For jailed celebrities, holidays won't be quite so merry

December 24, 1992|By Los Angeles Daily News

How the once rich and mighty have fallen. For celebrities spending Christmas behind bars this year, a lump of coal in their stocking might be a welcome present.

Take Leona Helmsley, who once presided over a hotel empire. Imprisoned since April for tax evasion, Helmsley might get either a coffee cup, earmuffs or a fruit package worth $5 when officials at the Danbury Federal Prison Camp in Connecticut hand out presents.

Former junk bond king Michael Milken, serving a 10-year sentence for conspiracy, mail and securities fraud since January 1991, might join other inmates for a traditional tamale dinner at the Federal Correctional Institution at Pleasanton. On Christmas, inmates will be served a dinner of clam chowder, baked ham, mashed potatoes, rice, vegetable salad, rolls, beverages and cake.

Or, he can make holiday ornaments from recycled paper.

"What we try to do is have live trees and replant them," said spokeswoman Janice Killian. "Basically the inmates make the decorations out of recyclable paper -- ornaments, garlands and things like that."

And if former Lincoln Savings and Loan president Charles H. Keating Jr. can carry a tune or tell jokes, he just might want to join in the talent show held in each housing unit at the Metropolitan Detention Center in Los Angeles. Keating, serving a 10-year sentence on his state court securities-fraud conviction in 1991, is expected to spend his holidays at the Los Angeles center while on trial in federal court on 73 counts, including securities fraud, and racketeering stemming from the collapse of Lincoln Savings and Loan.

Many activities are arranged to keep inmates from dwelling on their incarceration and being away from their families, prison officials say.

"We have a lot more activities in operation during the holidays," said Robert McFadden, executive assistant to the warden at the Federal Medical Center in Rochester, Minn., where former televangelist Jim Bakker is serving an eight-year term for mail fraud and fraud by wire. A federal judge Tuesday reduced the sentence from 18 years.

Prison officials said they could not comment on a specific inmate's activities because of privacy laws, but spoke in general terms about holiday plans at the facilities.

Activities can vary depending on the security level of the facility.

Consider the maximum security federal penitentiary at Marion, Ill., where John Gotti, identified by authorities as head of the Gambino organized crime family in New York City, is serving a life sentence on charges of murder and racketeering. Gotti entered the prison June 24.

"We are the most secured [prison] in the federal Bureau of Prisons," said spokesman Fred Apple. "We house the most dangerous individuals incarcerated in the 68 facilities [of] the federal Bureau of Prisons."

While holiday activities are limited, prisoners will have an assortment of movies and a traditional meal Christmas Day, Mr. Apple said.

Some of the films that will be shown on closed circuit TV at Gotti's prison for the extended holiday period: "Moonstruck," "Out of Africa," "Fried Green Tomatoes," "The Accidental Tourist," "Naked Gun 2 1/2 : The Smell of Fear," "The Last Emperor" and "Jesus of Nazareth." Inmates have 12-inch black-and-white television sets in their cells.

Mike Tyson can expect little in the way of gifts at the Indiana Youth Center, where he began serving a six-year sentence for rape in March. Anything mailed to prisoners has to fall under the prison guidelines. So, skip the cologne and fruitcake.

"Perhaps some clothing items, I can't think of anything else," said spokesman Kevin Moore.

Like Keating, Bakker, who is eligible for parole in 1995 and has a mandatory release date of April 9, 2000, might want to join in an inmate talent show if he is so inclined.

"It helps that there are other inmates who are willing to give up their time so all of us can benefit," Mr. McFadden said. Inmates also are provided with a round of activities, he said, such as card games, dominoes, weightlifting and other events in which they can compete for prizes. And outside choirs usually visit the prison..

And forget the New Year's Eve countdown and champagne toast. Milken and fellow inmates will have mulligatawny soup, beef steak, cauliflower and broccoli, baked potato, salad, toast, ice cream sundae, coffee and milk on New Year's Day.

For Keating, it will be hot chocolate, cookies and lights out at 10 on New Year's Eve.

There is at least one holiday tradition to share with the masses -- watching bowl games.

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