by Jennifer Swift
Apr 14, 2014
11:57 AMConnecticut Politics
What Rowland Can Expect if He Goes to Jail, a Flashback to 2005 'Man in the Can' Story
Jeff Holt/New Haven Register
Above, former Connecticut Gov. John Rowland and his wife, Patty, speak to the press at the federal courthouse in New Haven in December 2004 after he pleaded guilty on a conspiracy charge. Below, Rowland arrives with his attorney Reid Weingarten, far left, at the same courthouse last Friday afternoon (April 11) to face a seven-count indictment; photo by Peter Hvizdak/New Haven Register.
Former Connecticut governor and convincted felon John Rowland hasn’t had his day in court yet, but the Department of Justice’s recent charges against Rowland prompted us to recall our Connecticut Magazine story from March 2005, 'Man in the Can,' a preview of what the former governor could expect in jail.
Lennie Grimaldi, who served 10 months in a federal prison “camp” for his role in the Bridgeport municipal corruption case, wrote the story to coincide with Rowland's sentencing.
Last week, Rowland was indicted on seven charges relating to a scheme the government says he created to hide the extent of his involvement in a Fifth District congressional campaign. Rowland has pleaded not guilty to all charges.
"It’s a short stay, especially for a governor smart enough to start over and not screw up again," Grimaldi wrote nearly a decade ago of Rowland. "After all, redemption is a powerful motivator."
Here's Grimaldi's full story, published in our March 2005 issue.
Former Gov. John G. Rowland is scheduled to be sentenced to prison on March 11 after pleading guilty to a charge of conspiracy to steal honest service. Here, one of the principals in the Bridgeport municipal corruption case who recently served 10 months in a federal prison “camp” describes what Rowland will likely find when, and if, he gets there.
Prison reality will jolt John Rowland when the federal corrections officer orders him to strip down and bend over.
The officer will not care about Rowland’s three terms in Congress, his 10 years as Connecticut’s governor, his “Johnny boy” friendship with President Bush.
“Okay, sir, take all your clothes off, turn around and bend over,” he’ll say, searching for contraband—the items disallowed by prison rules. In prison, the boy wonder of Connecticut politics will be just another Johnny-come-lately. (Right, Rowland announces his resignation as his wife, Patty, listens at the Governor's Mansion on June 21, 2004; Photo by Bob Falcetti/Getty Images)
Welcome to the federal Bureau of Prisons, John Rowland
Rowland will not be making gravel in Leavenworth. He is designated “camp” status, the least restrictive, and least violent, form of incarceration. Prison camp time is sort of like living with an invisible fence. Observe the posted boundaries and the cops won’t bother you. There is little violence in a prison camp in part because felons there have a lot to lose—good time, phone time, visiting, recreation, etc. In a high-security facility, a guy doing 30 years for carving out someone’s heart couldn’t care less about cracking open another guy’s head with a can of tuna in a sock. (Above left, the summer cottage on Bantam Lake in Litchfield Rowland once owned, as seen Feb. 3, 2004. A select state congressional committee was then investigating whether grounds existed for impeaching Rowland, who had admitted to lying about accepting a free hot tub (center of photo) and renovations to the cottage; photo by Wendy Carlson/Getty Images)
The Bureau of Prisons separates violent convicts from white-collar offenders because a guy like Rowland would be angel food cake for a coveting psychopath. Yet camp time for the once powerful Rowland, who not long ago sipped Dom Perignon in a hot tub while grinding on a Cuban cigar at his Bantam Lake cottage, will not be a cakewalk.
Substandard food, tight barracks, menial job tasks, dubious health care, intellectually challenged cons, obtuse prison guards and the time—oh, the time—will challenge Rowland’s mental toughness and survival skills. From day one he will count the days: 365 days and a awake up…364 days and a wake-up, and so on. And in between, a prison mantra will rise around his head like the bubbles in that hot tub—“do the time, don’t let the time do you.”
On the day of his surrender, Rowland will walk though the prison gates before noon. A prison guard with a stare like Freddy Krueger will tell him to take a seat. Soon he’ll be fingerprinted, photographed, issued an identification card with this inmate number, examined by a doctor, strip-searched and assigned temporary prison clothes (greens), and slip-on red, orange or blue sneakers. His street clothes will be boxed and mailed to his wife. He’ll be allowed to wear his wedding band. Rowland’s watch will be sent packing. He’ll be handed a rolled-up blanket and, if he’s lucky, he’ll get a toothbrush, powdered paste and a pillow. He’ll be dropped off or he’ll walk to the camp, where he’ll report to a corrections counselor, the guy who eventually assigns his job detail and his bunk, and approves his visitors list. “Have a question? Ask the inmates,” he’ll be told. Rules and regulations come later. Once Rowland’s released to the general population, he’ll try to figure out what to do next. Right about then, that “Oh, shit…I’m here” feeling will begin to sink in. Veteran cons know the BOP’s propensity for shortchanging necessities for new arrivals. Technically, rules prohibit cons from taking anything of value from other inmates, but compassionate campers will introduce themselves and ask if he needs toothpaste, razor, deodorant, etc. New cons stick out like blue jeans on prom night. It’s the sneakers and the vacant stare.
Remember manager Tom Hanks’ whiny rant in the baseball film, A League of their Own?—“There’s no crying in baseball!”? Well, there’s no crying in the can for new arrivals. You can look lost, you can look disoriented, you can appear dazed and confused. But don’t cry, especially if you’re a short-timer. Because some banker who’s doing nine years for money laundering will verbally shame your pout into full-fledged blubbering. “You gotta lot of nerve crying when you’re gonna be here for a cup of coffee!” Don’t cry, governor. Prison isn’t for sissies.
The most important thing Rowland must remember is playing by the rules and being where he’s supposed to be. That means in his cube (living quarters) for regular “count times,” the prison term for attendance. He’ll be counted at midnight, 3 a.m., 5 a.m., 3:30 p.m. and 9 p.m., the nighttime counts accompanied by correction officer’s jangling keys and piercing flashlights. He will have to think twice about hitting the john five minutes before count time. Missing a count is an unpardonable infraction accompanied by a severe penalty, including possibly a week or two in the hole, the worst form of incarceration, with 23-hour lockdown, infrequent showers, limited phone time and visitation. Isolation sucks.
As the novelty of a celebrity inmate among felons wears off, Rowland will figure out the good guys and bad guys. None of the inmates are Boy Scouts, although he will meet a handful that received a royal screwing form abusive prosecutors and incompetent lawyers. Most campers, however, are decent guys who messed up. They cheated on tax returns, falsified mortgage applications, phonied Medicare bills, embezzled funds and peddled coke. But more than anything during his prison stay, Rowland will experience diversity like never before—or ever again. He will meet puny bookworms, goliaths who bench 400 pounds; intellects, morons, gentlemen, pariahs; doctors, lawyers, stockbrokers, accountants; drug dealers, embezzlers, scammers; Jews, Catholics, Protestants, Hindus; black, white, brown, yellow and red.
For every 100 guys Rowland meets, he will like the company of 20, tolerate 30 and ignore the rest. In the end, it’s sort of like dealing with the Connecticut legislature.
Clothes and Commissary
Shortly after Rowland’s arrival, an inmate tailor will size his former-gubernatorial paunch and order prison-issued garb—prison greens, undergarments, socks, black Army boots, a jacket, coat, baseball cap. At federal camps adjacent to razor-wire high-secruity prisons, the campers sport green while the high-security cons wear khakis. This alerts the officer with the rifle in the guard tower not to shoot the free-roaming guys in green. If Rowland wants to wear sweats, Nike sneaks or shorts, or listen to a radio with headsets, he must purchase those items at the commissary. Once a week he will fill out a commissary sheet with his requests for items. It’s sort of like shopping at a Walgreen’s on paper. The stuff will be delivered to him in a laundry bag. He may spend up to $290 per month at the commissary. The Bureau of Prisons clothes you (basically), feeds you (marginally) and houses you (regrettably). After that you’re on your own.
For 10 years Rowland lived in a mansion. He will now reside in a partially enclosed 8-by-8-foot cube (no bars) and probably in the top bunk bed. Lower bunks are reserved for the elderly and those with back ailments clearly defined in federal probation reports, the documents that compile offender histories. He will step on a footstool that looks like a mushroom, grab the bedpost and hoist himself into the sack. Rowland is 6 feet tall and 200 pounds. He’ll feel like he’s sleeping in a catcher’s mitt. But he’ll get used to it. With a mass of men in dormitory-style housing units, snorers, hackers, coughers and flatulence will abound. His best friend in the joint will be his bunkmate, also known as his “celly.” If he doesn’t like his celly, he’ll find someone else he can get along with.
John Rowland loves good food. After all, he’s from Waterbury, and there are lots of excellent Italian restaurants there. The food at a camp depends on what you’re used to eating. If you’ve lived on cafeteria food all your life, the food is marginally passable. If you love roast rack of lamb with rosemary, garlic and a Chianti reduction, the food will look like somebody ate it already. Baked macaroni and cheese, sloppy Joes, chicken chow mein, rice dishes galore are typical. The BOP carbs inmates to death to keep them full. A lot of the stuff is downright mysterious-looking. When he’s desperate for something better, there’s always the vending machine from which White Castle hamburgers and chocolate bars can be coaxed. A man in the can must learn how to use a microwave. Rowland can order spaghetti, tomato sauce, garlic, olive oil, tuna, almonds and walnuts from the commissary. And he will see many inmates dicing, chopping, mixing and preparing an assortment of microwaveable meals.
Rowland will be required to work. This could be cutting grass, plowing snow, raking leaves, working in the kitchen, cleaning toilets. If he cleans toilets and does them well, he will be a hero among the inmates and staff. Scrubbing bathrooms is not a highly coveted job; he will see and clean unspeakable things, but it’s a job, even at the starting pay of 12 cents an hour.
Visiting, Mail and Phone Calls
Rowland will experience painful separation anxiety the first time a loved one leaves the visiting room. It will get better. He will be allowed 25 visitors on a list that may be amended. Visiting hours depend on the facility; at a place such as Otisville, they are flexible and accommodating, not so at Fort Dix (home of former Bridgeport Mayor Joe Ganim and Providence Mayor Buddy Cianci). Outgoing mail will not be read—a benefit of camp life. Incoming mail will be checked for contraband. Rowland will be assigned a pin number to make up to 300 minutes of calls per month with a 15-minute time limit per call. His monthly phone bill will be at least $60. Phone calls are monitored. Unmonitored legal calls can be arranged. He will not be allowed to conduct business while in prison.
Some guys play cards, some Monopoly, others Scrabble, still others work out religiously, walk, run, lift weights, watch television. Others spend all their time in the library or chapel. Rowland will probably opt for a version of all of the above. A Roman Catholic Mass will be available on Sunday.
What passes for health care at a camp will make Rowland’s skin crawl. For instance, the dental chair at Camp Otisville doubles as a barber’s chair. If he needs medical attention, a physician’s assistant will show up each day to meet a conga line of cons (pill line) around 7 a.m. If he thinks he can have all things medical fixed while in the can, he should think again. Short of chest pains and blood spurting from his ears, he’s stuck with the physician’s assistant.
The former governor will be underwhelmed by the intellect of the average BOP cop. Many of them are jarheads who think they’re still fighting Desert Storm. But he must be respectful, as you would be with a grammar-school principal. No back talk. They will not hesitate to punish wise-guy inmates. His most regular contact will be with a corrections counselor and his case manager, who manages all things external such as discharge date, assignment to a halfway house near the end of his confinement, legal visits and pre-release courses (like learning how to balance a checkbook) that help with the transition back to society. For the most part, if Rowland doesn’t make waves, he’ll be fine.
What He Will Learn
What are the most important things John Rowland must know about the months ahead? Play by the rules, be respectful to inmates and staff, expect no special treatment (because you will get none), mind your own business, carve out a routine, work out, prepare for the future. And keep a sense of humor. In prison you live by your wits, and Rowland’s biting sense of humor will probably lend itself well to the environment. In time he’ll adjust and blend in. It’s a short stay, especially for a governor smart enough to start over and not screw up again.
After all, redemption is a powerful motivator.
What Rowland Can Expect if He Goes to Jail, a Flashback to 2005 'Man in the Can' Story