Shahzad, who entered a guilty plea Monday in U.S. District Court to 10 terrorism and weapons counts, is likely to be sent to a supermax facility in Colorado or a medium/maximum facility in Indiana. Experts tell AOL News that while neither prison is a cushy destination, there are still significant differences between the two facilities.
"They are both no-nonsense prisons and the toughest in the U.S., but depending on which one he is sent to, there is a big difference in the amount of freedom he'll have," says Michael Griffith, senior partner at the International Legal Defense Counsel.
Larry Levine, founder of Wall Street Prison Consultants, agrees. "One is a maximum-security prison where you are locked down 23 hours a day, where at least at the other you can get out and socialize with people."
Terre Haute Federal Correctional Complex
For Shahzad, the more ideal of the two prisons he faces would be the Terre Haute Federal Correctional Complex in Terre Haute, Ind. Built in 1940, the prison sits on roughly 1,200 acres of land and is made up of both medium- and maximum-security facilities.
It is also home to the only death chamber for federal death penalty recipients. One of the last to be executed here was Timothy McVeigh, an American terrorist who bombed the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City in 1995.
Terre Haute houses a number of second-tier terrorism and high-profile inmates, including Dr. Rafil A. Dhafir, an Iraqi-born American physician sentenced to 22 years for violating Iraqi sanctions, and Enaam Arnaout, a Syrian American sentenced to 10 years for supporting fighters in Bosnia.
"It is more of a mainstream prison, where you are going to get commissary once a week or once every couple of weeks, and you are going to have a lot more privileges," Levine explains. "Some inmates have a job in food service or laundry, and others can get out of their cell for one hour a day for leisure time."
According to Felicia Ponce, a Federal Bureau of Prisons spokeswoman, inmates' security needs dictate whether they are allowed to work within the general population.
"Typically, every inmate who is medically able to work in our system has a job [at which] they would earn anywhere from 12 cents an hour to 40 cents an hour," Ponce tells AOL News. "If there is no proof of a high school diploma, they would be required to go to school part of the day as well."
Inmates who are determined to be a security risk have their activities restricted, but are still afforded other educational and recreational opportunities. They would just be in a "more controlled or supervised environment," Ponce said.
One of the biggest restrictions on inmates is communication with the outside world. All phone calls, letters and visits are strictly limited and monitored. Despite this, Terre Haute is far less restrictive than the "supermax" facility in Florence, Colo., another facility that might house Shahzad.
The Administrative Maximum (ADX) facility in Florence generally houses the offenders who require the tightest controls. The 37-acre, 490-bed prison has often been referred to as the Alcatraz of the Rockies, because of the isolated lives of its inmates.
"I don't know what hell is, but I do know ... this would be pretty close to it," former warden Robert Hood said in a 2007 interview with CBS's "60 Minutes."
Notable inmates incarcerated at ADX Florence include the "Unabomber," Theodore Kaczynski; Oklahoma City bombing conspirator Terry Nichols; and Eric Robert Rudolph, convicted of the 1996 Centennial Olympic Park bombing in Atlanta.
"[ADX] is where they hold the worst of the worst, in a cell, 23 hours a day," Griffith says. "The detention is strict and whenever they leave their cell they are always in double sets of shackles, on their feet and waist. The guards there are all no nonsense and look like they run defensive ends for the New York Giants."
The inmates' cells range from 77 to 87 square feet in size, and each has a small window with only a view of the sky and the facility's roof (thus preventing inmates from knowing their exact location in the facility). Some of the cells are also equipped with surveillance cameras.
"They got a toilet with no seat cover, the bunks are made out of a mold and everything is prefabricated cement," Griffith adds. "They do that so you can't hide stuff. It is a very sterile atmosphere."
No one has ever escaped. The prison has an advanced security system, with 1,400 remote-controlled doors and hundreds of motion detectors and surveillance cameras. Additionally, attack dogs guard the area between the prison and its surrounding 12-foot-high razor-wire fences.
Life Behind Bars
As bleak as the living conditions inside the two prisons sound, the biggest hurdle for Shahzad in either scenario may be the isolation.
"They call it 'Groundhog Day' because every day is like the last day," Levine says. "Nothing changes. In a 24-hour cycle [depending on the security level] he is never leaving the cell, so his meals will come to him, his mail will be delivered and he'll have zero contact with anyone."
Levine has personal experience with that isolation, having spent nearly a decade behind bars for drug-related charges. Nevertheless, he says there is a big difference between the time he served and the life sentence Shahzad faces.
"He has nothing to look forward to," Levine says. "Most guys [have] what is called your 'out date' -- the date you are getting released. Well, he's not. He is never getting out, so what does he have to look forward to?
"He would be better off committing suicide, but they are going to make sure he has nothing [with which] to do that."