Lea Fastow's Prison Sentence

by TChris

The media like to portray "prisons for the rich" as pleasurable summer camps, but that won't be Lea Fastow's experience.

Instead, on July 12, she will move into the austere, high-rise Federal Detention Center downtown. A closet-size cell there will be her home while she serves a one-year sentence after pleading guilty last month to tax evasion.

Besides dealing with the dangers and indignities of prison life -- from the threat of violence and routine strip searches to scratchy toilet paper and narrow bunk beds -- Mrs. Fastow, 42, is likely to find that the mixed-sex, highly secure detention center will be anything but the kind of pastoral prison camp that many people still associate with white-collar criminals. And, former convicts say, her time will be more difficult because she is a woman, white and wealthy.

It's doubtful that Fastow's time will be more difficult because she's white, but prison policies assure that her gender will work against her. She won't be allowed one of the most desirable jobs -- kitchen duty -- because of the sexist assumption that only men can do the heavy lifting that food preparation requires.

Women are not eligible for the coveted jobs -- trimming the trees and shrubbery around the center or loading supplies at a nearby warehouse -- that let inmates go outside; those jobs are also reserved for men. The only sunlight that women at the detention center see is the vague glow that permeates the four-inch-wide frosted-glass windows in their cells.

Prisons are dehumanizing institutions for the rich as well as the poor. Wealth shouldn't dictate the conditions of incarceration -- prison conditions need to improve for everyone -- but treating female prisoners less favorably than male inmates shouldn't be part of the punishment.

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