during the visit is prohibited.”
“Displays of affection must be within the bounds of good taste,” the handbook mandates, and visitors “are not permitted to wear revealing or provocative clothing, including miniskirts, spandex, tube tops, or tight-fitting clothing.”
An in-house psychology department offers inmates counseling for depression and suicidal ideations, as well as sex-offender and drug-addiction programs. Inmates who are sexually assaulted at Devens also have access to specialized counseling.
A chaplain offers religious services and counseling, and volunteers in a prisoner visitation service pay visits to inmates who don’t get many visitors.
Tsarnaev may also have access to adult continuing-education classes and an electronic library where he can read up on new case law and sentencing guidelines. The prison has a recreation area for floor hockey, basketball, and soccer, a hobby craft room, and a music-practice room.
Tsarnaev will be in diverse company: other inmates at Devens include Raj Rajaratnam, the former hedge-fund titan convicted of running an insider-trading scheme; Frank Locascio, a former boss of the Gambino crime family in New York; Roger Stockham, who plotted to bomb the Islamic Center of America in Michigan; and Sabri Benkahla, a former member of the Virginia jihad network.
There are culinary arts, chess, bridge, music, and art classes on offer.
But there’s one program Tsarnaev likely won’t be able to participate in: the Release Preparation Program, which offers inmates tutorials on employment, personal finances, health, and personal growth and development 30 months before they are due to be released back into society.