Manning could serve sentence at famous Leavenworth

TOPEKA, Kan. — After being sentenced to 35 years in prison for leaking classified documents to the anti-secrecy website WikiLeaks, Pfc. Bradley Manning could be headed for hard time at Fort Leavenworth, home to the American military’s most famous prison.

The Army penitentiary has shed its once-imposing stone edifice, but inside Manning would confront a dreary, unchanging environment where inmates are highly restricted, graveyard work shifts are common and jobs pay just pennies per hour.

The judge did not say where Manning would serve his time. But Col. Josslyn Aberle, a spokeswoman for the Military District of Washington, said Manning would likely go to Fort Leavenworth, the only military prison for service members sentenced to 10 or more years of confinement.

She said that if space there is limited, military prisoners can be sent to a civilian federal prison.

Manning already has spent time in Leavenworth alongside the military’s worst criminals. Here’s a look inside.


For generations, Leavenworth — a city of 35,000 just west of Kanas City, Mo. — has had an ominous place in pop culture. The name alone conjures images of chain gangs of prisoners in zebra-striped uniforms cracking rocks with pick axes — all under the gaze of cold-eyed guards atop watch towers.

Hollywood’s license notwithstanding, this city and the surrounding area are largely defined by the business of incarceration. Near the military barracks is the U.S. Penitentiary in Leavenworth, a federal prison known for its “Big House.” Just miles away in Lansing is the state’s oldest prison, where the two men convicted of the Kansas killings that inspired the book “In Cold Blood” were hanged in 1965.

Fort Leavenworth’s former Disciplinary Barracks, an imposing structure overlooking the Missouri River, was once known as “The Castle.”

But some of the architecture at the military’s current Disciplinary Barracks, which opened in 2002, seems more like a modern community college built on a landscape of rolling hills. Cells are built in pods around a common area.


The military built its first prison at Fort Leavenworth in the 1870s, and “The Castle” that so dominated the Army post’s landscape for decades held as many as 1,500 prisoners. The current prison is much smaller, with 515 beds.

Leavenworth had its share of famous inmates.

It housed Mennonites who objected to military service during World War I, and 14 German prisoners from World War II were hanged there in 1945 for murdering other POWs they believed were traitors.

The old prison also housed Lt. William Calley, who was convicted of murder over the My Lai Massacre in 1968 during the Vietnam War, and famed boxer Rocky Graziano, who received a nine-month sentence during World War II for going absent without leave after punching an officer.

Manning could add to the list, as could Maj. Nidal Hasan, who is on trial in the 2009 attack on Fort Hood that killed 13 people and wounded more than 30.

The inmates include ranks as high as lieutenant colonel. Five are under death sentences, including, Hasan Akbar, convicted for the 2003 murder of two Army officers in Kuwait.

The prison also is where Sgt. Robert Bales will be housed after being convicted of killing 16 Afghan civilians during nighttime raids in 2012.


Leavenworth inmates will spend an average of 19 years behind bars.

Raelean Finch, a former Army captain who visits the barracks regularly, described life inside as “monotonous.”

The prison’s daily routines are “fairly repetitive, restrictive and militarized,” said Anita Gorecki-Robbins, a Washington military defense lawyer. And inmates have no Internet access.

Army regulations require prisoners to do “a full day of useful, constructive work” and a 40-hour workweek. Prisoners have maintenance, warehouse, laundry and kitchen details but also have access to multiple vocational training programs, including graphic arts and barbering.

An inmate’s daily schedule — when he rises and sleeps — depends upon when he works. There is a graveyard shift and working it allows an inmate to sleep until early afternoon, Finch said.

Finch co-authors a blog, “Captain Incarcerated,” with an inmate she identifies only as “Russ” because she doesn’t not want postings to affect his prospects for parole. Depending on how they’re classified after arriving, inmates often are required to spend only six hours a day — or even none — in their cells, she said.

That would contrast with Manning’s past incarceration at the Marine Corps brig in Quantico, Va., where he was confined in a windowless 6-by-8-foot cell for 23 hours a day. Sometimes, all his clothing, including underwear, was removed from his cell, along with his glasses and reading material. The Pentagon defended his treatment, saying it was designed to prevent him from committing suicide.


A photo of a typical cell in the Leavenworth barracks shows a well-lit but austere space, with a bunk and a desk and a metal toilet-and-sink unit. On her blog, Finch’s co-author described beginning his incarceration in a 6-by-9-foot cell with cinderblock walls and a green steel door.

“It is dreary,” Gorecki-Robbins said.

Inmates have access to playing cards, board games and television. The prison has craft and music rooms, and recreational activities, including weightlifting and playing basketball, flag football and ping pong. Both Finch and Gorecki-Robbins said seating for television or movies shown by the prison is determined by an inmate’s social status, with the inmate with the highest ranking sitting front and center and newcomers taking seats in the back.

Uniforms are brown, usually worn and “heavily starched,” Finch said. Inmates can buy their own shoes, she said, and that’s where their fashion individuality shows.

Inmates are paid just pennies an hour for their work, Finch said. People outside the prison can send them money orders, though they’re limited to spending $80 a month, she said.

Visitors can come any day of the week, according to post officials, though hours on weekdays are limited to the evenings. There are no conjugal visits.


Both Finch and Gorecki-Robbins said many inmates perceive the Leavenworth barracks as safer than civilian prisons run by states and the federal government — and better kept.

“It’s presided over by military folks,” Finch said. “These are people who cleaned bathrooms with a toothbrush during basic training.”