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The future: prison sweats and menial labour

A Chicago court yesterday endorsed a Florida facility, but wherever he goes, Lord Black will need to be humble

From Tuesday's Globe and Mail

For a man used to the finest things, club fed is going to be an adjustment for Conrad Black.

Sentenced yesterday to 6½ years in a U.S. prison, Mr. Black will likely spend his days doing menial jobs for up to 20 cents an hour, wear grey sweats, eat cafeteria spaghetti during his downtime and be limited to about 10 minutes of phone conversation a day, experts say.

The once expansive universe of the globetrotting Lord Black of Crossharbour will be limited to crammed communal housing, where he'll sleep in bunk beds or maybe a small cubicle he can call his own. He will be allowed no conjugal visits with wife, Barbara Amiel.

"It is going to be very difficult," said Ed Bales, managing director for a business called Federal Prison Consultants. "Granted he's a Lord and got a lot of things going for him, but money is not necessarily going to help him."

Mr. Bales, who runs a "prison-preparation" consultancy in Delaware, made his remarks after a judge recommended that Mr. Black begin serving his sentence this spring at a federal prison in Florida.

The U.S. Bureau of Prisons will ultimately decide where Lord Black goes, including whether he is sent to a fenceless prison camp or a fenced-in low-security prison. Yesterday, the Chicago court first suggested Lord Black serve his term at Elgin prison camp in a U.S. military base (which was actually closed last year) but later endorsed a facility at Coleman, Fla., north of Orlando.

There, in the self-proclaimed cabbage capital of the world, a series of prisons house more than 5,000 inmates in various levels of security. Recent prisoners of note include a bank robber known as the Band-Aid Bandit, a former KGB spy and famed shoemaker (and financial fraudster) Steve Madden.

The federal prison drew a lot of attention in 2004, when it was listed as a possible destination for television's domestic maven Martha Stewart after she was convicted for lying about a stock transaction. (In the end, she didn't do time there.) The Florida facility's website says the standard uniform for prisoners is optional button-down shirts, white or grey T-shirts, khaki pants and black work shoes. Prisoners must subject themselves to a pat-down every time they meet a visitor, in a room where the only food that's allowed is sold by vending machines. Visitors, who are specifically banned from wearing plunging necklines and spandex pants, have to walk through metal- and drug-scanners to enter the visiting room.

"It's probably one of the nicest ones of the group, in comparison to some of the other places," Mr. Bales said. But he added that U.S. prison conditions have generally become more punitive over time, thanks in part to budget cuts.

Much will depend on the warden who gets to be Lord Black's minder. Looming court battles could also play a role in determining conditions. Because he is a non-citizen, Lord Black would have to fight to get into a "camp," as such white-collar institutions, which are usually denied to foreigners, are called.

Wherever he goes, Lord Black will have to subsist on the standard prison allowance of about $300 a month drawn from his own savings. He could supplement that with whatever he earns hourly by toiling in the standard white-collar prison jobs, such as tutoring fellow prisoners.

Paid work beyond prison jobs is not allowed. It's likely Lord Black would be banned from writing any books or any magazine articles.

But one thing is clear: Any show of arrogance will not endear him to his handlers inside the U.S. prison system. Guards who make a relative pittance can grow resentful of rich prisoners who they might feel need to be taken down a peg or two.

Inmates "need to be as humble as possible," Mr. Bales said. He recalled the case of one client who surrendered to prison officials in a limousine.

That client got a job working in the prison dish-room for three months, he said, amid much steam and heat.


Coleman Federal Correctional Complex

One of the largest federal prisons, it has facilities for low-, medium- and high-security inmates, both male and female. Conrad Black would serve in the low-security wing.

Location Coleman, Fla.

Opened 1996

Number of low-security

inmates 2,012

Inmate uniform Shirt, T-shirt (white or grey), pants, belt, socks and black shoes.

Number of visits Prisoners gets nine points a month to use toward outside visitors. Visits on Saturday or Sunday cost three points, weekdays are one point. Federal holidays need no points.

Maximum visitors prisoners allowed at one time Four (not including children under 16).

Business dealings No inmate is permitted to engage actively

in a business or profession while incarcerated.

Displays of affection

Inmates are allowed to kiss

and embrace visitors only at the beginning and end of a visit.

Visitor dress Visitors must avoid clothing styles that are in any way suggestive. This includes see-through or very tight-fitting garments, bathing suits, halter or sleeveless tops, plunging necklines or garments that expose private parts. Skirts, shorts, culottes and dresses must be no higher than five centimetres above the top of the knee. Excessive jewellery is forbidden and it's recommended women visitors avoid underwire bras, to avoid setting off the metal detector.

Source: Federal Bureau of Prisons

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