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The federal arbitrator sided with the union and in October ordered the Bureau of Prisons to reduce the hazards to correctional officers. Traci Billingsley, a spokeswoman for the bureau, disputes the arbitrator's findings and denies there has been any problem with staffing at the ADX, saying in a written response to questions from TIME that the facility "continues to operate safely and efficiently." She said that 60 new correctional workers have recently been added to the staff of the Federal Correctional Complex. Union representative Schnobrich maintains that despite those hires, staffing at ADX is still dangerously low.
Rudolph's letters over the past year have reflected increasing frustration with prison conditions caused by staff shortages. He has complained about cold food, delayed mail and calls missed because there was no one available to bring a phone to his cell. When he first arrived at ADX in 2005, the inmates in his range were let out of their cells four or five times a week for indoor exercise and once a week for a break in the yard. More recently they have been lucky to get outside once a month. Rudolph has joined other inmates in filing a complaint with the Bureau of Prisons over deteriorating conditions, but he doesn't hold out much hope that they will be corrected.
It's not easy to unnerve the citizens of Fremont County. Prisons have been part of the landscape since before Colorado was a state--the Colorado Territorial prison dates back to the 19th century, and people are accustomed to the occasional disturbance or inmate escape. In Florence, most folks still don't lock their doors at night. Many have grown up listening for three short blasts from the fire whistle--a signal that a prisoner is loose in the valley. When that happens, some residents simply fill up their car with gas and leave the keys in the vehicle. "It's better than having a fugitive break into your house and take you hostage," says Bob Wood, publisher of the Florence Citizen, with a shrug. "All they want to do is get out of town." Even though he doesn't live in fear, Wood says he's increasingly concerned about problems at the federal prison complex. And he's not alone.
On the weekend before Halloween, 50 people crowded into a community forum in Florence with Colorado's Democratic Senator Ken Salazar, who had just toured ADX to investigate the security situation. A few days later, Republican Senator Wayne Allard made the same trip. Fremont County sheriff Jim Beicker, who is still waiting for a Homeland Security grant to upgrade his department's radio system, expressed his concerns about the flimsy fence surrounding the prison complex and staffing shortages at ADX. "I want to see these issues fixed," he said. "I don't want to have to lay awake at night and worry about problems at the prison spilling over into my jurisdiction."
State representative McFadyen was encouraged that both Allard and Salazar promised to bring up the issue of security in the area in the next Congress. "The correctional officers at ADX work on the front line in the nation's war on terror, and they deserve our support, just like the troops overseas," she said. "Fremont County helps keep the country safe. Now the country should keep Fremont County safe."