Infamous Inmates at ADX Supermax Federal Prison

ADX Supermax Federal Prison in Colorado.

Lizzie Himmel/Contributor/Getty Images

The Supermax federal prison in Florence, Colorado was built out of necessity when it became apparent that even the hardest U.S. prisons could not guarantee full control over some of the most heinous criminals.

To protect prisoners and prison employees, the ADX Supermax facility was built and housed with prisoners who are unable to adapt to prison life elsewhere and those who pose too high a security risk to be incarcerated under the normal prison system.

Inmates at Supermax do hard time in an environment of solitary confinement, controlled access to outside influences, and an unyielding system of total compliance to the prison rules and procedures.

The employees call Supermax the "Alcatraz of the Rockies," which seems fitting for a prison where inmates either learn to adapt and comply, or risk their sanity by trying to fight the system.

Here is a look at some of those inmates and their crimes that earned them a cell at one of the toughest prisons in the world.

of 06

Francisco Javier Arellano Felix

Francisco Javier Arellano Felix is the former leader of the deadly drug trafficking Arellano-Felix Organization (AFO). He was admittedly a principal administrator of the AFO and responsible for trafficking hundreds of tons of cocaine and marijuana into the U.S. and committing countless acts of violence and corruption.

Arellano-Felix was apprehended by the U.S. Coast Guard in August 2006 in international waters off the coast of Mexico, aboard the Dock Holiday.

In a plea deal, Arellano-Felix admitted to heading up the drug distribution and to participating in and directing the murders of numerous persons in the advancement of the AFO’s activities.

He also admitted that he and other AFO members repeatedly and willfully obstructed and impeded the investigation and prosecution of AFO activities by paying millions of dollars in bribes to law enforcement and military personnel, murdering informants and potential witnesses and murdering law enforcement personnel.

AFO members also routinely wiretapped rival drug traffickers and Mexican law enforcement officials, impersonated Mexican military and law enforcement officials, trained assassination squads, "taxed" individuals seeking to conduct criminal activities in Tijuana and Mexicali, and kidnapped individuals for ransom.

Arellano-Felix was sentenced to serve life in prison. He was also told he had to forfeit $50 million and his interest in a yacht, the Dock Holiday. 

In 2015, Arellano-Felix received a reduced sentence, from life without parole to 23 years and 6 months, for what prosecutors described as his "extensive post-sentencing cooperation." stating that he "provided substantial and significant information that helped the government identify and charge other large-scale drug traffickers and corrupt public officials in this country and Mexico.”

of 06

Juan Garcia Abrego

Juan Garcia Abrego was arrested on January 14, 1996, by Mexican authorities. He was extradited to the U.S. and arrested on a warrant from Texas charging him with conspiracy to import cocaine and the management of a continuing criminal enterprise.

He actively engaged in the bribery and attempted bribery of Mexican and American officials in an effort to promote his drug enterprise, most of which occurred in the Matamoros Corridor along the South Texas border.

These drugs were widely distributed throughout the U.S., including Houston, Dallas, Chicago, New York, New Jersey, Florida, and California.

García Abrego was convicted on 22 criminal counts, including drug trafficking, money laundering, intent to distribute, and running an ongoing criminal enterprise. He was found guilty on all charges and was sentenced to 11 consecutive life terms. He was also forced to turn over $350 million in illegal proceeds to the U.S. Government.

In 2016, after spending almost 20 years in the USP Florence ADMAX, Garcia Abrego was transferred to the high-security facility at the same complex. Unlike the solitary confinement at ADX Florence, he can now interact with other inmates, eat in the dining hall rather than his cell, and have access to the chapel and prison gymnasium.

of 06

Osiel Cardenas Guillen

Guillen headed a drug cartel known as the Cartel of the Gulf and was on the Mexican government's most wanted list. He was captured by the Mexican army after a gunfight March 14, 2003, in the city of Matamoros, Mexico. While head of the Gulf Cartel, Cardenas-Guillen oversaw a vast drug trafficking empire responsible for the importation of thousands of kilograms of cocaine and marijuana into the U.S. from Mexico. The smuggled drugs were further distributed to other areas of the country, including Houston and Atlanta.

Drug ledgers seized in Atlanta in June 2001 indicated that the Gulf Cartel generated more than $41 million in drug proceeds over one three-and-a-half-month period in the Atlanta area alone. Cardenas-Guillen used violence and intimidation to strengthen his criminal enterprise.

In 2010, he was sentenced to 25 years in prison after being charged with 22 federal charges, including conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute controlled substances, conspiracy to launder monetary instruments, and threatening to assault and murder federal agents.

In exchange for the sentence, he agreed to forfeit nearly $30 million of assets that were illegally earned and to provide intelligence information to U.S. investigators. The $30 million was distributed to several Texas law enforcement agencies.

In 2010, Cardenas transferred from ADX Florence to the United States Penitentiary, Atlanta, a medium-security prison. 

of 06

Jamil Abdullah Al-Amin, H. Rap Brown

Jamil Abdullah Al-Amin, birth-name Hubert Gerold Brown, also known as H. Rap Brown, was born in Baton Rouge, Louisiana on October 4, 1943. He came to prominence in the 1960s as chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and the justice minister of the Black Panther Party. He is probably most famous for his proclamation during that period that "violence is as American as cherry pie," as well as once stating that "If America doesn't come around, we're gonna burn it down."

After the collapse of the Black Panther Party in the late 1970s, H. Rap Brown converted to Islam and moved to the West End of Atlanta, Georgia. Here, he operated a grocery store and was recognized as a spiritual leader at a neighborhood mosque. He also worked to try to rid the area of street drugs and prostitutes.

The Crime

On March 16, 2000, two African-American Fulton County deputies, Aldranon English and Ricky Kinchen, tried to serve Al-Amin with a warrant for his failure to appear in court on charges that he impersonated a police officer and for receiving stolen goods.

The deputies drove away when they found out he was not at home. On the way down the street, a black Mercedes passed them and was headed towards Al-Amin's home. The officers turned around and drove up to the Mercedes, stopping directly in front of it.

Deputy Kinchen went up to the driver's side of the Mercedes and instructed the driver to show his hands. Instead, the driver opened fire with a 9mm handgun and .223 rifle. An exchange of gunfire ensued and both English and Kinchen were shot. Kinchen died from his wounds the next day. English survived and identified Al-Amin as the shooter.

Believing that Al-Amin was hurt, police officers formed a manhunt and followed a blood trail to a vacant house, hoping to corner the shooter. There was more blood found, but there was no site of Al-Amin.

Four days after the shooting, Al-Amin was found and arrested in Lowndes County, Alabama, almost 175 miles from Atlanta. At the time of the arrest, Al-Amin was wearing body armor and near to where he was arrested, officers found a 9mm handgun and .223 rifle. A ballistics test showed the bullets inside the weapons that were found matched the bullets removed from Kinchen and English.

Al-Amin was arrested on 13 charges including murder, felony murder, aggravated assault on a police officer, obstructing a law enforcement officer, and possession of a firearm by a convicted felon.

During his trial, his lawyers used the defense that another man, known only as "Mustafa," did the shooting. They also pointed out that Deputy Kinchen and other witnesses thought that the shooter had been wounded during the shoot out and that officers had followed a blood trail, but when Al-Almin was arrested he had no wounds.

On March 9, 2002, a jury found Al-Amin guilty of all charges and he was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

He was sent to the Georgia State Prison, which is a maximum security prison in Reidsville, Georgia. It was later determined that because Al-Amin was so highly-profiled that he was a security risk and he was handed over to the federal prison system. In October 2007, he was transferred to the ADX Supermax in Florence.

On July 18, 2014, al-Amin was transferred from ADX Florence to Butner Federal Medical Center in North Carolina and later to the United States Penitentiary, Tucson, after being diagnosed with multiple myeloma, cancer of the plasma cells.

of 06

Matt Hale

Matt Hale was a self-styled "Pontifex Maximus," or supreme leader, of a racist neo-Nazi group formerly known as World Church of the Creator (WCOTC). This was a white-supremacist organization based in East Peoria, Illinois.

On January 8, 2003, Hale was arrested and charged with soliciting the assault and murder of U.S. District Judge Joan Humphrey Lefkow. This judge was presiding over a trademark infringement case that involved the TE-TA-MA Truth Foundation and the WCOTC.

Judge Lefkow was requiring Hale to change the group's name because it had already been trademarked by the Oregon-based religious organization, the TE-TA-MA, who did not share the WCOTC racist views. Lefkow barred the WCOTC from using the name in publications or on its website, giving Hale a deadline to make the changes. She also set a $1,000 fine that Hale would have to pay for each day that went past the deadline.

In late 2002, Hale filed a class action lawsuit against Lefkow and publically claimed that she was biased against him because she was married to a Jewish man and had grandchildren who were biracial.

Solicitation of Murder

Furious with Lefkow's orders, Hale sent an email to his security chief seeking the judge's home address. He didn't know the security chief was actually helping the FBI, and when he followed up the email with a conversation, the security chief tape-recorded him ordering the judge's murder.

Hale was also found guilty of three counts of obstruction of justice, partly for coaching his father to lie to a grand jury that was investigating a shooting rampage by one of Hale's close associates, Benjamin Smith.

In 1999, after Hale was prevented from obtaining a law license because of his racist views, Smith went on a three-day shooting spree targeting minorities in Illinois and Indiana — ultimately killing two people and wounding nine others. Hale was recorded laughing about Smith's rampage, imitating gunfire, and noting how Smith's aim had improved as the days went on.

On the secretly taped conversation played for the jury, Hale was heard saying "it must have been pretty fun" in reference to Smith killing former Northwestern University basketball coach Ricky Byrdsong.

The Arrest

On January 8, 2003, Hale attended what he thought was going to be a hearing about being in contempt of court for failing to comply with Lefkow's orders. Instead, ​he was arrested by agents working for the Joint Terrorism Task Force and charged with soliciting the murder of a federal judge and three counts of obstructing justice.

In 2004, a jury found Hale guilty and he was sentenced to 40 years in prison.

Since Hale's imprisonment at the ADX Supermax prison in Florence, Colorado, his followers, under what is now called the Creativity Movement, have broken into small groups littered around the country. Because of the tight security and censorship of inmate mail in and out of the Supermax, communication with his followers has, for the most part, come to an end.

In June 2016, Hale was transferred out of ADX Florence to the medium-security federal prison FCI Terre Haute, Indiana.

of 06

Richard McNair

In 1987, Richard Lee McNair was a sergeant stationed at the Minot Air Force Base in North Dakota when he murdered Jerome T. Thies, a truck driver, and injured another man in a botched robbery attempt.

When McNair was brought into the Ward County jail to be questioned about the murder, he managed to slip away when he was left alone. He did this by greasing his wrists, which were handcuffed to a chair. He led the police on a short chase through the town but was apprehended when he attempted to jump from a rooftop onto a tree branch (which broke). He hurt his back in the fall and the chase was ended.

In 1988, McNair pleaded guilty to the crimes of murder, attempted murder, and burglary. He was sentenced to two life sentences and 30 years. He was sent the North Dakota State Penitentiary, in Bismarck, North Dakota, where he and two other inmates escaped by crawling through a ventilation duct. He changed his appearance and remained on the run for ten months, until he was captured in Grand Island, Nebraska in 1993.

McNair was then categorized as a habitual troublemaker and turned over to the federal prison system. He was sent to the maximum-security prison in Pollock, Louisiana. There, he landed a job repairing old mailbags and began planning his next escape.

Federal Prison Escape

McNair constructed a special "escape pod," which included a breathing tube, and placed it under a pile of mail bags that were on the top of a pallet. He hid inside the pod as the pallet of mailbags was shrink-wrapped and taken to a warehouse outside of the prison. McNair then cut his way out from under the mailbags and walked freely away from the warehouse.

Within hours after escaping, McNair was jogging down railroad tracks right outside of Ball, Louisiana, when he was stopped by police officer Carl Bordelon. The incident was caught on a camera mounted on Bordelon's police car.

McNair, who had no identification on him, told Bordelon that his name was Robert Jones. He said he was in town working on a post-Katrina roofing project and that he was just out for a jog. McNair continued to joke with the officer while he obtained a description of the escaped prisoner. Bordelon again asked him his name, which this time he mistakenly said was Jimmy Jones. Luckily for McNair, the officer missed the name swap and suggested that he carry identification the next time he was out for a jog.

According to later reports, the physical description of McNair that had been distributed to the police was completely off from what he actually looked like, and the picture that they had was of poor quality and six months old.

On the Run

It took two weeks for McNair to make it to Penticton, British Columbia. On April 28, 2006, he was stopped and questioned about a stolen car he was sitting in at a beach. When the officers asked him to step out of the car, he complied, but then managed to run away.

Two days later, McNair was featured on "America's Most Wanted," and the Penticton police realized that the man they had stopped was a fugitive.

McNair stayed in Canada until May, then returned to the U.S. through Blaine, Washington. He later returned to Canada, crossing over in Minnesota.

"America's Most Wanted" continued to run McNair's information, forcing him to keep a low profile for days after the program aired. He was finally recaptured on October 25, 2007, in Campbellton, New Brunswick.

He is currently being held at the ADX Supermax in Florence, Colorado.


Chapman, Steve. "Column: Political violence is 'as American as cherry pie.'" Chicago Tribune, June 14, 2017.

Morgan, Greg. "Cartel leader’s help earns cut in sentence." San Diego Union-Tribune, June 17, 2015.

"New Wave Sweeping U.S., A CORE Leader Tells Rally." New York Times, August 28, 1967.

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Montaldo, Charles. "Infamous Inmates at ADX Supermax Federal Prison." ThoughtCo, Jul. 30, 2021, Montaldo, Charles. (2021, July 30). Infamous Inmates at ADX Supermax Federal Prison. Retrieved from Montaldo, Charles. "Infamous Inmates at ADX Supermax Federal Prison." ThoughtCo. (accessed August 1, 2021).