The Devil You Know……

By all accounts the scene was shocking, even to seasoned corrections personnel assigned to one of the most violent prisons in America, the U.S. Penitentiary Hazelton in West Virginia. James ‘Whitey’ Bulger was dead in his unlocked cell having been beaten to death with a padlock in a sock, a favorite tool to administer prison justice. He was beaten well beyond recognition, his face and head reduced to pulp by the merciless beating. One of the suspected killers, a fellow inmate, is a known mafia associate, a hit man to be more specific. Whitey, himself a prolific killer, must have died knowing full well the visitor to his cell this day was not there to talk about the prison menu or inquire about the flight from his previous residence, a federal prison in Florida where he was housed in solitary confinement. Whitey Bulger had lived in a world of violent death. Below is a photograph of Whitey Bulger taken during his transfer.

Whitey Bulger was represented by attorney Hank Brennan. Mr. Brennan had represented Whitey over the past seven years and, as such, spoke with his client on many occasions. In his last telephone conversation with Whitey, he was pleased that Whitey was being moved from solitary confinement to an undisclosed federal medical facility where his declining health could be more closely monitored. Bulger was associated with the notorious Winter Hill Gang in Boston, where he was an undisputed underworld “boss”. He was Machiavellian in nature, and thought to be an informer who cooperated with the FBI. Informers, or “snitches” as they are known in this business are detested by the rest of the underworld and enjoy a shaky existence often ending in death at the hands of their associates. At some point during his stay in solitary, he allegedly threatened a staff member at the Florida prison, and was then scheduled for a transfer to an undisclosed medical facility within the prison system. Whitey was distrustful, a characteristic honed on the streets of Boston. Whitey was as street smart as they come and possessed the cat like instincts necessary to survive in his business. He had good reason to be apprehensive. The telephone conversation between Whitey and Mr. Brennan occurred a month or so before Whitey’s transfer, not to a medical facility but to notoriously violent Hazelton, where he was beaten to death less than 24 hours after his arrival. A Bureau of Prisons spokesman has stated that Whitey’s transfer was made in accordance with their policy. Prison records obtained by various media outlets reflect a lowering of Whitey’s medical classification, a change that facilitated the transfer to Hazelton, where the mafia hit man from Massachusetts was housed. The Burea of Prisons has indicated they have dispatched a team of experts to Hazelton “to assess the operational activities and correctional security practices and measures to determine any relevant facts that may have contributed to the incident”.

One must remember that Whitey had evaded capture and criminal justice for 16 years, under an assumed identity before being captured and convicted of presiding over a sprawling and lucrative web of murder, extortion, money laundering and drug dealing from the 1970s through the mid 90s. He is reputed to have preferred dispatching his victims personally as opposed to contracting the killings. He also had many contacts in and out of prison and likely knew just how dangerous Hazelton is. It is fair to assume that Whitey Bulger knew full well the implications of deplaning for the van ride to Hazelton. His heart problems were the least of his concerns at that point. One can only speculate as to the knowing looks exchanged between Bulger and his visitor to his cell on that fall day in West Virginia.

There is a lesson in this sordid affair for all that read it. During his last conversation with his counsel, Mr. Brennan, Whitey remarked, “The devil you know is better than the devil you don’t.” “I don’t trust them.”

This time, Whitey Bulger was absolutely correct.

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