Plenty of time to think’: Castro’s ‘hell’ behind bars will be mostly in isolation

Ariel Castro at his sentencing on Thursday. Angelo Merendino / Getty Images

If Ariel Castro’s hell is just beginning, as one of his victims told him, it’s going to be an especially lonely kind of damnation.

The Cleveland kidnapper will be isolated behind bars for his own safety — most likely, Ohio criminal justice experts say, in a bleak, remote prison where his only contact will be guards and the inmates who bring his meals.

“He really doesn’t understand the gravity and horror of the offenses he committed,” said Lewis Katz, a professor of criminal justice at Case Western Reserve University. “But he’ll have plenty of time to think about it.”

Castro, who admitted kidnapping three young women for a decade and raping them inside his horror house, was ordered Thursday to serve life without parole, plus 1,000 years.

He insisted that he was sick, not a monster, and addicted to masturbation and pornography. One of the women, Michelle Knight, told him at a dramatic sentencing hearing: “I spent 11 years in hell. Now your hell is just beginning.”

The only decision made so far about Castro’s future home is that he will be isolated from the general prison population, said JoEllen Smith, a spokeswoman for the Ohio prison system. That determination was made in part for his own protection.

“Sex offenders and people who hurt women are at high risk of being killed within prison, especially in Ohio,” said Alana Van Gundy, who teaches courses on criminal behavior at Miami University of Ohio.

Castro pleaded guilty to aggravated murder for abuse that terminated the pregnancy of one of his captives, and the hierarchy of inmate-on-inmate violence places those who harm children “at the very top of the list,” she said. 

In particular, she said, Ohio prisoners are more dangerous than they would be otherwise because of a higher rate of mental illness among inmates. The state has cut mental health services in recent years, and prisons have absorbed more of the mentally ill, she said.

Castro’s first stop on the way to his life sentence will be the Lorain Correctional Institution in the village of Grafton, a sort of clearinghouse for Ohio inmates. There he will be strip-searched, photographed, fingerprinted and checked for gang markings.

He will be allowed to keep his watch, provided it displays only the time and date, and a Bible if he wants one, but not much else. He’ll be given a medical checkup and a mental health evaluation before state authorities figure out where to send him.

Katz said Castro’s most likely future home is the Southern Ohio Correctional Facility, a maximum-security lockup outside the town of Lucasville, which is about an hour and a half away from Cincinnati and near not much of anything else.

Cleveland kidnap survivor confronts Castro 4:32

The prison, drab and forbidding, has about 1,300 inmates. It was the site of what was described as the longest prison siege in American history — a 1993 uprising that lasted 11 days and resulted in the deaths of one prison officer and nine prisoners.

On the bright side, it has a 1½-acre garden planted and cultivated by inmates. The crops — sweet potatoes, zucchini, radishes, watermelon and beets, among others — are donated to a nearby homeless shelter.

But it's unlikely that Castro will develop a green thumb. He will probably spend as long as 23 hours a day in a cramped cell with little more than a desk, toilet and bed, and the hour outside will be in an enclosed space, perhaps also by himself, Katz said.

“It’s exactly what you see on TV and in the movies — unpleasant,” Katz said. “It’s going to be as unpleasant as any penitentiary in the United States.”

He may get a modest television, and access to a limited prison library, the professor added.

Castro asked a judge at a previous hearing for permission to see the 6-year-old daughter he fathered with one of the captives, Amanda Berry. Instead, he was ordered to stay away from her.

As for other visits, they’ll be tightly restricted — perhaps an hour a week if Castro is lucky, Katz said. And it’s just as well: His family has suggested they have little interest in visiting him in prison.

“I think that if he really can’t control his impulses and he really doesn’t have any value for human life, the way this case has shown, then behind bars is where he belongs for the rest of his life,” his son Anthony told TODAY earlier this week. “I have nothing to say to him.”