"I thought for sure, after what happened to me, they wouldn't allow them to have the same things," stated Louis Pepe.
What had happened to Louis, occured while he was working as a federal corrections officer in Metropolitan Correction Center, Manhatten NY, on November 1 2000. Pepe was escorting Mamdouh Mahmud Salim from the recreation room where he was meeting his attorneys back to his cell to get some paperwork. Salim had been awaiting trial in connection with the 1998 bombings of U S Embassies in Kenya and Tanzania.
At some point, Salim, with the assistance of his cellmate, Tanzanian embassy bomber, Khalfan Khamis Mohamed, attempted to grab the keys from Pepe. Salim later stated that he had hoped to get the keys, get back into the room with the attorneys and assault them, in an attempt to gain new attorneys. Mohamed sprayed a mixture of Tabasco sauce and pepper into Pepe's eyes and Salim stabbed him in the eye with a "comb-knife."
The comb stabbed three inches into his skull and has left Pepe missing his left eye and after almost 28 months in the hospital, only about 40% of the vision in his right eye. He also mostly paralyzed on the right side of his body, wheelchair-bound and severe brain damage has left it difficult for him to speak.
The comb that Salim turned into a weapon is not available for sale in the prison commissary anymore. What had outraged Pepe is that the other item used in his attack still is available to prisoners to purchase.
On July 31 2007, the New York Daily News ran a photograph of failed shoe bomber Richard Reid was run on the front page. That photo shows Reid sitting in his cell in the Supermax federal prison in Colorado and clearly in the background, sits a "honey bear."
"The point my brother is trying to make is that this is a squeeze jar that can be used to propel a substance into a guard's eyes," stated Eileen Trotta, Pepe's sister.
Sen Chuck Schumer ( D-NY ) has said that the alarm on this danger has already been rung when he agrees with Pepe. He stated that they do know from cases such as Pepe's, the serious harm that can occur with spray bottles such as these when they get into the hands of prisoners. Schumer feels that the Bureau of Prisons should be agressively working to eliminate a potential weapon like that before more guards are put at risk of danger.
Felicia Ponce, spokeswoman for the Bureau of Prisons, declined to speak about Reid's incarceration but she did state that prisoners are permitted to purchase items in the commissary. Some of those items such as food and shampoo are sold in plastic bottles but she added that the commissary doesn't sell pepper, hot sauces or any type of seasonings.
Salim pleaded guilty to two charges and the government agreed to drop eight others in relation to the attack on Pepe. He is currently serving a 32 year sentence in prison. Reid is serving a life sentence in federal prison for trying to bring down a Miami-bound jet on December 22 2001.
While they may not sell those particular items, there are plenty of others that could be put into a squeeze bottle such as the "honey bear" and used to blind a guard. I find it difficult to understand how a prisoner can be allowed to possess a container like that, when we can't even take something like that on a plane these days.
Of note: photo of a similar product to what Reid has within his prison cell and a photo of Louis Pepe and his sister Eileen Trotta.