Saturday, November 9, 2002

Celebs go from bright lights to lights out in prison

By Paul Singer
The Associated Press

ELKTON - Even at a fancy federal prison like the Elkton Federal Correctional Institution, the night life is lousy. It's lights out at 9:30 p.m.

For future Elkton inmate Vincent "Buddy" Cianci Jr., the flamboyant former mayor of Providence, R.I., and others used to the limelight, the glare of prison floodlights marks not just a loss of freedom, but a complete revolution in lifestyle.

Manhattan publicist Lizzie Grubman, darling of the New York tabloids, backed her luxury SUV into a crowd outside a trendy Long Island nightclub last summer. She is now serving a 40-day sentence in a Long Island county jail in an isolation cell intended to protect her from prison violence, according to her lawyer Stephen Scaring.

Mr. Cianci is scheduled to arrive at Elkton on Dec. 6 to begin a five-year sentence for racketeering. He is appealing his conviction.

Mr. Cianci - who has a radio talk show and his own line of pasta sauce with his face on the jar - currently lives in the Presidential Suite at his city's swank downtown Biltmore Hotel.

He once described to a reporter the advantages of hotel living: "They turn the bed down at night, they leave a chocolate and the weather report in the room for me, and I can walk to work."

If he goes to Elkton, Mr. Cianci will give up his private room for a cubicle shared with up to three other men. No TV, no private bath and they don't turn down the bed.

Philip Berrigan, a peace activist who spent several months at Elkton in 2001 for attacking military aircraft with a hammer, says as prisons go, it's a nice place.

"The food, for institutional food, is very good," he said. "You get at least a piece of fruit every day, sometimes two." It has a top-notch fitness program and a nice view of the nearby wooded hills.

Mr. Cianci, 61, would have to surrender the thick salt and pepper toupee that he has admitted to wearing, but in this he would not be alone.

James A. Traficant Jr., 61, who represented Elkton in Congress for 18 years before being convicted on racketeering charges in April and being kicked out of the House, had to give up his trademark hairpiece when he went to jail. In August, he began serving an eight-year sentence at the Allenwood Federal Correctional Institution in White Deer, Pa.

At another federal prison 1,200 miles south, the federal Medical Center in Fort Worth, Texas, former Louisiana Gov. Edwin Edwards, 75, this month began a 10-year racketeering sentence.

Mr. Edwards, who served in the state Senate, the U.S. House of Representatives and four terms as governor, had a reputation as a playboy with a penchant for gambling.

Ron Cohen, a former inmate at the Fort Worth prison who now helps prepare white-collar criminals for prison time, said for people used to the high life, the hardest part of prison is living by rules.

"They are going to find that you can't buck the system in federal prison," Mr. Cohen said. "They are going to have the same rules, the same regulations, the same lifestyle as anybody else."

But the politicians share a history that may help them with their fellow prisoners. They all spent years bucking the federal government, and Mr. Berrigan said that may be a badge of honor at prison.

"They only have one enemy in the federal joint and that's the federal government," he said. "Anybody who's stood up to the federal government is OK with them."

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