In Virginia, there are 6 levels of security, Level One being the lowest – with the most privileges — and “Level S” is the highest level of security. Level S is a super maximum security prison, which houses the most violent and dangerous inmates.

That’s where I am.

Level 1 and 2 prisons are for prisoners with shorter sentences and lesser crimes. They live in dormitories while they prepare for release, save some money and get in the routine of going to work. Level 1 prisons are referred to as road camps or work camps because this is where prisoners work all day on the roads or wherever the state has contracts for them to work. 

Level 3 prisons are medium security prisons and inmates live in cells, not dormitories.  There is free movement but prisoners are observed by officers through either guard towers or an officer on the yard. At this level, you have a mix of inmates. Some are close to being released and some are lifers who’ve been awarded a lower security level after showing a pattern of good behavior, but they have to have served 20 years first.  

Level 3 prisoners are usually allowed to be out of their cells all day except for count times, which is when officers conduct a head count to ensure all the prisoners are still alive and well. Lockdown is at 11pm on weekdays and 1am on weekends.

Level 4 and 5 prisons are maximum security and prisoners are confined to their cells for long periods of time. These prisoners need more restrictive management and guidance. They lockdown at 9pm every night. Their movement is controlled at all times with K-9 dogs present during prisoner movements. Officers in these maximum security prisons usually carry cans of OC spray, which is mace. 

At these levels, there are a lot of violent prisoners and gang members, so you see a lot more fights, more stabbings, more officer related attacks, and more drug activity. Most Level 4 and 5 prisoners were transferred here after messing up at lower levels. Prisoners go for a review every year to determine whether they should stay put or be transferred to a lower level prison. 

Level “S” prisoners are the worst of the worst and are sent to a Supermax prison for extreme or deadly violence, or for a notorious crime. The DC sniper Lee Boyd Malvo, for example, is housed at Red Onion State Prison. At a supermax prison, inmates are locked down and aren’t allowed outside their cells unless at least 2 officers are escorting him in full restraints. 

Most states don’t have the need for a supermax prison, but if they do, they just send them to other states to be housed on an interstate compact assignment.

Today most states are outlawing supermax prisons because the mandatory solitary confinement has been proven to cause mental deterioration. Being confined to a cell 23 hours a day is inhumane. Yes, some of these prisoners are rapists and killers who  deserve it, but in some cases they really don’t. 

Most states have death row as well. These prisoners are usually housed at a supermax where they remain locked down for a vast majority of the day while their appeals are exhausted and they just wait for death.

Virginia DOC recently lost a lawsuit against several death row prisoners at Sussex 1 State Prison. The lawsuit claimed that even though they were death row prisoners, they still were human and didn’t deserve to be locked down 23 hours a day.  Now they’re given more recreation and privileges.

Even though there are different security levels there is still one thing that all prisoners have in common. No one wants to be there and your told what to do, so stay home and enjoy life.