Conrad Black begins prison sentence

Mar 3, 2008

According to the Federal Bureau of Prisons' 'inmate locator', Conrad Black will become prisoner 18330-424 when he checks in today at the Coleman Federal Prison near Disneyland, a four-hour drive from the mansion in West Palm Beach, Florida where the disgraced media baron has been living since his conviction last summer for fraud and obstruction of justice.

Lord Black apparently spent his last day of freedom quietly at home. His wife Barbara Amiel reportedly played with a dog she has recently bought to keep her company during Black's absence. She is still smarting from a report last week in the Palm Beach Post, claiming she spent $250,000 on the latest collection from Oscar de la Renta, just as her husband was packing his bags for prison. Friends of the family dismissed the story.

Black begins his six-and-a-half year sentence apparently keen to finish his memoirs, a first draft of which has already gone to his publisher Douglas Pepper. Whether he will find the time or peace to write among 7,500 prisoners, many of whom are drug dealers, and one of whom will be sharing his cell, is debatable.

On arrival at Coleman, the former Daily Telegraph owner will be strip-searched, fingerprinted and issued with four sets of prison shirts, trousers, underwear and socks. (Green not orange is the colour at Coleman.) He will be given gardening duties, for which he will be paid between 12 and 40 cents an hour.

The strict daily regime includes getting up at 6 am each morning, working from 7:30am to 3pm. Inmates are counted up to seven times a day.
Attempting to escape - along with 'killing' - is one of the 'prohibited acts' outlined in the inmates' handbook.

One inmate, cocaine dealer Roddrick McDonald, told Canada's National Post, a paper Black founded: "Privacy is a rare thing here at Coleman Low."

Black goes to jail continuing to maintain his innocence. But according to his publisher, he admits there are instances when his conduct could have been different. "His tone is very measured - it's not strident," Pepper says of the Black manuscript. "He lays out the facts of everything that happened. He's happy with his achievements but certainly there are things that he might have thought of doing differently."

Black is appealing against his conviction. If that fails, he will have to serve 85 per cent of his sentence before being eligible for parole under American law. Because Black gave up his Canadian citizenship to take his peerage, he cannot apply to transfer to a Canadian prison where, for white-collar criminals, parole comes considerably more quickly.

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