Danbury prison life would be no picnic for Martha Stewart
The Associated Press
The millionaire is expected to spend 10 to 16 months sharing a toilet and working for about 12 cents an hour at the minimum-security women's prison, where the walls are drab concrete and the 1,300 inmates wear starched khaki jumpsuits.
"There's nothing soft or colorful or pleasant in the whole environment," said Caryl Hartjes, 68, a Roman Catholic nun who served three months at Danbury for trespassing during a protest against the U.S. military.
After Stewart's June 17 sentencing for lying about a stock sale, she is unlikely to remain free pending her planned appeal, former federal prosecutor Mike Simons said. A defendant can remain free on bond during appeal only if the trial judge certifies that there is a substantial issue that may make prison unlikely, said Simons, a professor at St. John's University School of Law in New York.
"You're asking the judge to certify that she may have made a mistake," said Simon, estimating that Stewart would be given a couple of weeks after sentencing to report to prison.
Stewart, who has a home and a TV studio in Westport, Conn., could be sent to any of several women's facilities. But the Bureau of Prisons tries to place inmates within 500 miles of home, making Danbury the most likely choice, followed by Alderson, W.Va., 550 miles away.
Her living situation would depend on whether she is assigned to Danbury's barracks-style prison camp or traditional cellblock housing. Either way, the queen of fine living would find things very different at Danbury.
She would be ordered to turn over all belongings upon arrival. Wedding bands are allowed, although Stewart is divorced. She would be strip-searched.
"There's a guard. It's not too private. It's in this little alcove," said Joyce Ellwanger, 67, of Milwaukee, who served time last year for the same protest as Hartjes. "The guard will tell you to squat and cough. Your clothes will be sent home."
Stewart then would receive her room assignment.
"When you hear this door slam behind you, you walk into a place full of sadness, bitterness and emptiness," said Susan McDougal, who served time in several prisons — though not Danbury — for refusing to testify in the Whitewater investigation.
"She's going to spend the first part of her time realizing life pretty much is over. You're getting broken down," McDougal said. "You understand that you're on somebody else's schedule, somebody else is in charge and nothing is yours."
If there is room in the 200-person prison camp and her probation officer's report recommends it, Stewart would be sent there. If not, she would be sent either to a two-person cell or to a shared cubicle within a wide-open dormitory.
The walls are plain concrete and cannot be decorated. Inmates can personalize their space by hanging up to four photographs in their lockers. Stewart, who advises visitors to her Web site to search out bed linens with high thread counts, would not enjoy such luxuries.
"I don't know what the fabric is," said Traci Billingsley, a spokeswoman for the Bureau of Prisons. "Just plain. It's just general military issue."
Stewart, 62, would have the bottom bunk because it is Danbury's policy not to put women older than 50 on the top.
Guards conduct security checks at 12:30 and 2:30 a.m. Inmates are not required to wake up, but sleeping through a flashlight sweep can be difficult.
At 5:30 a.m., all prisoners are required to stand by their beds to be counted. Stewart could be required to wake up by 4 a.m. for breakfast detail early in her sentence.
Inmates can request certain jobs, such as plumbing, electrical or maintenance work. But new arrivals and those with short sentences at Danbury tend to be assigned to kitchen work.
Her household talents could prove valuable: In some parts of the prison, those with the cleanest cells eat meals first.
"We had to mop out water from under our beds," Ellwanger said. "Any time it would rain or snow, we would have to get buckets and mops. Once, the sewer systems backed up into the kitchen, and we had to clean up the mess."
Inmates can sign up for classes, but they fill up quickly. A popular one is crocheting, although the prison picks the yarn colors.
"You can crochet all day, every day, when you're not working, and some women do," Hartjes said. "That's their way of escaping the mob and the noise."
Inmates in the prison camp can walk a track or play volleyball or softball.
Most people in low-security prisons are there for drug crimes. About 4 percent are white-collar criminals, according to the Bureau of Prisons.
"You meet judges and accountants, but you also meet the murderers," said Dorothy Gaines, 45, who was at Danbury before President Clinton commuted her drug sentence in 2000. "I was introduced to somebody who cooked their baby in a microwave."
Danbury prisoners already know they might be receiving famous company.
"It was the talk of the prison," said Ellwanger, who was at Danbury when Stewart was charged. "Maybe we'll get improvements. Maybe she'll clean up the place."
Information on Stewart's sentencing and appeal was provided by Bloomberg News.
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