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How Prison Writer Prendergast Profiled Loneliest U.S. Inmate

At the end of his recent true crime story for the Denver-based Westword, which details the life of one of the loneliest U.S. prisoners, Alan Prendergast mentions that “prison officials haven’t granted any journalist a face-to-face interview with any inmate at [the US Penitentiary Administrative Maximum Facility in Colorado] since 9/11.” Prendergast many have done that last interview more than twenty years ago, he tells Sunday Long Read. “I was in there just a few weeks before the towers fell, interviewing Pablo Escobar's top hit man, Prendergast says. “The prison insists that they [consider interview requests] on a case-by-case basis, but I think there’s a blanket ban on journalists, basically.” To report his recent story about notorious conman Jimmy Sabatino, who is permitted to speak only with his attorney and his 75-year-old stepmother, Prendergast cobbled together details from court records, descriptions from other prisoners, and past news coverage to paint a picture of Sabatino’s current solitary existence. 


Prendergast had earned many honors for his work, including the Eugene Pulliam National Journalism Writing Award and two national feature writing awards from the Society of Professional Journalists. He says, "I

’ve done so many stories about prison, because it’s one of these closed societies, its own subculture, that you want to get to know a little better. There are all these obstacles to doing that, which makes it more challenging and interesting to me. " At the Colorado maxim security prison, "We’ve missed out on a lot of things that are probably important for people to know — how the inmates are treated, and how they’re dealing with mental health issues with this degree of isolation. And, of course, there are obviously some pretty notorious criminals in there. But there are always ways to tell a story if the front door doesn’t work." He says, "The vast majority of the prisoners are not infamous. They’re there because they pose an escape risk, or they’ve engaged in misconduct at lesser-security prisons, or they may have a mental illness they’re dealing with. The vast majority are probably not these mastermind, high-profile criminals — they’re something else."

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