If convicted, Jackson would trade estate for cell

After month in county jail, he would go to state prison

June 05, 2005|By KNIGHT RIDDER/TRIBUNE

SANTA MARIA, Calif. - No makeup. No wig. And nowhere to hide from a camera recording his every move.

Prison isn't generally much fun for anyone. But for the germ-phobic, appearance-obsessed, privacy-seeking Michael Jackson, it sounds like his own personal hell. And he's staring into the possibility now that the jury has begun deliberating.

If the jurors believe that the pop star molested a young cancer patient, Jackson will trade in his lavish Neverland estate for an 8-by-8-foot beige cinderblock cell in the Santa Barbara County Jail.

The room features a seatless metal toilet, a low concrete bunk with a thin foam mattress, a drain in the floor and a camera in the ceiling. The only window is to the interior corridor, where passing guards can look through the shatterproof glass at the prisoner.

"He will not have his wig. He will not have his makeup. There will be no deputy sheriff holding an umbrella for him," said former Santa Barbara County Sheriff Jim Thomas, who ran the jail for seven years.

"He would probably be considered a potential suicide risk and be put under 24-hour watch. Especially with a high-profile person like him, you never want anything to happen to them. He will not have any privacy," Thomas said.

If the jury pronounces Jackson guilty of a felony count, his hands would be cuffed behind his back and he would be led away by bailiffs to a waiting van.

The ride to the Santa Barbara jail takes about an hour and torments the prisoner with a final look at one of the country's most gorgeous landscapes: the provincial vineyards featured in the movie Sideways.

At the jail, metal fencing encloses a series of low stucco buildings.

Prisoners are led through a metal door to the processing area. Obsessively clean, Jackson would surely not enjoy walking past the sign taped to the wall that says, "Alert: check all incoming men/women for `spider bites' and/or skin abcess."

He would be taken to a small room with a beat-up pay phone on the wall next to an ad for Smitty's Bail Bonds where he would have to turn over his possessions. His bejeweled courtroom clothes would be taken away and replaced by a plain prison jumpsuit.

Jackson would automatically be put in isolation for his own protection, Thomas said.

"Child molesters don't do well in prison," Thomas said.

After about 30 days, Thomas said, Jackson would be moved to a high-security cell at the state prison in Corcoran, which houses California's most dangerous and highest-profile convicts, including Charles Manson and Sirhan Sirhan.

If convicted on all counts, Jackson faces a maximum of 18 years and eight months.

Jackson's spiritual adviser, the Rev. Jesse L. Jackson, told MSNBC last week that the pop singer could survive incarceration. "While he looks kind of delicate, and dances, and talks in a kind of high-pitched voice, he's really a very tough and smart guy," Jesse Jackson said.

The former sheriff agreed that the singer, despite his many eccentricities, would manage behind bars - if it comes to that.

Thomas said, "He'll do what needs to be done and follow the rules. Of course, he won't have much choice."

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