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Domestic Diva to Spend Thanksgiving Inside

Turkey, Few Trimmings For Jailed Media Mogul

By Rosalind S. Helderman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, November 24, 2004; Page B01

There will be no sweet potato spoon bread this year for Martha Stewart. No cornbread sourdough stuffing, no cranberry pear chutney. Not for her the recipes touted on her company's Web site as meals that will "make you wish your plate were bigger."

Instead, officials report that Stewart -- and her 1,050 fellow inmates at West Virginia's Alderson Federal Prison Camp, where she is serving time for lying about a stock sale -- can expect a more traditional Thanksgiving meal. The turkey, mashed potatoes, gravy, dressing and pumpkin pie will be prepared by inmates in the camp kitchen.


An inmate walks the grounds at Alderson Federal Prison Camp in Alderson, W.Va., where Martha Stewart is jailed. (Jon C. Hancock -- AP)

_____Martha Stewart Coverage_____
Stewart Wants Firm to Help Pay Lawyers (The Washington Post, Nov 10, 2004)
Stewart Adjusts With Chef's Touch (The Washington Post, Oct 22, 2004)
Stewart's Ex-Broker Files Appeal (The Washington Post, Oct 21, 2004)
Complete Trial Background

Nobody is saying whether the jail birds will be frozen, or fresh, as the nation's homemaker-in-chief might prefer. Prison officials declined even to specify whether the turkeys will come from a local farm, like the 44-pound bird pardoned last week at the White House by President Bush. The turkey was a native of Mathias, W.Va.

A prison spokeswoman could promise only that they will be as cheap as possible. "They utilize the most cost-effective purchase options," said spokeswoman Dawn Zobel, who explained that prison officials regularly scan the Internet to find the least expensive foodstuffs.

Privacy rules prohibit Zobel from disclosing whether Stewart, 63, will be helping to prepare the feast, and her spokespeople aren't talking.

Thanksgiving Day comes on Day 48 of Stewart's five-month stay at the sprawling minimum-security campus on the Greenbrier River. She chose to begin serving her time even as her appeal wends its way through the legal system.

The holiday is one of several she will spend on the inside, including Halloween, Christmas and New Year's. In a Thanksgiving message posted yesterday on www.marthatalks.com -- not marthastewart.com, official Web site of Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia Inc. -- she told fans that she is "safe, fit and healthy," though she acknowledged that "the loss of freedom and the lack of privacy are extremely difficult."

Stewart said her "daily interactions with the staff and fellow inmates here at Alderson are marked by fair treatment and mutual respect." She added that she is "very grateful" this Thanksgiving for the support of her friends, family and colleagues, as well as that of her fans who, she wrote, have sent more than 15,000 e-mails.

It is little wonder that Stewart has always said she loves the holidays, which helped create her media empire as millions of women tried out her seasonal recipes and decorating tips in hopes of capturing the country elegance of a Martha celebration.

Stewart stepped down as company chairman and chief executive after her indictment last year. When she announced in September that she would enter prison soon, Stewart noted specifically how "very sad" she would be during the holidays this year. "They are always an opportunity to celebrate family, friends and religious traditions that mean so much to many of us," she said.

In an interview last month with CNN's Larry King, her daughter, Alexis Stewart, acknowledged that her mother loves the holidays and that spending them in prison would be very hard. But she said a "whole bunch of her family" would travel to Alderson to celebrate Thanksgiving.

Although the prison generally allows only weekend visits, Stewart's family can take advantage of special hours tomorrow, from 8 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Inmates, who are all required to hold a prison job, get the day off, with the exception of those who work in the powerhouse and, of course, the kitchen.

The domestic diva's family shouldn't count on eating with Stewart, however. In years past, Thanksgiving was the one day of the year when inmates' families were allowed past visiting rooms and into the heart of the camp where, for $1.75, they could share in the feast.

Not this year. Zobel said the decision to limit the meal to inmates was a "procedural change" announced in August by the camp's new warden and was driven partly by budgetary concerns.

Instead, Stewart's relatives could attend some of the seasonal events that kick off this week in Alderson, a town of 1,100 that has been home to the nation's oldest federal prison for women since it opened in 1927. This weekend, several galleries and stores on Railroad Avenue will host their annual open houses. Patti Grafton at the Wolf Creek Gallery will serve mulled cider.

In December, the town will host its annual Christmas celebration, throwing open the doors to decorated old mansions for tours. The Singing Angels, a gospel choir made up of Alderson inmates, will perform at the Presbyterian church.

Among the things the town is thankful for this year is Stewart, whom they have adopted since she slipped through the gates of the prison down the road before dawn Oct. 8. Though the prison has held famous inmates before, none seem to have elicited quite as much interest as Stewart, who has brought with her a seemingly endless stream of reporters and tourists to shop in the stores and eat in the town's two restaurants.

Betty Alderson, who is married to a descendant of the town's founder and owns the 117-year-old Alderson Store, just keeps selling her Martha-themed T-shirts. The orders come in practically every day, from across the country -- more than 800 so far. The sales, she said, will make this a nice Thanksgiving indeed for her family.

"We're in rural West Virginia. We don't have a lot going on, and things are mighty slow," she said. "We have a lot of bills to pay. It's been good to have to that extra padding there to help us out."


© 2004 The Washington Post Company