N.Va. Jail's 'Unassuming' Celebrity

New York Times reporter Judith Miller arrives at the Alexandria Detention Center.
New York Times reporter Judith Miller arrives at the Alexandria Detention Center. (By Kevin Wolf -- Associated Press)

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By Jerry Markon
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, August 4, 2005

She receives more mail than any other inmate at the Alexandria jail. Former NBC anchor Tom Brokaw has stopped by to see her, and she requested -- and received -- extra visitation time with her husband from New York, a courtesy extended to other inmates with out-of-town relatives.

Nearly a month after she was jailed for refusing to cooperate with prosecutors in a leak investigation, New York Times reporter Judith Miller is adapting to life at the Alexandria Detention Center, jail officials and visitors said yesterday. She has praised staff members as courteous and professional.

Miller, 57, is the latest in a long string of celebrated inmates at the Alexandria jail, part of a complex of faded red brick buildings along the Capital Beltway near the Woodrow Wilson Bridge. She is housed not far from Zacarias Moussaoui, the only person convicted in the United States in the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. When Moussaoui arrived, convicted FBI spy Robert Hanssen was bumped from his cell to make room for the terror suspect.

Other high-profile inmates have included CIA spies Aldrich Ames and Harold James Nicholson, former United Way of America chief William Aramony and political maverick Lyndon H. LaRouche Jr. Under a contract with the U.S. Marshals Service, the jail houses federal inmates -- about 150 of the 500 inmates yesterday.

Alexandria Sheriff James H. Dunning said he takes pains to make sure his famous charges are treated no differently than drug dealers or killers. "The celebrities get the same treatment here as anyone else," he said in an interview yesterday at the jail.

Dunning said Miller is "fitting in just fine. Let's face it, jail is not fun. But she is not having any unusual difficulty adjusting to the environment."

That doesn't mean life is problem-free or cushy. Miller sleeps in an 80-square-foot cell with a concrete slab and mattress for a bed and two thin slits for windows. She has told visitors that she brushes her hair with a toothbrush. She dines on such delicacies as turkey a la king and "down home" ham and pinto beans.

The food has "taken some getting used to," Times Publisher Arthur O. Sulzberger Jr. wrote in an internal posting supplied by the newspaper.

Miller's attorney, Bob Bennett, declined to make her available for an interview. He said Miller has a job as a "floor monitor," cleaning up trays after meals. He added: "She is treated like everyone else. . . . The jail authorities and prison guards are treating her very professionally and appropriately."

Visitors describe a woman at peace with her decision to accept jail rather than reveal a confidential source. Prosecutors are investigating whether senior Bush administration officials leaked a CIA operative's name in retaliation against an administration critic. A federal judge ordered Miller to jail July 6 on civil contempt charges, and it is unclear how long she will remain there.

"She was very upbeat, very energetic and in good spirits," said Paul Steiger, managing editor of the Wall Street Journal, who visited Miller last week as part of a delegation from the Committee to Protect Journalists. Miller, wearing a dark green uniform with "prisoner" written in capital letters on the back, spoke by telephone through a clear partition.

Chief Deputy Sheriff Veronica Mitchell described Miller as "very unassuming" in her dealings with inmates and staff. She said that other prisoners are aware that Miller is "newsworthy," partly because of the volume of mail she gets, but that they might not know the details of her case.

The jail's reputation for efficiency -- no escape, suicide or fatality has taken place in Dunning's 20 years of service -- was on display yesterday during a tour of the facility.

Prisoners calmly walked on clean terrazzo floors, getting haircuts, attending Bible classes or lounging in the common areas of their housing units. In the all-female unit next to Miller's, inmates played cards on a computer, received medicine from a nurse and knitted as cartoons played on television.

Miller spends much of her time reading and trying to answer all her mail, but her hand is cramping, people who have visited her said. She reads the Times and the Journal, though they arrive days late, and books from the prison library including Virginia Woolf's "Mrs. Dalloway," according to an article in the Times's internal newsletter by Jill Abramson, the paper's managing editor.


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