These experts say that life in a federal prison camp, especially for someone who used to be in a position of authority, is hard. While there is little supervision, and you can walk away at any time, the same rules and regulations that govern an inmate’s every move apply to low-risk inmates as to their more violent counterparts.
“Clearly, if you’re going to have to go to an institution, the minimum security places are the places to go,” said Alan Chaset, a retired Virginia attorney who specialized in reducing sentences for convicted felons.
But Chaset warned that the relative freedom of such a place could pose an overwhelming temptation.
“Particularly for folks who have lived a very comfortable life, being in a facility without a fence sometimes is a heck of a lot more difficult,” he said. “There’s going to be that phone call or that letter or whatever interaction with family that makes you want to be home.”
Chaset added, “If you look out and there’s no restriction except that which you impose on yourself, that’s tough for some folks.”
Attorney Allan Ellis, who also works to reduce sentences, said that once-powerful inmates like Congressmen may have a problem with “attitude adjustment” and boredom.
“The biggest problem being in prison is that for somebody like a Congressman, or for a former executive, it’s a complete change in mindset,” said Ellis, who publishes a “Federal Prison Guidebook” that lists the cushiest prisons in the country. “Heretofore you’ve been giving orders, telling staff what to do, making weighty decisions. And now you’re being given orders, you’re being told when to shower, what work to do. It’s 180 degrees.”
Ellis noted, “People that are more obsessive, more into being masters of the universe, have a more difficult time.”
One thing the ex-Congressmen won’t be able to take advantage of in prison is the conjugal visit, which is forbidden in the federal system. The most contact with loved ones they will be able to enjoy is a hug or kiss upon greeting during regular visitors hours.
“We don’t let them make out,” quipped Josias Salazar, the administrator of the minimum-security camp where Cunningham is housed in Tucson, Ariz.
Ellis has heard good things about the 1,300-man Federal Correctional Institute in Morgantown, W.Va., where Ney is likely to be transferred.
Ney’s attorneys argued that an alcohol abuse problem contributed to the former Congressman’s criminal behavior and Morgantown has a residential drug abuse program. If Ney, 52, is accepted into the prison’s program, which involves a half-day of “programming” five days a week, he may qualify for a reduced sentence.
“He’s doing fine. This is a tough time for him. But he’s a strong guy,” said Ney attorney Mark Tuohey.
There is not much violence at Morgantown, but one inmate attacked another with a broom handle in 2003. Instead, the prison houses such inmates as Richard Hatch, the former “Survivor” TV star who was convicted of failing to pay taxes on his $1 million winnings.
Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., right, hugs Harold Schaitberger, General President of the International Association of Fire Fighters, after the Congressman spoke at the IAFF's Legislative Conference General Session at the Hyatt Regency on Capitol Hill, March 9, 2015. The day featured addresses by members of Congress and Vice President Joe Biden.