Nervous Prison System Keeps a Close Watch on Its Most Feared Inmate
Willie Bosket’s meals are slipped into his box of a prison cell through a slot cut into iron bars. Video cameras monitor his every move, 24 hours a day.
When Bosket leaves his cell for any reason, he must first stick his feet through a slot to be manacled and then his hands to be cuffed.
Three prison guards watch him when he gets his daily hour of exercise, alone in a small, fenced-in area. The prisoner’s hands and feet remain bound. The Woodbourne state prison guards keep silent, under orders not to talk to Bosket.
Many people who have come into contact with the 25-year-old killer think that treatment isn’t rigorous enough.
Although there may be more infamous inmates in other prisons, and even in New York State, where Mark David Chapman, the murderer of John Lennon, and “Son of Sam” killer David Berkowitz are doing their time, no one is feared more within the system than Willie Bosket.
“I’m a monster the system created,” Bosket told an Oneida County courtroom last year when sentenced to 25 years to life as a persistent felon. “I’m a monster that’s come back to haunt this system and I will dog this system until it is in its grave.”
To Dick Bischert, president of the state prison guards’ union, Bosket is a prime argument for the death penalty that New York state does not have.
“He probably will kill somebody in the system,” Bischert said. The state went to extraordinary lengths to create a special cell for Bosket after he attacked a security guard on April 16. Bosket walked up behind Earl Porter in a Shawangunk State Prison waiting room and wordlessly plunged a homemade knife into the rookie guard’s back, said prison system spokesman James Flateau. A newspaper reporter, interviewing Bosket, was watching. Porter survived, and Bosket faces an attempted murder charge.
It was only the latest entry in a long and violent criminal dossier.
Bosket grew up in Harlem, the product of a broken home. In a perverse twist on an old tradition, he began following in the footsteps of a father he never knew. Willie Bosket Sr. graduated Phi Beta Kappa from the University of Kansas while a federal prison inmate and eventually died in an escape attempt.
Willie Bosket was 10 when first sent to a detention home. By the time he was 15 he had killed two men in New York City subway robberies, shooting one in the face after he put up his hands in surrender and another in the head when he had only pennies.
Bosket said he killed “for the experience.” Tried as a juvenile for the 1978 killings, he was sentenced to five years. He gloated then that he knew he could have killed 100 people and his sentence would have been the same.
Amid public outcry, the New York Legislature changed state law to allow juveniles as young as 13 to be tried as adults for murder.
Bosket served his time in youth detention facilities, where he set some kind of a record for ferocity. He cracked a guard’s skull with a pipe, assaulted two other employees with a hammer, stabbed a fellow inmate with a fork. Despite this he was back on the streets in 1983.
The next year, he shot and robbed a nearly blind, elderly man in the subway and was sent to prison for a 3 1/2- to 7-year term. He became more intractable than ever. Before stabbing Porter, he was cited for 26 incidents, including nine assaults on the prison staff. Seven times he set his cell on fire.
Like most prison guards, Jeff Bowers had already heard the stories about Willie Bosket when he learned Bosket was being moved to Woodbourne.
“My family was worried,” said Bowers, married and the father of three. “I imagine every family would be worried if you had to sit there 1-on-1 and deal with him.”
At Woodbourne, Bosket is never left with just one guard.
In November, 1986, Bosket began kicking and punching a prison guard while being taken to court, despite shackles at his hands and feet. He attacked a second guard who came to the aid of his colleague. Bosket had to be carried into the courtroom and later that day tried to attack another guard with a razor blade he had hidden in his pants.
Bosket thrives on attention, prison officials say, and it’s probably no coincidence that Porter was stabbed in full view of Matthew Worth, a newspaper reporter who was interviewing Bosket for a book he planned to write about him.
It was Worth’s last of at least 25 interviews he said he conducted after Bosket approached him at his trial and suggested the book. Worth said the biography is now on hold.
Bosket is intelligent and can be articulate, Worth said, and talks a lot about his father and how he wound up in prison the same way.
“He said he believes the system is largely responsible for his behavior and he’s now responding to the system the best way he knows how, and that’s through violence,” Worth said.
Since Porter’s stabbing, authorities have barred any interviews with the prisoner. Bosket wrote to social worker Sylvia Honig, asking to circulate a statement that described his condition as “horrendous.”
Honig said she worked with Bosket at a juvenile detention camp after his subway attacks and now is “like family” to him.
“As soon as Willie gets to relate to someone, he’s very nice to them,” she said. “He’s very nice to children, he’s very affectionate, he’s charming. He only hurts people he doesn’t know.”