Michael Cohen is set to spend the next three years of his life in prison, but what will his experience look like?
President Donald Trump’s long-time lawyer and alleged “fixer” reported to Federal Correctional Institution, Otisville earlier this month, a minimum-security prison in upstate New York earlier this month. Cohen was sentenced to three years in prison last December for tax evasion, bank fraud and campaign finance violations over his hush payments made to porn star Stormy Daniels, who claims that she had an affair with Trump in 2006.
During his stint in Otisville, Cohen will have access to several amenities, including access to a full-time rabbi, and a special food menu that includes matzo ball soup, gefilte fish, and rugelach pastries. The prison also includes weights, a tennis area, a basketball court, and a television room.
The prison has been referred to as “Jewish heaven” by white-collar criminal Larry Levine, and was listed as one of “America’s 10 Cushiest Prisons,” by Forbes. However, former lobbyist Jack Abramoff says that minimum security prison is not what it seems. (RELATED: Jack Abramoff Describes Life For Michael Cohen In Minimum-Security Prison)
“There isn’t a club fed anymore,”Abramoff told The Daily Caller. “It doesn’t exist.”
A former lobbyist, Abramoff served nearly six years in the “white collar” prison of Federal Correctional Institution in Cumberland, Maryland due to his role in an Indian casino scandal. Abramoff dismisses the idea that similar prisons are some kind of vacation home for America’s wealthiest criminals.
“Maybe it used to be that way, but it’s not anymore,” he said.
When asked if he had any advice for Cohen as he begins his sentence, Abramoff was candid and to the point. (RELATED: Cohen Pitched A Book Idea Last Year Before Testimony Claiming Trump
“Don’t pull off any scams,” he said. “Keep your head down, obey the rules, do your time, and get out.”
Not much has been reported about the early days of Cohen’s prison stint, but a report from the Associated Press outlined a “typical day” in Otisville:
As for a typical day: During the week, it’s lights on at 6 a.m., followed by breakfast. Work duties, such as mowing the grounds or cleaning up the prison, are performed from 7:30 a.m. to 3 p.m., with a break for lunch at 11. Dinner is served beginning at 4:15 p.m. It’s lights out at 11:30 p.m.
“Club fed is a myth,” Jerome Mayne, author of “Diary of a White Caller Criminal” told The Daily Caller. “There is no such thing to my knowledge.”
Mayne spent just over 16 months in a minimum security prison in Yankton, South Dakota. He said that the majority of his fellow inmates were in prison for drug-related offenses, not white collar crimes. That prison had many of the same amenities as Otisville, but was far from a vacation for Mayne.
“When you’re in there, you have no control over anything in your life,” he said.
Mayne said he took medication for anxiety and depression, but claims he was denied access to the medication after his first month in prison.
“They told me I wouldn’t need them and just told me [his depression and anxiety] would go away,” Mayne said.
Mayne said he turned out OK, but was “in a daze for quite awhile.”
Kevin Ring, a former congressional staffer and lobbyist who went to the same Cumberland prison for his role in the Abramoff lobbying scandal echoed similar thoughts on the amenities of white collar prisons.
“I think there’s a misconception about club fed,” Ring told The Daily Caller.
Ring said that he lived in what he described as a “cubicle” during his time in Cumberland, where there were three sets of bunk beds, with six people sharing a room.
There’s all these things you do that are nothing like you’d do at home,” Ring said.
Ring described the food in Cumberland as “edible,” but still not very good. The menu included fried chicken, pasta, with hamburgers served on Wednesdays, and fish served on Fridays.
“Most people lose weight, because your portions are small,” Ring said.
All prisoners in Cumberland were required to have a job. Ring says he worked in the library and took care of a dog during his stint. For his work in the library, Ring says he was paid 30-40 cents an hour, and $50 a month for his caring of the dog.
Ring said that his job required a fairly conventional work week, but that he could mostly do whatever he pleased during the weekend.
“On the weekends when there was less to do, you can do what you want,” Ring said.
Perhaps the biggest difference between minimum and maximum security prisons is the freedom of movement that those in the former have compared to those in the latter. In many cases, maximum security prisoners are put on a rigorous, almost hourly schedule to which they have to comply. Minimum security prisoners are given much more freedom, but mostly find themselves with little to do.
“It’s mainly just boring,” Michael Frantz, a consultant who spent three years behind bars for tax evasion told The Daily Caller. “There’s almost nothing to do. Time goes by very slowly.”
Frantz served time in several minimum security facilities while he was appealing his sentence and now serves as the director of Jail Time Consulting, a company he founded to offer services to federal and state inmates. Frantz said that Cohen’s position as a high-profile figure could complicate his experience. (RELATED: Michael Cohen Has A Ploy To Reduce His Prison Sentence)
“He’s got to be very careful on who he may cross or who may not like him because of his notoriety,” Frantz said.
Frantz himself turned his attention to writing a book about his experienced titled “Jail Time: What You Need To Know … Before You Go To Federal Prison,” a book that serves as an instruction manual on how future inmates should prepare for their incarceration.
Frantz said that he would encourage Cohen to follow a similar path in order to stay busy.
“He really needs to find a purpose, whether it be writing a book or spending time in the law library,” Frantz said.
Cohen refused to close the door on a movie or book deal earlier this year, during an explosive testimony in front of the House Oversight Committee. Ahead of the release of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s report last month, Cohen signaled that his saga had not yet concluded.
“Soon I will be ready to address the American people again … tell it all … and tell it myself!” Cohen tweeted ahead of the reports released.
There’s little doubt that publishers across the nation are champing at the bit to help Cohen write a tell-all but Frantz says Cohen should take a more measured approach while doing his time.
“Be careful about discussing your case with anyone,” he said. “Be friendly, but watch who your friends are.”
“Stay under the radar.”