Larry Levine Globe And Mail Article

Copyright 2008 Globe And Mail                                       By Simon Avery                                 March 4, 2008


New inmate will face germs, overcrowding and lack of privacy

Conrad Black will wake up this morning in a narrow prison dormitory bunk, and if his defense team has been smart, it will have found a medical reason for him to have been assigned the lower mattress, sparing him the need to haul his hefty frame above his bedmate.

If he slept at all the first night, the first real sounds he’ll hear will be a federal prison guard hollering orders at 6 a.m. to rouse the overcrowded unit. Then he will witness a frantic race among his new neighbors to the limited number of sinks, toilets and showers.His prison-issued bar of soap will make cheap-motel toiletries feel luxurious, and until he gets his first weekly trip to the commissary, he will be in dire need of a pair of shower shoes.

“The dorms are a germ factory,” said Larry Levine, who recently finished a 10-year stint in the federal prison system and now runs American Prison Consultants to advise inmates and their families.

Mildew, fungi and bodily fluids stain the floors and walls of the tiny shower stalls. But with luck, another business-savvy inmate will lend Lord Black some of his surplus supplies from the commissary, called “smack items,” for future financial considerations.

The media mogul’s stature will ensure that other inmates reach out, Mr. Levine predicted. “Everyone will want to be his friend. They will be looking to him to help them out, maybe to borrow money. He will get no peace and quiet.”

Inmates are allowed to spend up to $290 (U.S.) a month at the commissary and they can pay for up to 300 minutes of phone time, with domestic rates running at 27 cents a minute. Lord Black is allowed to put more money in the Inmate Trust Fund, but he won’t receive interest.

After the brisk wake-up routine, Lord Black will have until 6:45 a.m. to line up and get his breakfast, a continental-style serving during the week, with eggs and bacon on the weekends.

Lord Black will learn the culture quickly and find himself a seat next to three other white men. “You run with your own people,” Mr. Levine said. “You back up your own people, and if you don’t you’re viewed as a race traitor.”

By 7 a.m., every inmate must have his bunk tidied and his bed made, with corners folded to prison standards. The wealthier inmates usually pay others to make their beds.

Shortly afterward, Lord Black will report for roll call and meet the detail supervisor who will dip into his work-detail pouch and pull out the disgraced newspaper baron’s photo and information sheet, called a bed book card. Here Lord Black will be assigned his work duty for the day, anything from grounds maintenance to clerical work.

“When they find high-profile inmates, they like to demean them, give them really shitty jobs,” Mr. Levine said.

Lunch-time begins early in the prison world, with the first wave of prisoners picking their way through the salad bar and sitting down with trays of burgers, hot dogs, stew or the like shortly after reporting back to their dorms at 10:30 a.m. The seating order is determined each week after a spot check of the dormitories, with the cleanest unit getting first seating.

After a short period of free time, work call will sound and Lord Black will report back to his new job. He stands to make $5.25 in his first month. Depending on how well he scores on the guards’ monthly job efficiency reports, he could eventually earn up to 40 cents an hour. Inmates turn in their tools around 3 p.m. and gather for a standing head count in the dorms at 4 p.m. Two guards do the count.

Escape, however, is unlikely. The Coleman Correction Complex is surrounded by two barbed fences with shock detectors. Motion detectors lie in between, armed patrols drive the perimeter and there is no unsecured item inside the buildings that is tall enough to be used to scale the fences, Mr. Levine said.

Mail is delivered after the head count and then Lord Black will join fellow inmates in the meal lineup again. Hungry inmates learn to eat slowly because the more compassionate guards will allow second servings after last call. The industrious prisoners often eat only what they can buy or barter from the commissary.

After dinner, Lord Black will have a large period of free time to fill. He will be on his own to roam between the library, TV parlour, arts and crafts room and telephone banks until recalled to his dorm at 9:30 p.m. New inmates spend most of this time walking the exercise track, alone with their thoughts, or making calls to family and friends complaining about the food and lack of privacy, Mr. Levine said.

Lord Black will be allowed several visitors each month, but no conjugal visits. Lights are out at 10:30 p.m. and the dorm room is locked. This is the hour when contraband circulates, the occasional cellphone beep is heard and liaisons occur. With the prison guards out of sight, “it becomes a world of its own,” Mr. Levine said.