As Baltimore mayor, Catherine Pugh worried that her modest Ashburton house was not “befitting” the chief executive of one of the nation’s largest cities.
Her move to rectify that — taking money from a city contractor to buy a new, 2,400-square-foot Colonial Revival — was among several acts that eventually led to her guilty plea on charges of conspiracy and tax evasion.
Pugh was sentenced Thursday to three years in another kind of living space — a federal prison.
It’s not yet known where Pugh is headed. Federal Bureau of Prisons officials will make that call based on the needs outlined in her presentence report and where bed space for women is available. But based on Pugh’s lack of a prior criminal record and the nonviolent crimes she pleaded to, there are only a few facilities in the nation where she could be placed.
Below is what Pugh can expect when she reports to prison, as ordered by U.S. District Judge Deborah Chasanow:
Where might Pugh serve her time?
There are about 30 federal institutions for women, although several of those are administrative centers where women are detained as they await trial or after their conviction if they have not yet been assigned to a long-term facility.
Typically, the Bureau of Prisons will attempt to locate inmates in the prison closest to their home. There are two low-security facilities within 350 miles of Baltimore: Danbury in Connecticut and Alderson in West Virginia.
Both of those prisons have “camps” that house women dormitory-style.
Alderson is where domestic mogul Martha Stewart served time for obstruction of justice, as well as Charles Manson follower Lynette “Squeaky” Fromme, who tried to assassinate then-President Gerald Ford.
Since Stewart’s stint, Alderson has been nicknamed “Camp Cupcake.”
Danbury, dubbed “Club Fed,” is best known as the setting for the memoir and TV show “Orange is the New Black.” It is also where “Real Housewives of New Jersey” star Teresa Giudice served a year for bankruptcy fraud.
What’s it like?
Justin Paperny, who served time at a low-security facility before founding White Collar Advice, a firm that prepares inmates for prison, likened a prison camp to the average corporate office park. The compound itself is not surrounded by fences or barbed wire, he said. Inside a dormlike building, inmates have access to a library and gym, and there is typically an outdoor track.
Inside, inmates are assigned to cubicles that house two to five people each, depending on how the spaces are arranged and how many inmates are in the prison at the time. Paperny compared a typical cubicle to the size of a Starbucks bathroom.
“It’s a decent size, not huge,” he said. “But enough room to walk around.”
About five times per day, guards count the inmates, Paperny said. The compound is closed and each inmate must stand in his or her cubicle during the process.
Larry Levine, another ex-inmate who founded Wall Street Prison Consultants, said bathrooms in prison camps are also like those in college dorms. The stalls have doors and there are shower curtains.
Who else will be there?
Paperny estimated 10% of Pugh’s fellow prisoners will be serving time for white-collar crimes such as bribery, security fraud and mortgage fraud. The balance will be nonviolent drug offenders, he said.
“Some will certainly have been there for violent crimes. And some will have been in gangs,” he said.
Paperny said he advises clients to avoid complaining about their situation to their fellow inmates.
“Many women will be there for drug crimes, 10 to 20 years. Many won’t have had the opportunity this mayor has," he said. “It’s important to not complain and not lament about the unfairness."
What’s on the menu?
Prisoners can expect a lot of starch and Mexican food.
Paperny said the menus are filled with processed, salty food prepared by inmates who work in the kitchen. A typical dinner might include rice, beans and corn tortillas, while an average breakfast might be oatmeal and a banana.
“You have to leverage food you can purchase in the commissary,” he said. “By doing so, you can have a little healthier diet.”
A list of commissary items available at the Alderson prison camp also favors processed foods, including a $1.60 “turkey log," “squeeze cheese” for $2.70 and Ritz crackers for $4.10. Also for sale are knitting needles starting at $5.15, Revlon hair color for $3.30, shower shoes for $1.05 and a Sony radio priced at $44.
“It’s all overpriced,” said Levine, noting that most services in prison cost money. Inmates pay for phone calls by the minute and emails by each letter or character.
What is there to do?
About five to six hours of a prisoner’s day is spent working, Paperny and Levine said. Prison jobs include food service, carpentry, landscape and maintenance positions. Inmates who are good with software are sometimes tapped to do prison recordkeeping, Levine said.
Prisoners are paid 12 to 40 cents per hour, money that is garnished if the prisoner owes restitution.
“Food service is the hardest job because it’s three shifts, seven days a week,” Levine said.
Levine said he advises his clients to establish a routine and use their free time wisely. Levine said he spent much of his free time in his prison’s law library.
A handbook published by the Alderson prison camp states that inmates can receive no more than five softcover books and five magazines at a time. All hardcover books must come directly from the publisher.
Prison gyms previously offered mostly weights, but most have started offering more fitness equipment, Paperny said, although that’s at the discretion of the warden. Typically, there are pull-up bars and treadmills in addition to the outdoor track.
Paperny said he advises his clients to avoid recreational sports because prison medical care is poor. He also tells people to see a dentist shortly before they report to prison. “It will take a year to get your teeth cleaned once you get in there,” he said.
When will Pugh have to report to prison — and what can she bring?
Pugh isn’t being imprisoned immediately. Chasanow said Pugh would have to report no later than mid-April.
Inmates who have cooperated with authorities usually get 30 to 60 days to report to prison, said Seth Weber, a former federal prosecutor and professor at Villanova University.
Because several months have passed since Pugh’s plea hearing, the Bureau of Prisons already has had time to think about where she will be assigned, he added.
Pugh will have an appointment at the prison, dictating what time she must report, Levine said. He tells clients to write important names and addresses on the letter assigning them to their prison facility. They’ll be able to bring that inside, he said.
Paperny said he advises his clients to bring their medications and driver’s license. Bibles are permitted.
Are there prison do’s and don’ts?
Levine said he expects Pugh to struggle because people distrust politicians. He advises his clients to respect the pecking order established by inmates already there.
“They need to keep their ears open and their mouths shut. Don’t be a know-it-all," he said. “You want to fit in and blend in.”
Paperny said he warns clients to be careful about making friendships. Other inmates may be smuggling in cellphones or drugs, and it’s easy to be caught up in that illegal activity, he said.
“She’s stepping into an environment where people have lived for years. It’s home to them,” Paperny said. “It would be wise to realize a social order exists.”