A&E Real Crime | 2019

Published Feb 14, 2019 by Laura Barcella

What is Chris Watts’ Life Like in Prison

Chris Watts, the 33-year-old Colorado man who pleaded guilty to killing his pregnant wife, Shanann, and their two young daughters in November 2018, probably hasn’t had it easy since he began serving time for his heinous crimes.

Ever since the story broke, true-crime obsessives around the globe have been fixated on Watts and the tragic deaths of the family he claimed to love: his wife Shanann, 34, was strangled, while daughters Bella, 4, and Celeste, 3, had been smothered. Watts dumped the children’s bodies in remote oil tanks where he worked, and he buried his wife’s body in a shallow grave nearby.

Since a judge sentenced Watts to life in prison without possibility of parole in November 2018, verified news about Watts has been somewhat scarce, though speculation has been rampant (especially after his mistress, Nichol Kessinger, came forward to tell her story). But what is Watts’ life like now? This is what we know.

Chris Watts Was Moved to Wisconsin
On December 3, 2018 Watts was transferred from a Colorado prison to Dodge Correctional Institution in Waupun, Wisconsin. “He has been moved out of Colorado for security concerns due to him being a high-profile offender,” Mark Fairbairn, a Colorado Department of Corrections spokesperson, stated at the time. But what does that mean?

Larry Levine, director of Wall Street Prison Consultants— and a former federal inmate himself, who now advises people on how to survive life behind bars— believes Watts was most likely getting threatened at his previous prison, prompting the move to Wisconsin.

“Colorado is a big state, but Watts’ crime touched the community on a lot of levels,” Levine says. “People who [commit crimes against] children … are the most hated people on the inside. He couldn’t just blend in. Everybody knows who he is. He was probably getting death threats.”

Inmates can be moved between states under the Interstate Corrections Compact, and the decision to transfer a prisoner out of state is initiated by the state where he or she was first convicted (in Watts’ case, Colorado). The originating state also pays the transportation costs associated with moving prisoners like Watts to-and-fro, including bringing them back to their home states for any impending court dates.

What’s the Dodge Correctional Institution Like?
Dodge Correctional Institution, Watts’ new home, is a maximum-security, men-only correctional facility that used to be a state psychiatric hospital called the Central State Hospital for the Criminally Insane. Serial killer Ed Gein was housed there, as well as Chris Coleman, an Illinois man who was sentenced to death in 2011 for killing his wife and two sons.

It’s unclear exactly why Watts was sent to this particular prison, but in December some media outlets reported he might be transferred from Dodge to another prison within the state. Because of his high-profile crimes, Watts’ life would be endangered no matter what facility he’s in, and the risks attached to him being kept in general population would be far greater than if he’s kept in solitary confinement.

Watts’ Future Looks Bleak…No Matter Where He’s Imprisoned
According to Levine, Watts will be a loathed and targeted man by both inmates and corrections officers alike—no matter where he goes. “Inmates were most likely taunting him in Colorado, so they sent him out of state where emotions aren’t as high. Corrections officers in Colorado probably wanted him dead too,” Levine says.

Though details have not been released about the conditions Watts is currently being kept in—in other words, whether he’s being held in general population, protective custody, etc.—Levine believes there’s a good chance Watts is being isolated from other prisoners for his own protection. If he were in general population, or even if he had a cellmate, “Someone would get to him. He will become a target of opportunity,” Levine says.

“His whole existence is sitting in a prison cell 23/7,” Levine speculates. “He probably gets let out for an hour a day. He is probably in [some kind of] isolation unit; he doesn’t have a cellmate.”

The activities that Watts can do? Reading and writing letters, for one. “His biggest thing would be getting letters from women who want to marry him,” Levine says.

In fact, Watts has been receiving love letters from both women and men since he first landed in jail; these much-publicized missives, which were publicly released in the prosecution’s massive discovery files, included women sending bikini shots, among other things.

Watts may also be reading books and potentially receiving visitors, though it’s unclear who is visiting him these days.

“They’re probably sending a psychiatrist to talk to him; [He might be] on psych meds,” Levine says. “They have to keep him stabilized and in his right mind, but for what? He has nothing to look forward to, and he’s never getting out.