Stewart told to report to W.Va. prison

September 30, 2004|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

She wanted Connecticut. She would have settled for Florida. But yesterday, Martha Stewart was assigned to serve her sentence at a federal women's prison in Alderson, W.Va., the place to which she had hoped not to be sent.

The minimum-security prison in the foothills of the Alleghany Mountains has housed such prominent inmates as the singer Billie Holiday, who was convicted of drug charges, and Lynette "Squeaky" Fromme, a member of the Charles Manson family.

It also holds a special place in penal history. In 1927, when it opened its gates, Alderson became the first federal prison for women in the United States.

Stewart, the founder of Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia, had tried to avoid serving her five-month sentence on conspiracy and other charges in Alderson because of its remote location, saying through her lawyer that the lack of a nearby airport or railroad terminal would make it difficult for her mother, who is 90, to visit.

Alderson, a town of 1,000 along the Greenbrier River, is in southern West Virginia, about 30 miles from the resort town of White Sulphur Springs. It is a 600-mile drive from the Hamptons on Eastern Long Island, where Stewart owns a house.

"While I had hoped to be designated to a facility closer to my family and more accessible to my appellate attorneys, I am pleased that the Bureau of Prisons has designated me so quickly," Stewart said in a statement yesterday that took note of the prison's historic role.

A Department of Justice spokesman said the government was concerned that the decision to send Stewart to Alderson would be perceived as vindictive. But the official, who asked not to be identified, said Stewart's fate had been sealed by her fame and by Hurricane Ivan.

The Bureau of Prisons turned down Stewart's first choice of a prison in Danbury, Conn., because of concerns that the news media could stake it out too easily, the spokesman said.

Hurricane Ivan took care of her second choice, in Coleman, Fla., about 50 miles northwest of Orlando. Two weeks ago, inmates at a women's prison in Marianna, Fla., were evacuated when that prison was severely damaged by tornadoes spawned by Ivan. Many of those inmates were sent to Coleman, squeezing out Stewart.

That left Alderson, which has 1,044 inmates. Stewart was assigned a federal inmate number, 55170-054 and is scheduled to report at the prison no later than 2:30 p.m. Oct. 8.

Daniel Dunn, a Bureau of Prisons spokesman, said Stewart will be assigned to work 7 1/2 hours a day in prison programs that include food service, grounds-keeping and sanitation. Stewart will be assigned to live in a large dormitory that houses 500 inmates or one of several small cottages that house 35 to 40 inmates. The prison has two-person cubicles, not traditional barred cells.

John Benish, the co-manager of Alderson Hospitality House, where family members visiting inmates stay, said yesterday in a telephone interview that Stewart might find aspects of her incarceration enjoyable.

"The prison is built like a college campus," Benish said. "There is lot of property, a lot of greenery, and there is no barbed wire around."

The town, which does not have a movie theater or stoplights, has two main streets, one on each side of the Greenbrier River. It has one bank, one grocery story and two restaurants, the Monroe Diner and the Big Wheel Family Restaurant.

Benish said other notable inmates at Alderson have included Tokyo Rose, the wartime collaborator, and Sara Jane Moore, who tried to assassinate President Gerald R. Ford.

He recommended a 1998 documentary about Alderson that was broadcast by the History Channel as part of the series The Big House.

Stewart was convicted in March for lying to federal investigators about a stock sale involving shares of ImClone Systems, a company once led by her friend Samuel D. Waksal. She spent several months debating whether to start serving her sentence or await the outcome of her appeal but decided early this month go to prison before the appeal is heard to "put this nightmare behind me."

She could be released from prison in January and would then serve home confinement for five months at her home in Bedford, N.Y.

Under a contract signed two weeks ago, Stewart will serve as founder, chief editorial and media director of Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia for the next five years with an annual base salary of $900,000, according to a company filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission. She will not receive a salary while in prison but will be compensated during her five months of home confinement, the SEC filing says.

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