Martha Stewart will serve her sentence at the nation's oldest federal prison for women, in Alderson, W.Va., where other famous inmates have included jazz singer Billie Holiday and would-be presidential assassins.
The multimillionaire businesswoman said in a statement Wednesday that she had been assigned to serve her five-month sentence for conspiracy, obstruction and lying to federal investigators at Alderson, a minimum-security prison camp that currently houses 1,042 people. She is scheduled to surrender by Oct. 8.
"While I had hoped to be designated to a facility closer to my family and more accessible to my appellate attorneys, I am pleased that the Bureau of Prisons has designated me so quickly to FPC Alderson," Stewart said in the statement. "I look forward to getting this behind me and to vigorously pursuing my appeal."
Alderson resembles a college campus or a summer camp, with brick buildings scattered amid rolling hills about 275 miles from Washington. Inmates live dormitory-style, and those who are physically able must work at jobs paying 12 to 40 cents an hour. Religious and educational programs are available as well. The prison camp has its own firehouse, and inmates may serve as volunteer firefighters helping to battle blazes in the surrounding community.
While Alderson is widely considered one of the best options for female prisoners, life in confinement there is still no picnic, lawyers and prison experts said. Inmates are limited to five hours of personal phone calls a month and may have only preapproved visitors at specific times.
"There's a tremendous loss of control. Your life is regimented from when you get up to what you wear to what belongings you can have," said white-collar defense attorney Michael Kendall.
Stewart also may find herself under constant scrutiny from longer-term prisoners seeking to curry favor with the guards by reporting potential infractions, said Todd A. Bussert, a New Haven, Conn., lawyer who specializes in post-conviction work. "She's going to have a tougher time than most," he said.
Alderson was founded in 1927. The federal government had found itself with a large number of female inmates thanks to laws that made a federal crime of prostitution targeting military bases. Over the years, it has housed such well-known women as Holiday, who served time for illegal drugs and worked in the prison's garment factory, and Iva "Tokyo Rose" D'Aquino, the notorious World War II propagandist. Before the prison was converted to a lower-security camp in 1988, it housed a higher-security unit that held the two women who tried to assassinate President Gerald Ford, Lynette "Squeaky" Fromme and Sara Jane Moore.
Alderson also houses many Washington area women, particularly those convicted in the District of drug offenses and other relatively nonviolent crimes. Among the local alumnae are relatives of some of the area's boldest of bold-face names: Constance Perry, the mother of drug kingpin Rayful Edmond III, Marlene Ramallo, the ex-wife of former Washington Redskins owner Jack Kent Cooke, and Mary Treadwell, the ex-wife of former District mayor and current political candidate Marion Barry.
Like most federal prison camps, Alderson does not have guard towers or razor wire to keep the inmates on the property. "The only thing that keeps you in is yourself, and the siren call of freedom is right there," said Alan J. Chaset, an Alexandria attorney who specializes in post-conviction work. "That makes doing time in a place like that much more difficult."
Both Fromme and Moore attempted to escape before they were transferred elsewhere. But they and most other inmates who have walked away were easily recaptured in this isolated area that lost its Amtrak passenger service in 2001 and has only limited air service nearby.
That isolation is why West Virginia was not on the multimedia entrepreneur's list of preferred prisons. When Stewart volunteered earlier this month to serve her time while continuing to appeal her conviction for lying about her sale of ImClone Systems Inc. stock, she asked to be assigned either to Danbury, Conn., or Coleman, Fla. But the Florida federal prisons have been hit hard by the hurricane season, and Bureau of Prisons spokeswoman Traci Billingsley said Alderson, Coleman and Danbury all are over capacity.
Billingsley said she could not comment on Stewart's assignment, but that the bureau generally tries to put inmates within 500 miles of where they will sent after their release. Alderson is 545 miles from the estate in Bedford, N.Y., where Stewart plans to serve five months of home confinement after completing her prison term.
Stock in Stewart's company, Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia Inc., closed at $15.65, down 11 cents, or 0.7 percent, for the day. That price is more than $4 a share higher than it was in mid-September, before Stewart announced she would go to prison without waiting for a ruling on her appeals.