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Inside the 'Slaughterhouse' Death Row prison where inmates 'boil alive'

Inside the 'Slaughterhouse' Death Row prison where inmates 'boil alive'

The William C. Holman Correctional Facility is a place you want to avoid at all costs

With nicknames such as 'Slaughterhouse', the 'Slaughter Pen of the South' and 'House of Pain', it's clear that this US prison is no cushty country club.

The William C. Holman Correctional Facility in Atmore, Alabama, boasts a fearsome reputation as one of the most dangerous lock-ups in the nation, where violence, gang rivalries and riots are rife.

Overcrowded and understaffed, this jailhouse has been hung on a knife-edge since it opened in 1969 - as it was simply not built to accommodate the influx of inmates it has received over the years.

It was originally constructed to house just 581 convicts, but it has held more than double that at some points, despite the fact there just isn't enough beds or cells to go around and conditions are dire as it is.

The William C. Holman Correctional Facility is a place you don't want to ever end up.

Low risk prisoners serving life without parole were shunted into stand-alone dorms four years ago to try and ease some of the congestion, a move which ADOC Commissioner Jeff Dunn described as a 'band-aid solution' for Alabama's failing prison infrastructure.

On top of these lot, Holman also has 170 death row cells to house convicts who are facing the ultimate punishment, as well as it's own execution facility - where all state executions are conducted.

It is where killer Kenneth Smith, 58, was put to death with the controversial nitrogen hypoxia method on 25 January this year, which reportedly left him 'writhing and convulsing' on the gurney and 'his body shaking violently'.

The overwhelming majority of prisoners packed in like sardines at Holman are serving lengthy sentences, without the possibility of parole, for heinous crimes such as murder and rape.

Documentary producer Hilary Heath said the 'potential for violence is still very real' after heading inside the prison walls to film the MSNBC project LOCKUP Inside: Holman Correctional Facility, back in 2006.

She chatted to an inmate who had slit the jugular vein of a fellow prisoner after a deal over a tattoo went sideways, as well as prisoners on death row and staff at Holman - who all agreed that the place was plagued with huge problems.

Horrors at Holman

As well as violence being rife, Heath said that 'nearly everyone' she spoke with had revealed about how rule violation #38 for indecent exposure is a 'major problem' at the correctional facility.

But all things considered, the documentary maker had a fairly uneventful trip to the notorious slammer, as horrific riots and attacks are a huge part of it's chequered past.

The jail has been overcrowded and understaffed since it opened.
Getty images

A staff member was stabbed to death by a knife-wielding inmate in 1974, which was followed by a large riot 11 years later which resulted in 22 men - including wardens and other employees - being taken hostage.

The barbarity unfolding behind bars seemed to reduce when Grantt Culliver took over Holman in 2002, which Heath covered in her documentary, although it didn't stay quiet for long.

Prisoners joined in the prison strikes which erupted across more than 10 states in 2016, as inmates protested against the poor conditions they live in as well as the measly wages they receive for prison labour.

Holman was plunged into lockdown in March that year as riots broke out - with cons starting fires in dorms, seizing control of the facility and stabbing two correctional officers, according to authorities.

Months later, CO Kenneth Bettis tragically died from a stab wound he sustained while working in the prison's dining hall.

A prisoner was then reportedly found knifed to death at Holman in December 2018 after a night of violence erupted, in a brawl which left another 3 people injured.


Pastor Kenneth Glasgow, who worked with prisoners at the jail, previously told The Guardian that 'everybody at Holman has got knives'.

He said: "It’s a bloodbath. There are killings every day at Holman. As soon as you arrive they tell you, ‘better get yourself a knife because everybody else has one'."

Former Holman employee, Lieutenant Curt Stidham, echoed his concerns about inmates arming themselves with makeshift weapons, saying: "No one is winning at Holman. There is only survival."

You can see how the nickname Slaughterhouse - in reference to the routine stabbings - came about.

Inmates also complain that they are left to 'boil alive' in the stifling heat which sweeps the prison, as the mercury regularly hits 38C in the Gulf Coast area where it is located.

There is no air conditioning system installed in Holman, so those inside instead have to rely on hundreds of industrial fans to cool them down - although they say the fans don't do a good job of it.

The electric chair in the execution chamber at Holman.
Getty images

Heath told how she noticed that the 'kitchen felt like a sauna' when she visited for filming, leaving inmates who had bagged a job in there desperate to transfer out.

The conditions are so bad, that inmates have been seen holding up signs at cell windows with the word 'help' scrawled across them.

Although these days the population is a lot more controlled, there is still not enough room for everyone.

In 2020, the state of Alabama had to step in to help Holman as it drowned in convicts, resulting in around 600 inmates being shunted around to other prisons across the state.

It came after a probe by the US Justice Department found that the number of authorised correctional officers at Holman was less than a fifth of what it should been, as the annual staff turnover is said to be a whopping 60 per cent.

Reports in 2018 claimed that Holman only had 72 of the 195 guards needed for routine operations, without officers filling in the the gaps with overtime.

Featured Image Credit: ABC/Getty stock image

Topics: True Crime, Crime, US News, World News