United States Penitentiary, Florence High

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United States Penitentiary, Florence High
USP Florence High.jpg
LocationFremont County,
near Florence, Colorado
Coordinates38°21′42″N 105°05′45″W / 38.36167°N 105.09583°W / 38.36167; -105.09583Coordinates: 38°21′42″N 105°05′45″W / 38.36167°N 105.09583°W / 38.36167; -105.09583
Security classHigh
Population759 (April 2022)
Managed byFederal Bureau of Prisons
WardenCharles A. Daniels

The United States Penitentiary, Florence High (USP Florence High) is a high-security United States federal prison for male inmates in Colorado. It is operated by the Federal Bureau of Prisons, a division of the United States Department of Justice. USP Florence High is part of the Federal Correctional Complex, Florence (FCC Florence), which is situated on 49 acres (20 ha) of land and houses different facilities with varying degrees of security. It is named "Florence High" in order to differentiate it from the United States Penitentiary, Florence ADMAX, the federal supermax prison located in the same complex.

FCC Florence is located in unincorporated Fremont County, Colorado,[1] 90 mi (145 km) south of Denver.[2]


USP Florence High was built in 1993 in response to the growing need for a place to house high-security federal inmates. It was designed by DLR Group, an architectural firm specializing in correctional facilities. Before the complex was built, the city of Florence was experiencing an economic crisis with an unemployment rate of 17%. When the citizens were polled by mail about building the complex in Florence, 97% of respondents were in favor of the project. It was estimated that the Florence Federal Correctional Complex was going to provide about 1,000 temporary jobs and 900 permanent jobs. In anticipation of these jobs the community raised $160,000 to purchase the 600 acres (240 ha) needed to build the prisons.


USP Florence High housed 816 male inmates as of December 2019,[3] and is about 390,020 sq ft (36,234 m2). A perimeter fence, seven guard towers, and a patrol road ensure the security of the prison.[4] The prison includes health services, educational program areas, visitation, laundry, a barbershop, commissary, chapel, Special Housing Unit (SHU), and an exercise area. The prison also contains a step-down unit for inmates of ADX Florence. Inmates will still spend roughly 22 hours of their day in their cells; however, they are kept in a less restrictive environment in which interaction among inmates is acceptable and encouraged. From there, they will either be transferred to the general population unit in Florence High or to a different federal prison.

Notable incidents[edit]

In 2000, seven federal correctional officers whom the union called "The Cowboys" were charged with committing misconduct which occurred between January 1995 and July 1997, which included beating and choking handcuffed inmates, mixing waste into the inmates' food, and threatening other officers who objected to their actions.[5] The case went to trial in 2003, and three of the officers, Mike Lavallee, Rod Schultz, and Robert Verbickas, were convicted of violating the civil rights of inmate Pedro Castillo by beating him while he was in restraints. Lavallee and Schultz were also convicted of engaging in a conspiracy to commit civil rights violations.[6] All three were sentenced to prison terms.[7]

1999 inmate murder[edit]

On October 10, 1999, inmates William Concepcion Sablan and Rudy Cabrera Sablan were accused of the murder of fellow inmate Joey Jesus Estrella. The three inmates were seen drinking "hooch" together, and they were heard fighting throughout the night. Both William and Rudy Sablan were found with the disembowled corpse of Estrella in their cell the next morning. Prosecutors intended to seek the death penalty against both William and Rudy Sablan, who are cousins; however, due to William Sablan's extensive record of mental illness and brain damage, they were both given life sentences for the murder and moved into ADX Florence. Today William Sablan is housed at USP Allenwood and Rudy Sablan is housed at USP Hazleton.[8]

2008 inmate murder[edit]

In 2008, inmate Gary Douglas Watland, who was serving a combined 55-year state sentence for the murder of a friend and attempting to escape the Maine State Prison, was accused of killing fellow inmate Mark Baker, a member of the Nazi Lowriders gang. Watland sneaked up on Baker while he was playing poker and stabbed him in the neck with a homemade knife. Watland stated the attack was a "kill or be killed situation", as he had recently come out of the closet in prison. Baker's gang was known to attack homosexuals in prison. Watland subsequently accepted a plea deal and was sentenced to life imprisonment. He is currently serving his sentence at ADX Florence.[9]

2008 inmate riot[edit]

On April 20, 2008 a 30-minute riot occurred between a large number of inmates in the recreation yard, during which several inmates were stabbed with homemade knives known as "shanks." Correction officers who were posted on watch towers shot and killed two of the armed inmates. The incident began after white supremacist prisoners celebrating Adolf Hitler’s birthday began yelling racial epithets at black prisoners. The white supremacists were drinking hooch, a form of homemade wine, and were armed with rocks and improvised weapons. Approximately 200 prisoners were involved in the melee.[10]

2021 inmate murder[edit]

On December 6, 2021, inmate Jamarr Thompson, 33, was killed after he was involved in an altercation with another inmate. Thompson was serving a 63-month sentence for an attempted bank robbery.[11] This was the third murder in a Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) institution in the past one month, the other two occurring at USP Canaan and USP Tucson, respectively.[12] This incident heightened concerns about the rising level of violence within BOP prisons. It also intensified chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Senator Dick Durbin's request to the Attorney General to fire BOP chairman Michael Carvajal, citing failure to respond adequately to rising levels of violence within federal prisons and corruption among BOP staff.[13]

Notable inmates (current and former)[edit]

Inmate Name Register Number Photo Status Details
Naser Jason Abdo 80882-280 Naser Jason Abdo - U.S. Army photo.jpg Serving 2 life sentences plus 60 years. Now at ADX Florence U.S. Army private who refused to deploy to Afghanistan and went AWOL; convicted in 2012 of attempted use of a weapon of mass destruction for plotting to detonate a bomb in 2011 at a restaurant near Fort Hood in Killeen, Texas, when it was filled with soldiers.[14][15] Transferred into Florence High from ADX Florence in May 2021. But in June 2021 was sent back to ADX.
Richard McNair 13829-045 Serving 2 life sentences on a state murder charge from North Dakota in 1987. Previously held at ADX due to multiple prison escapes; escaped from the Ward County Jail in Minot, North Dakota in 1987, from the North Dakota State Penitentiary in Bismarck in 1992, and from USP Pollock in Louisiana in 2006.
Ronald Herron "Ra Diggs" 78527-053 Sentenced to 12 life sentences plus 105 years. One-time Brooklyn rapper, Ronald Herron AKA Ra Diggs was tried and convicted in 2014 for 21 counts, including three murders, racketeering and drug trafficking in connection to running a violent drug gang in New York.
Auburn Calloway 14601-076 Now at USP Big Sandy Hijacker of Federal Express Flight 705 in 1994.
Khalid al-Fawwaz 67497-054 Serving a life sentence. An Al-Qaeda operative from Saudi Arabia; convicted in connection with the 1998 United States embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania, Africa, which were conceived by Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden; the bombings killed 224 people and injured more than 4,000. Moved into USP Florence - High from adjacent ADX in January 2022.[16][17][18][19]
Michael Finton 17031-026 Serving a 28-year sentence, scheduled for release in 2034. Transferred to USP Big Sandy. Convicted for attempt to murder, with malice aforethought, at least one US federal officer and employee and an attempt to use a weapon of mass destruction against property owned by the US.
Osiel Cárdenas Guillén 62604-079 Transferred to USP Terre Haute. Succeeded Juan García Ábrego as leader of the Gulf Cartel; extradited to the U.S. from Mexico in 2007 and pleaded guilty to threatening to murder U.S. law enforcement agents, drug trafficking and money laundering.[20][21]
Chevie Kehoe 21300-009 Transferred to USP Terre Haute White supremacist convicted on charges of racketeering, racketeering in aid of murder and robbery conspiracy in connection to the kidnapping, torture and murders of William and Nancy Mueller and their 8-year-old daughter, Sarah Powell. Co-defendant Daniel Lewis Lee was executed for the murders at United States Penitentiary, Terre Haute on July 14, 2020. Transferred into Florence High from ADX Florence in 2019.
O. G. Mack 30063-037 Transferred to ADX Florence Founder of the United Blood Nation gang; convicted in 2002 of racketeering and murder conspiracy, as well as narcotics and weapons charges.[22]
Chimene Hamilton Onyeri 79217-380 Serving a life sentence. Attempted assassination of Travis County, Texas, district judge Julie Kocurek after she previously sentenced him for running a tax refund scam. Transferred here from USP Pollock.[23][24]
Gary Ridgway 02072-122 Gary Ridgway Mugshot 11302001.jpg Transferred to Washington State Penitentiary. Known as the Green River Killer, Ridgway committed murder, rape and necrophilia in the Seattle and Tacoma area. Ridgway spent May 2015 to October 2015 in USP Florence. In 2015 transferred back to Washington State Penitentiary in Walla Walla
Perry Roark 53975-037 Serving a life sentence. One of the founders of the Dead Man Incorporated prison gang. In 2013, Roark pleaded guilty to a racketeering conspiracy, murder and trafficking charges related to running the gang alongside members Bryan Jordan and James Sweeney. Roark and Sweeney were subsequently sentenced to life in prison. Both Sweeney and Roark were serving their life terms at ADX Florence until Roark was transferred to Florence High in 2019.[25]
Ross Ulbricht 18870-111 Ross Ulbricht.jpg Transferred to USP Tucson. Convicted in 2015 for operating the Silk Road marketplace web site.
Ronell Wilson 71460-053 Ronell Wilson (mugshot).jpg Transferred to USP Canaan Gang leader in Staten Island, New York; murdered NYPD Detectives James Nemorin and Rodney Andrews, who were conducting a sting operation to buy an illegal gun in 2003.[26][27]
Shain Duka 61284-066 Serving life plus 30 years. Convicted in 2008 for conspiring to kill members of the Army at the Fort Dix, New Jersey, army base. His two brothers were also convicted: Eljvir Duka, who is being held at USP Hazelton and Dritan Duka, who is being held at FCI Terre Haute.
Dzhokhar Tsarnaev 95079-038 Dzhojar Tsárnayev.jpg Sentenced to death on June 24, 2015. Transferred to ADX Florence. On June 25, 2015, Tsarnaev was transferred to the USP Florence High; as of July 17, 2015 he had been transferred to ADX Florence.[28][29]
El Shafee Elsheikh 11698-509 Serving 8 life sentences. Elsheikh was given 8 life sentences without the possibility of parole in August 2022 for charges of conspiracy to commit murder, lethal hostage taking, and material support. These charges stemmed from participating in the beheadings of four Americans while an active member of the Islamic State. Elsheikh was one of the four British members of what was known as the "ISIS Beatles". Another member of this group, Alexanda Kotey was also given a life sentence in federal court and is currently serving his sentence at USP Canaan.[30]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "2020 CENSUS - CENSUS BLOCK MAP: Fremont County, CO" (PDF). U.S. Census Bureau. p. 37 (PDF p. 38/51). Retrieved 2022-08-13. Florence Federal Correctional Complx
  2. ^ "BOP: USP Florence High". Bop.gov. Retrieved 2013-06-10.
  3. ^ "BOP: Population Statistics". www.bop.gov. Retrieved 2019-12-30.
  4. ^ Bosworth, Mary (ed.) (2005). Encyclopedia of Prisons and Correctional Facilities, Vol. 2. pp. 1115–1116.
  5. ^ "National News Briefs; Prison Guards Charged In Attacks on Inmates". The New York Times. 2000-11-04.
  6. ^ Boczkiewicz, Robert (2003-06-25). "Three prison guards convicted, 4 acquitted in fed 'Cowboys' trial - Pueblo Chieftain: Metro". Chieftain.com. Retrieved 2013-06-10.
  7. ^ Alan Prendergast (2003-06-26). "Cowboy Justice - Page 1 - News - Denver". Westword. Retrieved 2013-06-10.
  8. ^ KOHLER, JUDITH. "Lawyer: Inmate accused in gruesome prison death has brain damage". www.postindependent.com. Retrieved 2021-01-31.
  9. ^ "No Death Penalty for Maine Prisoner | Prison Legal News". www.prisonlegalnews.org. Retrieved 2021-01-31.
  10. ^ "Violence on the Rise in BOP Facilities | Prison Legal News".
  11. ^ Record |, The Daily (2021-12-07). "Florence inmate dies after altercation at prison". Canon City Daily Record. Retrieved 2021-12-07.
  12. ^ "Third inmate killed in new spate of federal prison violence". ABC News. Retrieved 2021-12-07.
  13. ^ "Colorado inmate dies in federal prison, marking 3rd death in a month". FOX31 Denver. 2021-12-07. Retrieved 2021-12-07.
  14. ^ "Army private gets 2 life sentences for plan to attack soldiers". CNN.com. 2012-08-10. Retrieved 2013-04-18.
  15. ^ "USAO Press Release – | ATF". Atf.gov. 2012-05-24. Archived from the original on 2013-04-12. Retrieved 2013-04-18.
  16. ^ Warren Richey (January 25, 2011). "Ahmed Ghailani gets life sentence for Al Qaeda bombing of US embassies". Christian Science Monitor. CSMonitor.com. Retrieved August 13, 2012.
  17. ^ Weiser, Benjamin (November 17, 2010). "Acquittal on All but One Charge for Ghailani, Ex-Detainee". The New York Times.
  19. ^ "Two Terrorists – A Portrait Of Wadih El Hage, Accused Terrorist | Hunting Bin Laden | FRONTLINE". PBS. Retrieved August 13, 2012.
  20. ^ "Extradition: Past cases highlight limits - Brownsville Herald: Valley". Brownsville Herald. 2011-03-05. Archived from the original on 31 March 2019. Retrieved 2013-04-18.
  21. ^ "COMBATING BORDER VIOLENCE: THE ROLE OF INTERAGENCY COORDINATION IN INVESTIGATIONS" (PDF). 2009-07-16. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2014-04-17. Retrieved 2020-11-22.
  22. ^ Weiser, Benjamin (2003-04-15). "Founder of East Coast Bloods Is Given 50 Years". The New York Times.
  23. ^ "Onyeri sentenced to life in prison for Judge Kocurek shooting".
  24. ^ "Onyeri receives maximum sentence for attempted murder of judge".
  25. ^ "Founder Of Violent "Dead Man Incorporated" Gang Sentenced To Life On Federal Racketeering, Murder And Drug Charges". United States Department of Justice, District Maryland. 2013-01-07.
  26. ^ Brick, Michael (February 6, 2007). "Detectives' Killer Breaks Windows in Jail". The New York Times. Retrieved May 12, 2010.
  27. ^ Hays, Tom (July 24, 2013). "Ronell Wilson, NY Cop Killer, Gets Death Penalty". Huffington Post. Archived from the original on 25 July 2013. Retrieved 27 November 2013.
  28. ^ "Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev transferred to Colorado prison". CBS News. June 25, 2015.
  29. ^ Dzhokhar Tsarnaev transferred to Supermax prison, Milton J. Valencia, The Boston Globe, July 17, 2015. Accessed on line July 20, 2015.
  30. ^ "Elshafee El Sheikh: Ex-Briton 'Isis Beatle' sentenced to life in prison". BBC News. 2022-08-19. Retrieved 2022-10-08.

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