The Specter of Prison Becomes Real

One commenter to this blog earlier today brought up the point that, perhaps up until now, Jeffrey K. Skilling and Kenneth L. Lay may not have contemplated spending actual time in jail. Now, assuming their convictions do not get overturned on appeal, that is a near-certainty.

Legal experts have speculated that the two would be sentenced to a medium-security prison, not the light-security federal work camps once nicknamed "Club Fed." Sentencing is scheduled for Sept. 11.

According to the Federal Bureau of Prisons Web site, medium-security FCIs (Federal Correctional Institutes) have "strengthened perimeters (often double fences with electronic detection systems), mostly cell-type housing, a wide variety of work and treatment programs, an even higher staff-to-inmate ratio than low security FCIs, and even greater internal controls."

Medium-security prisons are sometimes part of a larger complex, such as in Beaumont, Tex., the closest to Houston, which has low-, medium- and high-security prisons.

Lay and Skilling will each get eight-digit registration numbers, khaki uniforms and enter the prison's general population, or "GenPop." It is not known where they would be assigned, but they can request where they will be incarcerated. A look at the regulations for Beaumont medium shed some light on what life is like behind the walls of the kind of place where Lay and Skilling may spend many, many years.

They could have a bank account for prison commissary purchases. Friends and family can deposit money into the accounts. This may have poignant impact on Skilling, whose net worth was once as much as $70 million.

They will be allowed visitors only during certain hours and on certain days. At Beaumont, inmates get 12 points at the beginning of each month and are charged one point for a weekday visit and two for a weekend visit. Visitors are not allowed to wear khaki (resembles inmate uniforms), athletic wear (potential of gang association) or suggestive clothing, such as Spandex, shorts, skirts above the knees or sleeveless garments.

They would be required to work at jobs such as plumbing, painting and groundskeeping, earning 12 cents to 41 cents per hour. If they're lucky, they could get a job in the prison factory, where wages are as much as $1.15 per hour. From 1999 to 2001, Lay's total compensation at Enron was $223 million.

No jail time is easy time, whether you're in a minimum-security joint or a SuperMax, where you get strip-searched each time you get to leave your cell for one hour per day. Aside from the threat of violence, the real killers are loss of control and, maybe even worse, sheer boredom. Each moment of an inmate's life is scripted, even if it's scripted only as "time to do nothing but sit and stare."

For men such as Lay and Skilling, this truly could be capital punishment. Both spent their careers giving orders, not taking them. Lay showed, on the witness stand, that he could not relinquish control even to his own lawyer to run his defense. Both men created environments favorable to them, from their home life to their work life. They created their habitat and their habits. Now, they may have no say in either.

While I was reading all of the prison rules that an inmate must follow, one jumped out at me. It's a non-issue to most inmates, but it must be a blow to the heart of what Lay and Skilling were: "No inmate is permitted to actively engage in a business or profession while incarcerated."

By Frank Ahrens |  May 26, 2006; 7:28 AM ET  | Category:  Dispatches
Previous: Lay Finally Emerges | Next: The Aftermath


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Before anyone gets too excited about the verdict against Lay and Skilling, ponder this. Appeals for about two and a half years then - surprise - a pardon by the outgoing President. Equal justice? Not in this country.

Posted by: Gayle Abbott | May 26, 2006 08:42 AM

Wasn't Ken Lay a chief fundraiser and ENRON one of the chief corporate donors to the Bush/Cheney ticket? Didn't George Bush invite Ken Lay to spend a night at the White House to consider Bush's offer to appoint Lay as Secretary of Commerce, but Lay was only interested in being Treasury Secretary? Consequently, would Lay and Skilling be expecting a quid pro quo in the form of a midnight pardon from Bush if appeals fail? If Lay and Skilling remain free on appeal (unlikely???) and Bush pardons them, then they would not spend a day in jail. Lay did say that God would look after him and something good would come out of this (his conviction). The ENRON and Arthur Andersen employees who lost their jobs, savings, and pensions probably think that the "something good" just occurred!

Posted by: Richard B. | May 26, 2006 09:09 AM

What is with this 'pardon' paranoia? Just another way to deflect attention from the fact that this fraud was carried out 100% under Clinton's watch?? But hey, if Marc Rich can defraud thousands of people and get a pardon, anything's possible...

Posted by: MacRandall | May 26, 2006 09:48 AM

It's funny how the mere mention of a pardon from buddy Bush causes one to make this a dem/repub thing. So, I'll bite. Marc Rich ( as well as others should have never received a pardon from Clinton. Pardoning these two crooks would be just as wrong. Maybe it would be even worse given the scale of their crimes (Consumers/Businesses in California, Oregon, Washington State, investors, our tax dollars in the form of an energy bailout and their loyal employees). Bush executed a retarded person, so don't you think he would pardon one of the largest thieves this country has ever seen? As for the political: Clinton ran as a centrist and moved to the left, then corrected himself back towards the center when the Republicans took control (as well they should have). Bush was a centrist that moved to the right, but we're still waiting for him to correct himself. Though, I wouldn't hold my breath a single second on that one. Good luck to you and your party affiliation. In the meantime, I will continue to look for candidates that are rational human beings, and less on those who think they are divine at the expense of hegemony.

Posted by: John S. | May 26, 2006 10:18 AM

First of all, two cheers for John S. who decried the immediate politicization of this discussion but who then proceeded to pile on.

I don't think Bush will pardon Lay or Skilling, because the distance Bush has already put between himself and all things Enron shows that they are not within Bush's loyalty perimeter. If you are within that perimeter you can do almost anything and will be defended and even honored (consider Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz, Bremer, Tenet, Franks, Chertoff - the list is very long). If you're outside the perimeter, you vanish as soon as you become disliked or embarassingly honest (consider Paul O'Neill, Larry Lindsey, Michael Brown, Eric Shinseki).

The larger point is that the Bush people seem to have absorbed the Enron approach to managing the world. Bend the rules until they're unrecognizable but don't actually break them (NSA wiretapping, executive authority). Use tricks to make your budgets look much better than they really are (my favorite: dropping 10-year projections in favor of 5-year projections because they avoid the worst consequences of the tax cuts). Never admit weakness or setbacks. Spin, spin, spin.

It is my sincere hope that the American public develops the same ability to discern fact from fantasy that the Enron jury showed.

Posted by: Rob A. | May 26, 2006 10:38 AM

Kudos to Rob A. who is probably correct in his assessment that KennyBoy and Skilling are outside of Bush's loyalty perimeter. But, "atta boy" Richard B. in touching on the moral or immoral question of whether the two GAAP revisionists aka felons should expect honest, late-term affection (in the form of pardons) from Junior. Or, as Ulysses Everett McGill might say re: Lay and Skilling, "'s a fool that looks for logic in the chambers of the human heart." Both, in the world of campaign fund-raising Lay and Skilling should have dumped "mark to market accounting" and stuck to accrual accounting. Then, they would have had a negotiable account receivable from Bush for their generous campaign donations and in-kind campaign labors.

Final analysis - "No presidential good-will
mark-up for felonious

Posted by: Bob Lawton | May 26, 2006 02:30 PM

Thanks Rob A. Let us all hope that you are right. I think it would destroy what little confidence we have left for the person that conducts business in the oval office if a pardon were issued. I would like to think that those who break the law would be held accountable no matter who they are. However, if the past is any indication (including everything from the moment prior to this post going live), I have very little confidence in that outcome. We are talking about someone who's convicions outweigh rational thought (i.e. from execution of a retarded person to wiretapping for freedom).

Posted by: John S. | May 26, 2006 05:02 PM

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