Wayne Byerly’s Redemption Through Ratting

USP Florence, whose banal exterior belies the house of horrors inside.

After a lifetime of bank robberies, Wayne Byerly ended up in U.S. Penitentiary Florence, an overcrowded high-security prison housing violent criminals with a reputation as the most dangerous prison in the United States — “In one seventeen-month period, USP Florence logged 94 inmate stabbings or beatings, roughly one for every ten inmates.” But USP Florence’s real calling card is the fate of its snitches, recounted in Alan Prendergast’s Westworld story about Byerly, his time in the pen, and his extensive work as an informant.

A few days later, drug smuggler Mirssa Araiza-Reyes got into an argument with his cellmate, Frank Melendez, whom he suspected of being a snitch. Araiza-Reyes had strong feelings about snitches, having attacked another suspected informant with a padlock and razor. He required all his roommates to sign affidavits swearing they that they weren’t snitches. Unable to come to terms with Melendez, Araiza-Reyes beat and strangled him. He kept the body in his cell for four days, a period during which staff paperwork indicates Melendez went through several counts, received meals, and was taken to showers and the exercise yard. When he could no longer stand the smell, Araiza-Reyes notified a guard that Melendez was dead.

“I took care of that snitch for you,” he said.

The incident became known as the Weekend at Bernie’s killing. But that grotesquerie was soon overshadowed by a more extravagant foray into corpse abuse. In October 1999, bank robber Joey Estrella was killed and eviscerated in the Special Housing Unit (SHU) by his two cellmates, cousins William and Rudy Sablan, after a night of drinking and playing cards. It’s not clear if the Sablans regarded Estrella as a snitch or just a nuisance, but the cousins removed portions of his liver and spleen. By the time officers arrived to videotape the aftermath, the Sablans were covered in gore, mockingly gnawing at Estrella’s excised organs and drinking his blood. While the camera rolled, they stuck a cigarette in the dead man’s mouth and used his hand to flash the finger at the guards.

Read the story