Prison Consultants “Shed Light On The Unknown”

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Martha Stewart’s sentencing consultant, Herb Hoelter, often is called upon to help soften the blow of incarceration for the rich and powerful, says the Orlando Sentinel. With a roster of an estimated 10,000 former clients that includes pop artist Peter Max and financier Ivan Boesky, Hoelter’s Baltimore-based National Center on Institutions and Alternatives is busy “helping clients make the adjustment from life in a free society to life in prison.” Prison consultants are often social workers, former probation officers or even ex-felons. Their job is to help the defense craft a report urging the judge to seek prison alternatives or, if that doesn’t work, to help clients prepare for life behind bars. “Our job is simply to shed light on the unknown,” says Utah prison consultant David Novak, a former flight-school owner who switched careers after spending a year in prison for mail fraud. “The scariest thing for a person heading to prison is they don’t know whether it’s going to be The Shawshank Redemption or a country club.”

The image of a genteel lockup where white-collar offenders hobnob on the tennis courts is a myth, Novak says. “Two to three decades ago, minimum-security inmates were allowed to wear their own clothes and had very liberal privileges,” Novak says. “Most inmates were in fact white-collar offenders. Today, 70 to 80 percent are drug inmates. So if one is expecting to be surrounded by doctors and lawyers, they’ll be disappointed.” For her five months of incarceration, Stewart has asked to be sent to a minimum-security federal work camp for women in Danbury, Conn. “She has an elderly mother nearby. All her relatives are up that way,” Hoelter says. “And the federal prison camp is very accessible for visitors.” The worst part is “the loss of control of decisions that you would normally have about your own life,” Hoelter says. “Somebody else decides when you can use the telephone, or when you can go to the bathroom, or when you can eat your lunch.” Stewart — still focused on her appeal — hasn’t asked about the realities of prison life. “We haven’t had that discussion,” Hoelter says. “I don’t know if she’ll ever want to go there.”


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