The Bomber Next Door

  • The boys of the "Bomber Wing," as the section is informally known, get to see one another only twice a week, for an hour each session. That's when they are allowed into an exercise space to roam within the tight confines of individual wire enclosures 10 ft. from each other. And thus Ted Kaczynski (the Unabomber), Timothy McVeigh (of Oklahoma City infamy) and Ramzi Yousef (mastermind of the World Trade Center attack) get a break from solitary confinement and a chance to be neighborly at the federal maximum-security prison in Florence, Colo.--a.k.a. Supermax. The repartee isn't exactly Firing Line. "They bulls___," says Dennis Hartley, one of McVeigh's new lawyers. "Nobody's crazy enough to talk about escape."

    The camaraderie is awkward--they have to shout to be heard. Still, according to Beau Friedlander, a publisher who has corresponded with the jailed Unabomber, Kaczynski, who speaks Spanish, French and German and is interested in learning Turkish, has discussed languages with the polyglot Yousef. Otherwise the banter is "factual things, small talk," says Michael Mello, author of a book on Kaczynski that Friedlander is publishing. "Ted is a sponge for information." The three inmates talk about what's piped into the 13-in. black-and-white TV sets in their cells. Says Bernard Kleinman, Yousef's lawyer: "It's absurd to think that Yousef is discussing chemical explosives with McVeigh."

    The garrulousness is unimpeded by the 23-hr. solitary lockup, which, despite the term, is interrupted by the prisoners' yelling brief messages to one another. They are close enough to be heard. Kaczynski is two doors down from McVeigh, who is next to Yousef. Once, in mid-February, McVeigh the Oklahoma bomber spotted a news brief on the Unabomber and shouted for him to watch. Kaczynski, despite his techno-aversion, tuned in to the 3-min. segment. Kaczynski says he doesn't watch TV unless he feels there is a specific reason for it, according to Friedlander.

    Still, the proximity of flesh-and-blood company probably counts for something. Which is probably why the lawyer of another Supermax inmate--Luis Felipe, boss of the Latin Kings street gang--has successfully requested to have his client placed among the bombers. When Felipe was in a New York prison, where communication was much less restrained, he allegedly managed to organize gangland hits in the outside world. Hence his transfer to the imposed silence of Supermax. All that, however, has been debilitating, says Felipe's lawyer, Lawrence Feitell. "His power of speech is deteriorating." Could this murderous quartet become Four Characters in Search of a Talk Show? Feitell doubts they will be chums, but "in their universe they are the last four people on earth." Frankly, they all deserve one another.