Imagining Martha's Prison Life

Homemaking and publishing icon Martha Stewart, convicted of obstructing justice and lying to the government about a suspicious stock sale, will likely serve time in federal prison. (The charges carry up to 20 years in prison, but Stewart will most certainly get much less than that under federal sentencing guidelines.)

But the question on everyone's lips is: How will Stewart survive in prison?

One woman who knows only too well about life behind bars is Susan McDougal, who told all in her recently published book, "The Woman Who Wouldn't Talk."

She tells The Early Show co-anchor Julie Chen, given the fact Stewart is rich and famous, inmates would know who she is. "Everyone there will be waiting for her," McDougal says. "But there will be some who are lawyers, who are doctors, who are there on federal charges, who come from very nice backgrounds and who will befriend her and she'll have people she can talk to and friends that she can trust in there.

"And then there will be inmates who resent her for her wealth and for her notoriety and they'll be looking to take her down a notch or two verbally. I never saw anyone just seriously go after another inmate in federal prison. What happens is, there is a harsh word or a fight breaks out and people get hurt. But she'll be fine."

Having served a two-year prison sentence for a 1996 fraud conviction related to loans obtained illegally from the Small Business Administration, McDougal says, like any place, prison is cliquish.

She says, "Across the board, I made friends with those women. It's just like in the world every day. You have friends that check you out at the grocery store that you like and you smile at. And then you may go home and you may be a doctor and have friends within your circle. It's the same in jail. There are nice people from all walks. It is sort of cliquish with your educational background and things like that. But there are good people in every one of those circles."

And yet, McDougal predicts that the atmosphere would be overwhelmingly depressing for Stewart. "It takes you over, because those women are in desperate situations. They've lost their families. They've just gone through a trial where they've been convicted and found guilty and their lives are over, too. So you're in an atmosphere of defeat and pain."

Her advice for Stewart is to take the time to reflect on her life. She says, "It's a wonderful time when you're unable to control anything in your environment to take a deep breath, be still and say: How do I want to live the rest of my life? And I'm going to start this minute doing it. I'm going to let go of the things that are out of my control and I'm going to try to stay focused on taking care of myself as being positive in this environment that is so desperately sad and depressing. And I would tell her try not to complain. Try to see the good parts of when she's there. And work on herself. I don't think she's had much time in her life to do that."

As an inmate, Stewart will have to work at a job that will be assigned to her. McDougal notes, "I didn't work because I was in there for civil contempt and I wasn't there for a criminal offense. So if you're there for a criminal offense, you are assigned a work detail. And most of the women I went in with began cleaning pots and the heavy things that are in the kitchen. And they're enormous. They're very heavy. And there were 65-, 70-year-old women working in the kitchen and doing hard, hard things to do."

But the longer you are in prison, she says, the better the jobs get. "But, believe me, nobody walks in the door and gets to work at the easy jobs," she adds.

McDougal was the former partner in the Whitewater land deal with President Bill Clinton and Hillary Rodham Clinton. In her biography, "The Woman Who Wouldn't Talk," she writes about Whitewater, including the background to her decision not to testify to Ken Starr's committee before a grand jury, her subsequent nearly two-year imprisonment, (1996-98) and her eventual vindication, when she was cleared of criminal charges on all counts.
  • Tatiana Morales

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