Friday, March 13, 2009

Sixty-Seven Days Until My Release From Federal Prison

As I expected, the news has been filled with reports of Bernard Madoff’s imprisonment.  He pleaded guilty to 11 counts of fraud in a Manhattan courtroom yesterday, and the judge ordered the US Marshal to lock him in prison after the hearing.  His life of luxury has come to an end.

Although Madoff’s sentencing date is not scheduled until June,  I doubt that he will ever live outside of prison custody again.  He looks healthy in the pictures I’ve seen of him, but the man is 70.  With all of the billions that he swindled, the judge is likely to impose a term of more than 20 years.

Madoff spent his first night in the Metropolitan Correctional Center, known as MCC in New York.  It is a high-rise detention center that confines prisoners of every security level as they await the conclusion of legal proceedings.  He will likely remain in the MCC until late summer.  Last night, I suspect the guards locked him in a solitary cell.  He has received so much publicity that the guards will wait to evaluate him closely before they immerse him into the population.

I’ve never been held in a detention center, but through my work of learning more about the prison system, I’ve interviewed many prisoners who told me about their experiences.  Clearly,  Madoff is frightened.  He has lived a life of pampering, and now his dignity has been stripped.  Although I feel sorry for the many victims that have lost their life savings to Madoff’s fraud, I cannot help but feel a measure of empathy for the man.  Like me, he is now a prisoner.  He will suffer the rest of his life.

In the isolation cell, Madoff will have his first exposure to concrete and steel.  The forced air that blasts into the cell will keep him hot or cold.  He will not be able to escape the noise that ricochets off the walls from the hundreds of other angry prisoners who are locked in adjacent cells.  His nostrils must adjust to the ever present stench of dried urine.  The thin mattress on which he must sleep and the wool blankets he will receive, will have indelible stains of semen.  The days of fine Egyptian cotton are over.

After several days, guards may allow Madoff to transfer to a general housing unit.  Some of the prisoners will target him for exploitation of some sort, and others will show obsequious or deference.  Some will offer a hand at protection, but that will come at a price.  In time he will adjust, but from what I understand, those initial days, weeks and months will be the worst for Madoff. It may be worse if some of the prisoners have family members or loved ones who have been victimized by Madoff’s deceit.  There is a lot of anger and hostility inside those locked prisons, and prisoners can avenge perceived wrongs for the price of a chocolate bar.

I am grateful to have served my sentence inside a minimum security camp.  In camps, prisoners do not suffer the chaos that Madoff has now begun.  As Shakespeare wrote more than four centuries ago, it is a tangled web that we weave.

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