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Former Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh reports to federal prison. What can she expect?

Former Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh is expected to report Friday to Federal Correctional Institution, Aliceville, in rural Alabama to serve her three-year sentence. Pugh is shown in a file photo.
Former Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh is expected to report Friday to Federal Correctional Institution, Aliceville, in rural Alabama to serve her three-year sentence. Pugh is shown in a file photo. (Lloyd Fox / Baltimore Sun)

Four months after she was sentenced, former Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh is due to report to prison Friday at an all-female facility in Alabama.

Pugh, who pleaded guilty last year to conspiracy and tax evasion in a self-dealing scheme involving her “Healthy Holly” children’s books, was en route Thursday to Alabama, according to her attorney Andrew White.

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The Democrat initially was scheduled to report in April, but won a delay that month as prison officials across the country tried to assess and contain the threat of the coronavirus.

Justice Department officials limited the movement of inmates to minimize the spread of the virus. Defendants such as the 70-year-old Pugh, who did not present a flight risk or a threat to public safety, were more likely to be granted extensions. Others, like former Democratic state Sen. Nathaniel Oaks of Baltimore, 73, have been released early from prison.

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Now that Pugh’s new date to turn herself in for her three-year sentence has arrived, here’s what she can expect at Federal Correctional Institution, Aliceville, where the Bureau of Prisons has assigned her.

What is Aliceville like?

About 100 miles west of Birmingham and eight miles from the Mississippi border, the federal prison includes a low-security unit and a minimum-security satellite camp that collectively house about 1,300 inmates.

Named for Aliceville, a no-stoplight town of 2,400 residents five miles to the southeast, the prison opened in 2013 and is among the newest in the Bureau of Prisons system.

Typically, the bureau attempts 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. U.S. District Judge Deborah Chasanow in Baltimore recommended Pugh be housed in West Virginia, but the bureau assigned her to the Alabama prison.

If an inmate is placed at a prison that is more than 500 miles from his or her home, it is usually due to “security, programming or population concerns,” according to the bureau.

In 2016, a tornado caused serious damage to the prison where Pugh is headed. A TV station spoke to inmates at the time about winds tearing off part of the roof, and photos showed boarded-up windows in the prison’s office area. No injuries were reported.

No visitors, including attorneys, are currently allowed at the facility due to the coronavirus outbreak. The bureau reports three Aliceville employees currently have tested positive for COVID-19, as of Wednesday, while 10 inmates and seven staffers have recovered from the disease. It reports no deaths.

Who else will be there?

Like Pugh, some inmates are serving time for white-collar crimes, such as bribery, security fraud and mortgage fraud. Many inmates are likely to be nonviolent drug offenders.

Others were sentenced for more violent crimes. Jordan Graham, an 28-year-old Montana woman, is serving a 30-year term at Aliceville after admitting to luring her husband to Glacier National Park and pushing him off a cliff. He was killed by the fall, and the case garnered national media attention.

Jean Therese Brown, a Jamaican woman who was convicted of murdering a Maryland man in 2009, is serving a life sentence at Aliceville. Federal investigators said Brown was one of the leaders of an international drug smuggling ring. She and her co-conspirators dismembered a man and disposed of the body in the Loch Raven and Liberty Road areas.

Serving a 43-year sentence at Aliceville is Bernetta Willis, an Alabama woman convicted on 22 counts for filing false claims for Hurricane Katrina disaster assistance. Willis was convicted of stealing $80,000, and received the longest sentence to date for fraud connected to Katrina.

Karen Sypher, a Kentucky woman convicted of trying to extort University of Louisville basketball coach Rick Pitino following an affair, also served time at Aliceville. She was released in 2017.

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What’s it like inside?

Within seven days of her arrival, Pugh is supposed to be assigned to a team of staff members who will responsible for monitoring her, according to the facility’s handbook. Inmates participate in an orientation program in the first 30 days, and then are assigned to a work detail if they are medically able. A psychological screening also is conducted.

The former mayor and state senator, who owned two houses in Baltimore’s Ashburton neighborhood with more than 4,000 square feet between them, will see her space shrink to a cell.

Inmates must make their beds and sweep and mop their personal living areas. Trash must be removed, and shelving must be neat and clean. Personal storage is limited to lockers, and locks can be purchased at the prison commissary. Basic toiletries are available to inmates, as needed.

For Pugh, who once used her 2 Chic Boutique not only to resell posh clothing but to illegally channel campaign funds, her new wardrobe will be more commissary than consignment. She must wear green shirts, green pants, a T-shirt and institution shoes. Inmates are prohibited from wearing transparent clothing or baring their midsections. Ball caps must be worn with the bill forward.

General wake-up time for inmates is 5:45 a.m. Inmates are counted at 4 p.m., 10 p.m., midnight, 3 a.m. and 5 a.m.

What is there to do?

Televisions in each unit are designated for specific channels. Unit televisions can be viewed only during established hours.

A total of 10 books or magazines are permitted per inmate, if they are stored in a locker. Instruments are banned except for harmonicas, according to the handbook. Pugh, at one time the dean and director of a Baltimore business college, can avail herself of a law library open to inmates outside their work hours and on weekends. A leisure library also is offered.

In addition to her self-published children’s books focusing on developing healthy lifestyles, Pugh also published a book of her poetry. At Aliceville, computers are available for a closely controlled email system, while there are typewriters in the law library. The commissary sells legal writing pads and pens.

While Pugh once had at least two cellphones at a time, including a Samsung model FBI agents found last year in her bed during a raid on her home, there will be no chatting or texting with friends and family from her cell; personal phones are banned in federal prisons.

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Gambling is forbidden, and no games can be played in common areas after 10 p.m., the handbook states.

For Pugh, a former marathon runner who helped establish the Baltimore Marathon, Aliceville’s outdoor recreation yard is open Monday through Friday from 6 a.m. to 3 p.m. and 5 p.m. to 8:45 p.m., according to the handbook. An indoor recreation room is also available, along with cardio rooms.

Baltimore Sun reporter Justin Fenton contributed to this article.

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