Cinderblock, Not Chintz For Martha

Martha stewart jail prison living magazine
CBS/AP
The Danbury Federal Correctional Institution has next to nothing in common with Martha Stewart's world of porcelain pudding bowls and Egyptian cotton bedding.

The millionaire who taught America how to make buckwheat pillows and decorate with doilies is expected to spend 10 to 16 months sharing a toilet and working for about 12 cents an hour at the minimum-security women's prison, where the walls are drab concrete and the 1,300 inmates wear starched khaki jumpsuits.

"There is no way U.S. District Judge Miriam Goldman Cedarbaum is going to throw the book at her when she gets the chance. But there is no way she can let her off with a minimal sentence. Stewart soon will have to direct her immense redecorating talents toward a tiny jail cell," says CBSNews.com Legal Analyst Andrew Cohen.

"There's nothing soft or colorful or pleasant in the whole environment," said Caryl Hartjes, 68, a Roman Catholic nun from Wisconsin who served three months at Danbury for trespassing during a protest against the U.S. military.

Stewart, who has a home and a TV studio in Westport, could be sent to any of several women's facilities when she is sentenced in June for lying about a stock sale. But the Bureau of Prisons tries to place inmates within 500 miles of home, making Danbury the most likely choice, followed by Alderson, W.Va., 550 miles away.

Stewart's living situation would depend on whether she is assigned to Danbury's barracks-style prison camp or traditional cellblock housing. Either way, the queen of fine living will find things very different at Danbury.

When she arrives, she will be ordered to turn over any belongings. Wedding bands are allowed, though Stewart is divorced. She will be quickly strip-searched.

"There's a guard. It's not too private. It's in this little alcove," said Joyce Ellwanger, 67, of Milwaukee, who served time last year for the same protest as Hartjes. "The guard will tell you to squat and cough. Your clothes will be sent home."

Then she will get her room assignment.

"When you hear this door slam behind you, you walk into a place full of sadness, bitterness and emptiness," said Susan McDougal, who served time in several prisons — though not Danbury — for refusing to testify in the Whitewater investigation.

"She's going to spend the first part her time realizing life pretty much is over. You're getting broken down," McDougal said. "You understand that you're on somebody else's schedule, somebody else is in charge and nothing is yours."

If there is room in the 200-person prison camp and her probation officer's report recommends it, she will be sent there. If not, she will be sent either to a two-person cell or to a shared cubicle within a wide-open dormitory.

The walls are plain concrete and cannot be decorated. Inmates can personalize their space by hanging up to four photographs in their lockers. Stewart, who advises visitors to her Web site to search out bed linens with high thread counts, will not enjoy such luxuries.

"I don't know what the fabric is," said Traci Billingsley, a spokeswoman for the Bureau of Prisons. "Just plain. It's just general military issue."

The 62-year-old Stewart will get the bottom bunk because Danbury policy does not put women over 50 on the top.

Guards conduct security checks at 12:30 a.m. and 2:30 a.m. Inmates are not required to wake up, but sleeping through a flashlight sweep can be difficult.

At 5:30 a.m. all prisoners are required to stand by their beds to be counted. Early in her sentence, however, Stewart could be required to wake up by 4 a.m. for breakfast detail.

Inmates can request certain jobs such as plumbing, electrical or maintenance work. But at Danbury, new arrivals and those with short sentences tend to get kitchen work, which involves a lot more cooking than a dinner party for 12.

Her household talents could prove valuable behind bars: In some parts of the prison, those with the cleanest cells get to eat meals first.

"We had to mop out water from under our beds," Ellwanger said. "Any time it would rain or snow, we would have to get buckets and mops. Once, the sewer systems backed up into the kitchen and we had to clean up the mess. "Inmates can sign up for classes, but they fill up quickly. A popular one is crocheting, though the prison picks the yarn colors.

"You can crochet all day, every day, when you're not working, and some women do," Hartjes said. "That's their way of escaping the mob and the noise."

In the prison camp, inmates can walk a track or play volleyball or softball.

Most of the people in low-security prisons are there for drug crimes. About 4 percent are white-collar criminals, according to the Bureau of Prisons.

"You meet judges and accountants, but you also meet the murderers," said Dorothy Gaines, 45, who was at Danbury before President Clinton commuted her drug sentence in 2000. "I was introduced to somebody who cooked their baby in a microwave."

Some will want to be Stewart's friends, but former inmates said she would be wise to keep to herself and be wary of women interested in her money. Already the prisoners at Danbury know they might be getting some famous company.

"It was the talk of the prison," said Ellwanger, who was at Danbury when Stewart was charged. "Maybe we'll get improvements. Maybe she'll clean up the place."