Club Fed: Ex-Inmates, Lawyers Describe Reality of Life Behind Bars

by Kate Knable  on Monday, Oct. 24, 2011 12:00 am  

Ex-inmates and lawyers describe the reality of serving time in federal prisons.

"... I used to hear that federal prisons were like country clubs for high-level executive types who broke the law. I can assure you that that was not my experience."

Overton, a former stockbroker whose father was a federal judge, pleaded guilty to bank fraud in 2006 and subsequently served two years in federal prison, mostly at Edgefield, S.C. He died of pneumonia on Feb. 12 at age 41.

Jeff Rosenzweig, a Little Rock criminal defense attorney, said the prison camp at Eglin Air Force Base in Florida in particular had a "Camp Fed" reputation, but that nickname is a misnomer.

"Prison is hard," Rosenzweig said. He listed rules and passive-aggressive guards as among his convicted clients' troubles.

McDougal said she saw violence in prison, like a woman beating another inmate's face with a telephone, but she also experienced incredible kindness from inmates and made friends with guards. She still hears from women she befriended during her incarceration. She said she and other inmates would sit together and talk about how they got there, since they had the time to think about how they could improve their lives.

She also organized them to vote on the TV shows to watch on the prisons' shared TVs, instead of arguing, and to donate for the newcomer gifts.

"It was just like a bunch of young people who'd never had any care. They loved me, and I loved them," she said. "It broke my heart that they loved me."

Many inmates were young, in their teens or early 20s, she said. McDougal was 42 and almost a mother figure.

"It is what you make of it, just like life. You either are completely broken or you get better," McDougal said. "I think the entire experience was healing. I was so broken by the political viciousness of Whitewater, and my family was so wounded and people I loved were so hurt, that being incarcerated was a healing. It changed who I was." 



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