This Is What Life Is Like In Witness Protection

By Kirsty 1 year ago

1. What Is Witness Protection?

Image Source / A&EWitness protection is what a person can go into if they are testifying on behalf of the law, and may face danger in speaking up. Witness protection is a security measure to protect a person and their family so they can't face retribution or retaliation by criminals who may target them, either before or after they have given testimony.

2. Plastic Surgery Actually Used To Be Given To Protected People

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It makes perfect sense that if you need to hide your identity, why not change what you look like completely? Though a little extreme, of course. But some witnesses were offered plastic surgery treatment if they would testify. But this stopped being an option in the 1990s.

3. It's Officially Known As The Witness Security Program

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Most of us would just say 'witness protection', or maybe only know it as witness protection, but its official name is the Witness Security Program, which is also the WITSEC. A lot of words and letters, as these things always have!

4. It's Not Actually Run By The FBI

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It's easy to assume that the FBI would be responsible for running the witness security program, or for arranging protection for witnesses, but that's actually not the case. It's the U.S. Marshals Service which runs it - and its director has said that because no one really knows how they protect witnesses, it's only a good thing!

5. Thousands Of People Have Been Part Of The Program

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There will be a lot more people than you maybe first thought who have been moved as part of the witness protection program - it actually totals in the thousands! Around 19,000 people - including witnesses and their families - have been moved.

6. And There's Apparently A 100-Percent Success Rate

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It's apparently not how it's depicted in the crime movies when you see a person being under protection but the criminal always seems to somehow find out where they are and get payback! Apparently the program has a 100% success rate for those people moved!

7. The Program Began Back In 1970 Because Of The Organized Crime Control Act

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So why and when did witness protection even start? Apparently, when the Organized Crime Control Act of 1970 came about, there was part of the act that stated witnesses would be protected by the government. This was around the time when the mafia would plan to kill witnesses.

8. And Gerald Shur Was The Founder

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Gerald Shur originally worked for the Justice Department when he founded the Witness Security Program and then worked as its head for around 25 years. Now sadly passed away, Shur even co-wrote a book about 'inside' the Witness Protection Program.

9. There Are Certain Rules If You Want To Enter The Program

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The success of being in the program depends on you following the rules. The rules include a huge list that people have to sign and agree to. Some of the rules include the promise to be a 'good' person and to live a normal life.

10. And, Of Course, You Have To Be At Risk

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And one of the biggest rules of course is that you actually need to be at risk in the first place to be able to enter the program. It's not for any person who simply agrees to the list of rules provided - there has to be a foundation of being in danger.

11. There Is An Orientation - Which Is The First Thing A Witness Will Need To Do

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The orientation that witnesses have to go through is very long and detailed, with many different parts to it. It isn't just sitting in a room watching a PowerPoint presentation! Witnesses will attend the WITSEC Safesite and Orientation Center in Washington, D.C. to take part in this orientation.

12. They Will Go Through A Variety Of Exams

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Witnesses will need to go through a fair few exams during this time. This includes a psychological evaluation, as well as physical exams for medical checks and dental records. During this time, they'll also be interviewed about their job skills so that they can be placed with a new job they'll be capable at.

13. There Will Be Other Families At The Center, Too

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It isn't just one family or person at a time to attend the center for these exams. Multiple people or families needing witness protection will be at the center for the orientation at the same time - but obviously can't be made aware of each other's identities, so are placed in separate rooms for the duration.

14. They Will Be Given A New Name

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With a new protected identity comes a new name. The focus here is a surname change, as this is the most recognisable individual or family name. The person then has the option of keeping their original first name if they don't want to change that, too (which is understandable, because it's hard to shake the first name you've always had!).

15. Witness Protection Was Actually A Thing Before WITSEC Officially Began

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There were actually people being protected before an official protection program was put into place. One of these people actually (sort of) ended up being an inspiration for the program to be made. The man was Joe Valachi, who testified against people within the Mafia in exchange for protection in prison. This made government officials realise that offering protection was a good incentive for criminals to testify.

16. One Of The Early Cases Was A Man Named Barboza - But It Didn't Go To Plan

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After the program officially started, it apparently had a few teething issues if its early participant Joseph Barboza was anything to go by. Also known as 'The Animal', Barboza was a murderer who was given a new identity after he testified against the mob. Unfortunately, it's alleged Barboza could have then killed again - before he was shot dead (possibly by the mob he testified against!).

17. Most Of The People In Witness Protection Are Criminals

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Witness protection isn't just for innocent everyday people who want to testify against criminals - for the large part of it, it's mostly criminals needing protection from other criminals. An estimated 95% of people in the program are some variety of criminal - and some may go on to still commit crimes.

18. New Identity Documents Are Given To Witnesses In The Program

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Witnesses then, of course, need new identity documents to correspond with their new names and addresses. This will include legal documents like birth certificates and driving licences, as well as new Social Security numbers and having their new names become legalized.

19. If There Are Children In The Program, Their School Records Will Be Changed

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If families go into the program with children at school, then their school records will be updated with their new legal names. Originally, though, a few parents had issue with the updated reports, thinking that they needed to be improved, but apparently Gerald Shur refused.

20. A Furnished House, A School Nearby And Other Amenities Are Always Taken Into Account

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During the relocation arrangements, too, it will always be made sure that there are schools, houses with furniture and religious places like churches available in the new area for them so that they can make sure to have what they need from both a new home and community.

21. Witnesses Are Also Given Money, Too

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Witnesses also receive a financial sum during the relocation and protection process. This would amount to around six months worth of a fixed sum, which would take into account the cost of living for the new area.

22. Witnesses Would Be Asked Where They'd Most Like To Go - And Then Not Be Sent There

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In order to best protect them, the witnesses would be asked for a list of places they'd most like to go, so that the program could send them somewhere different. This is because it was believed if a person or families really wanted to go somewhere, they'd likely have told somebody else that during their life - so it made sense to send them somewhere they'd least like to go.

23. But The Program Still Tries To Accommodate The Type Of Area They'd Feel Most Comfortable In

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If a person said they'd most like to go to New York City, they then wouldn't be sent to live in the middle of a snowy Alaskan forest. The program would still take into account their location preferences, such as if they felt more confident operating a large city than a rural village.

24. Some Witnesses Can Make Some Pretty Worrying Requests

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One person going into the program apparently asked its founder, Shur, for something quite worrying - for his wife to be left out of the program so he could get a new life with his girlfriend and so that his wife would most probably be murdered without protection - and therefore out of the picture! Needless to say, Shur refused!

25. Every Witness Is Given A U.S. Marshal

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It's likely that a witness who is particularly threatened, such as in a very dangerous high-profile situation, will have 24/7 security from a U.S. Marshal. This only counts for before they're officially given a new identity. After that, in their new home, they need to touch base with the marshal every now and again (usually once a year).

26. Witnesses Are Allowed Communication With People They've Left Behind - But There Are Rules

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Of course, not everyone can go into witness protection, and some people may be leaving behind family and friends. They're allowed to write to them during a secure mail program, but the letters have to be destroyed after reading. They can also use a secure phone line through the program.

27. There Isn't Just One Traditional Version Of The Program

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Witness protection isn't always about the name and identity change before relocating. Not everyone in the program will have this traditional treatment, as people in prison can also get protection through the program, too. This can include a name change and even special meals or privileges if they testified.

28. The Program Isn't Foolproof, Unfortunately

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The program does have an amazing track record, as mentioned with the 100% success rate, but that doesn't mean it isn't vulnerable to failure. There has actually been one case of two separate witnesses who relocated, but actually knew each other from before. So when they happened to run into each other during their new lives... they recognised each other!

29. There Had To Be A Change In WITSEC Policy After One Father Couldn't See His Child When They Went Into Protection

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It's a tricky situation if two parents are divorced and only one of them goes into protection with the children. This happened to a man named Thomas Leonhard, when his ex wife married a mafia informant. The wife, the informant and Thomas's children were put into witness protection, where Thomas couldn't see or speak to his children. He actually sued the U.S. government, and relevant changes were made to the program where children are involved.

30. Some Of The Program's Rules Have Been Broken By Witnesses

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Some witnesses evidently don't understand the severity of some dangers - as was the case with a man named Daniel LaPolla. He was placed into protection but broke the rules when he decided to return to where he originally lived to attend a funeral. Whilst there, he went to his old house - which had a bomb planted, which then killed him.

31. It has been compared to a bereavement

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People within the programme have likened the whole process to bereavement. This is because the person who is entering the programme is leaving everything they know and love behind. Not only are they losing one loved ones for example, but everyone they know and love as well as their life as they know it.

32. It can happen very suddenly

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Witness protection can happen all of a sudden with no preparation. You may not feel like you have time to prepare, either in the physical sense or the emotional sense. You may just get a call, which will say we are picking you up to night and transferring you somewhere.

33. You can NEVER reveal where you are

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Under no circumstances, must you ever reveal to anybody where you are or what you are doing there - as the most obvious and important rule. As soon as you reveal this to one person, the whole programme is under jeopardy and your cover could be blown at any moment.

34. It is frightening

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It is a frightening thing, witness protection. Not just the process, but even once you have a new identity and location. Because you never really trust anybody properly. It can take a while to feel properly safe. Some people under witness protection never really do again.

35. They try to recreate their lifestyle

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Witness protection programmes try to replicate people's current lifestyle. For example, with witness protection, the police cannot be seen to be bribing their witness through rewarding them with a luxury lifestyle or an upgraded lifestyle. For this reason, they try to replicate it rather than better it.

36. It is not glamourous

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In the movies, it can sometimes be seen to be glamorous - that you are located in some big luxury house with a big amount of money in the bank. One woman revealed that it is not like this at all. No, you are no better, or no worse off than you were before.

37. Some of the criminals have committed serious crimes

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But when they enter into the witness protection scheme, they are treated the same as everybody else. Their background and what they have done is no longer considered, as they are someone in need of protection and they do their job the same as they would with anybody.

38. It can make you paranoid

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Carla was a woman who entered the witness protection scheme. She spoke about how paranoid she was at the beginning. She would not trust anybody, to the point where she would not go out of the house or let anyone in - even when she needed gas assistance.

39. For criminals it is a fresh start

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criminals, the programme offers a completely fresh start and a new chance at life somewhere nobody knows they were ever a criminal. Nobody knows your name, your background and criminal history so they get to totally start again. They are not prejudiced against as a known criminal.

40. For can feel like a punishment

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For Carla, she was forced onto the programme when a man who raped here would not leave her alone and he was a threat to her life. He was sent to jail, but he was still allowed to see his family. But for her, she was separated from her family, never able to return.

41. You sometimes have to make sacrifices

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Carla, had to make huge sacrifices. She had to choose between her own life - because this man was trying to kill her - and being with her two children. She did not have custody. In the end, she entered onto the programme and had to stay away from her children.

42. They are sometimes allowed to keep their first name

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It is last names which are really the identifying part of our name. It is our last name that is important in documents etc. So, sometimes people are actually allowed to use their first name still. Or even their initials, keeping the letters but changing the name.

43. They have to practice writing their name

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Before people enter witness protection, they may have to practice writing their name. Because when they go to sign things, habit can sometimes resort to you writing your own name. Which would look suspicious. It is even more important that children know how to write their name because it will be harder for them to spell.

44. Some parents as for better grades

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When someone gives into witness protection, all of their records are replicated and changed slightly. The essentials stay the same, but of course any name or identifying factors are changed. Some parents even ask for their children's grades to be changed and marked up. Of course, this is refused.

45. They have to be self sufficient

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When you are part of witness protection, you have to be self-sufficient because you no longer have anybody to rely on. Thos is expected after 6 months. As we know, they are given money to last for 6 months and after that they are expected to be independent and earning their own wages,

46. If they remarry, they still have to lie

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When people have relocated, settled and created a new life for themselves, sometimes they remarry. But this person only known your fake identity. They are never supposed to know your old identity, the old you. So, they really are marrying a brand-new person with a fake background.

47. Different states have different programmes

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Witness protection programmes are not the same everywhere. In fact, they vary from state to state. So, each will have slightly different rules and instructions as part of their programmes. However, the essentials are usually in line with one another.

48. When you break the rules, it is dangerous

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Breaking the rules is a terrible idea when you are part of witness protection. In the case of Daniel LaPolla, he decided to break the rules so that he could return to his old home and attend a funeral. As soon as he arrived home, the door set off explosions which had been rigged and he died.

49. It is VERY lonely

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There have been many accounts from those in witness protection. One of the overarching shared experiences is loneliness. As an adult with a life, you have constructed and a whole network of people, starting again with no one is a lot to handle. It is usually easier on children who adapt and have less to leave behind.

50. People do not know that you disappeared as part of the programme

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It is not as though you can tell people, I will be joining the witness protection programme - you'll never see me again. It can be very hard. Because people in your life will have no idea where you have gone. So, you have to disappear with no explanation to anybody.

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