Thursday, March 12, 2009
Sixty-Eight Days Until My Release From Federal Prison
I’ve been listening to a lot of news about Bernie Madoff. Today he was scheduled to appear in a Manhattan courtroom for a guilty plea. Many of Madoff’s victims were scheduled to testify in open court about the ways that Madoff’s Ponzi scheme influenced their lives. They wanted justice, and were upset that the worst he would suffer was life in club fed.
As I listened to the news reports about the reputed easy conditions of federal prison, I paused to think. It’s true that I’ve been limited to experience of confinement at Taft Camp but I’ve spoken with hundreds of other prisoners about experiences in confinement. The general consensus is that time in prison can be a severe sanction, though the prisoner can adjust in ways that will allow him to eke out an existence of meaning. Contrary to the public opinion being expressed through the Madoff scandal, prison is no club, fed or otherwise.
At the Taft camp, our living conditions are as good as anyone can expect for a prison. Really, it’s clean, relatively spacious, and I’ve never once felt threatened. As far as Maslow’s hierarchy is concerned, all of our basic needs are met. Those prisoners who can muster the discipline will adjust in ways to cope with the boredom and lessen the anxieties. Nevertheless, the stress of confinement persists.
I don’t know what length of sentence Madoff will receive. News reports have it at more than 100 years, though I suspect he will receive 20 years or less. If his sentence provides for a release date of fewer than 10 years, Madoff would likely serve his term within the boundaries of a minimum security camp. Any camp would have conditions similar to Taft.
A release date that extends more than 10 years will necessitate that Madoff serve his term inside a secure prison of either low or medium security. The conditions will differ depending on the security level. Either way, the possibilities for a sucessful prison adjustmemt exist. I’ve known many prisoners who have created lives of meaning in spite of their having served time in prisons of every security level.
Still, it is not a club fed. Regardless of where they serve time, all prisoners live lives of austerity. They are confined in concrete and steel. Madoff will likely receive a sentence that means he will die in prison. Prison administrators will dictate policies by which he must abide. They will determine his menu and the protions of food he eats. Rules will dictate how much time he can visit and how long he can talk on the phone. Other prisoners will complicate his time. There will be job requirements, recreational limitations, and a constant sense of dehumanization. A strong man can endure prison, amd some find strategies to thrive through the turmoil. There are personal adjustments, made possible by an individual’s attitude and will. There is only a myth of club fed, as Madoff may find out today that he is about to endure a prison term.