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A Warden Tried to Fix an Abusive Prison. He Faced Death Threats.

The Marshall Project
November 20, 2023

The handwritten letter arrived days before Christmas 2022. “THIS IS AN EMERGENCY ISSUE!!!” it began. “PLEASE HELP.” Signed by 14 people incarcerated in one of the highest security federal prisons in the country, the letter was an urgent warning for prison officials: Several corrections officers were trying to bribe prisoners to attack the warden and one of his captains. 

Three men said officers “offered to poorly tighten their hand restraints” during the warden’s walk-through “so that the inmate can easily slip his hand restraints and carry out a physical assault,” according to the letter. Guards had offered the men extra food trays and other favors, and promised not to injure them after the attack. The men wrote that officers were angry about changes by the new warden.

Thomas Bergami had taken over the Thomson penitentiary in western Illinois nine months earlier — tasked with fixing a prison where five prisoners were killed in recent years and where more than 120 people have reported serious abuse.

Read more of Christie Thompson, Beth Scwartzapfel (The Marshall Project) and Joseph Shapiro's (NPR) in The Marshall Project.

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