Daily Beast | 2015

Published January 16, 2015 by Michael Howard

How a ‘Real Housewife’ Survives Prison: ‘I Don’t See [Teresa Giudice] Having a Cakewalk Here’

What 15 months in a federal correction institution will be like, according to a man who counsels to-be inmates.

Real Housewives of New Jersey star Teresa Giudice turned herself in to serve a 15-month sentence for bankruptcy fraud. Teresa is reportedly going to a federal correction institution in Danbury, CT, the minimum-security women’s prison camp that inspired the Netflix series Orange is the New Black. Gone are the mansions and designer extravagances she’s accustomed to.

To better understand the world she’s about to enter, The Daily Beast interviewed an ex-convict prison consultant.

Larry Lavine is the director and founder of Wall Street Prison Consultants now that he’s completed his ten-year sentence for narcotics trafficking, securities fraud, racketeering, obstruction of justice, and hoarding machine guns. Having stayed in 11 prisons at every level in the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP), Larry now advises upcoming inmates on what to expect.

Can you give us a rundown on what Teresa’s new home is going to look like?

Danbury is what’s called an FCI—a federal correction institute. It’s a low. She is in custody, inside the fence. She’s going to be living in a dormitory-style cubicle with four or six inmates in bunk beds. She’ll have a footlocker that’s like 2-by-3 feet, and the footlockers are stacked. She’ll probably get an upper bunk when she gets there because lower bunks are at a premium… It’s harder to stab somebody on a high bunk, so I always said, “Fuck it. You take the lower bunk. I’ll take the high ground.”

They’re not going to have much floor space because the cubes are generally 10-by-10. Little common area. Thin mattresses. Thin pillows. These dormitories are very drafty and noisy, so it’s hard to get a good night’s sleep. Not to mention, you’ve seen women’s prisons on TV. You’ve got the staff trying to hit on you. It’s not all male, but there’s a lot of male staff. There is sexual harassment that goes on in these places—you can fucking bet on that. And she’s not really a bad looking woman.

So you’re saying rape culture is as prevalent in women’s prisons as it’s portrayed in men’s prisons?

Yes and no. She’s in a place where people have an out date. Everybody at her place is getting out one day, and they don’t want to stay there or get sent to a higher-level institution. If she gets bumped up to a higher-level institution, the chicks aren’t getting out and they don’t give a shit. What are you going to lock them up? Re-arrest them? So the likelihood is that she will not be assaulted. But there are a lot of women who go to these places and once they go to the inside, they find a lover. They need loving. They need comfort.

Because she’s high profile, predatory inmates might try to take advantage of her, or she may need protection. And how is she going to pay for protection? Other inmates may offer to protect her, but there’s a price.

Is the staff going to treat her any better—or worse—since she’s on TV?

You get these high-profile people that go into prison, and the staff abuse their authority. Prison authorities’ training is only 21 days—no joke. These people that work for the BOP are not rocket scientists. They’re under the impression that prisons would run better if there were no inmates. They abuse their power and authority.

When they get someone high profile, like the governor [Bob McDonnell] or like Teresa, they will abuse their positions. They want to demean them and treat them like shit. The BOP’s own mission statement says nothing about rehabilitation. These fucking cops are like crusaders. They are there to punish her.

They’re going to demean her and give her a shitty job. They’re not going to give her some high-profile job. They’re going to teach her a lesson. She’s got to worry about the other inmates, and she’s got to worry about the staff. I don’t see her having a cakewalk here. Is it a dangerous place, though? No, not really dangerous. There are much more dangerous places she could go to.

So Teresa doesn’t need to worry about making a shank?

Nah, you don’t need to make that. You can buy that. She could buy that off another inmate. There’s an underground black market in every prison. It thrives. But I don’t see her having to do that. If she got caught with a shank, they would up her custody level. If she really needs protection, I’m sure there are female inmates that will offer it up for a price.

If nobody on the outside will send Teresa money, should she learn a prison hustle? Like drawing tattoos, sewing earmuffs, or fashioning model airplanes from old chip bags?

Remember the Martha Stewart case? I was locked up with Martha Stewart’s stockbroker, Bacanovic, and this guy got more money in the mail from people he didn’t know. Kind of like Charles Manson. Chucky gets a lot of money in the mail too, because there are fucking cuckoos out there who send money. With people who are in the news and did something sensational, you’ll have some strangers send them money, and there’s no prohibition on someone sending her money. I suspect [Teresa] will get money sent in to her, so she can shop at the commissary.

Plus she can get a job while she’s in there. Does she have restitution or a fine?

Teresa has a restitution of $414,588.

They’ll probably put her at the inmate factory there so she can pay it off. It’s called UNICOR Federal Prison Industries. People with fines have priority on the UNICOR list.

(Note: UNICOR uses its inmates for everything from call center operators to human demolishers of old computers.)

Anything else we should know about life changes? Is she going to look any different when she’s in there?

These institutions are all overcrowded. When she wakes up at six o’clock in the morning, she’s going to have to run to the bathroom to wait in line for the toilet, sink, and showers. She’s only going to have maybe a half hour to 45 minutes to take care of her hygiene, make her bunk up, and get ready for work.

Between 6 AM and 7:15 AM, she’s got a lot of shit she’s got to do, and it’s not like she can leisurely run into the bathroom when she wants. She’s got to compete for time on the facilities there.

How much of her 15-month sentence will Teresa do?

She’s going to get two months off with good time. I figure she’ll get at least three months in a halfway house, which means she’ll be on the street living wherever—wearing normal clothes and visiting with her children. Time she’s really going to spend at Danbury? Ten months, maybe.

If she fucks up, she’ll lose the good time [and her low security level]. Moral of the story: Don’t be a fuck up.