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"This is a bad, bad town."
It's still not certain that Coleman prison is Lord Black's destination, as his trial lawyers requested. That decision will be made closer to his March 3 surrender date, depending on space availability.
But because he has been allowed to keep his Palm Beach mansion, and prison authorities try to keep inmates within a day's drive of their homes, Florida looks to be a good bet. (A low-security facility in Miami has been cited as a possible alternative to Coleman.) Wherever he lands, he will have to serve at least 85 per cent of his 6½ years before any chance of parole.
So if he does check into Coleman, what might a day in his life look like?
It will start at 6 a.m., when he rises to don a white or grey T-shirt, khaki pants and black, lace-up work shoes.
There won't be much by his bedside. Personal belongings from the outside world are limited to religious texts and artifacts, medical needs such as eyeglasses or dentures, wedding rings, family photographs and legal paperwork.
But under rules that have toughened in recent years, most of those items are shipped in post-arrival. "You're basically not allowed to bring anything in when you get here," Mr. Ratledge said.
Privacy, too, is at a premium. Showers are taken in a communal setting and there are no doors on the toilet cubicles.
Breakfast and other meals are heavy on high-carb, high-fat staples: meat, eggs, bread, pasta, potatoes, vegetables, canned fish, canned fruit and vending machine snacks, washed down with coffee, water and juice.
As a new arrival, Lord Black's 40-hour work week will likely begin with kitchen duties, peeling potatoes and washing dishes perhaps, punctuated by a mid-afternoon head count back in his dorm.
Other daily tasks involve buffing floors, cleaning sinks and toilets, taking out trash and yard work, which, along with exercise, allows many white-collar criminals to shed a few kilos while incarcerated and, in Florida, to emerge with a suntan.
But none of that compensates for the crashing tedium of prison life.
His day's work done, Lord Black will be able to watch television, read newspapers, correspond via screened mail, and enjoy short, non-conjugal visits where inmates and approved loved ones and friends can talk and hug each other but not much more.
Visits take place in a locked room, in plain sight of the main lobby, lined with hard chairs and notices in English and Spanish urging all to keep the place tidy "and be mindful that the inmates clean this area."
Telephone contact, however, is limited to 300 minutes a month and, perhaps toughest of all for a press mogul who thrived on information, there is no Internet access, and no e-mail.
"That's the thing everybody wants but nobody gets," said the prison guard at the gas station. "There's good reasons for that; imagine the security problems."
In a televised interview this week, imprisoned former Tyco International Inc. chief executive Dennis Kozlowski, serving eight to 15 years for looting his company, described his fall from grace as a horrible adjustment, "a very, very significant change in your life." As for advice for Lord Black, "he should start thinking about the books he's going to be writing." Mr. Kozlowski said.
Thinking about those books, however, is about as far as Lord Black will be able to get, since he won't be able to write for publication while behind bars.
"We don't allow that," Mr. Ratledge said.
And if he wants simply to research subject matter, that too will be problematic, unless he can find what he needs in the prison library. Legal documents aside, inmates are not allowed to have materials shipped in.
His money won't be much help, either. Aside from his prison wages, which eventually can top out at $1.15 an hour, inmates may spend a maximum of $290 a month at the prison commissary from their own savings.
Mr. Ratledge would not speculate on how Lord Black might fare at Coleman, if he is sent there.
But writer and formerly imprisoned mail-fraud artist David Novak, author of Downtime: A Guide to Federal Incarceration, says one of the keys to survival in low security is minding one's own business, not least because many of the drug offenders have earned relatively light sentences by co-operating with authorities and are regarded as snitches.
Guards and inmates don't view white-collar felons with much enthusiasm either, according to Mr. Novak.
"Here's a guard looking at someone who made more money than he'll ever make, and who had the world by the tail and blew it."