Martha Stewart slipped into Alderson federal prison camp before dawn Friday morning, eluding many of the camera crews who had staked out the remote rural facility hoping for a glimpse of the multimillionaire businesswoman as she began serving a five-month sentence.
Reporters outside Alderson, which is about 275 miles from Washington, saw an SUV enter the main gate at about 5:50 a.m. after driving past state troopers who had been stationed along the road from the nearby town. Local officials had chased photographers off the hill with the best angle of the car's interior, and the misty predawn light was too dim to provide much illumination. Stewart herself remained unseen.
But she announced her surrender on her Web site, Marthatalks.com, about two hours later, writing, "By the time you read this, I will have reported to a minimum-security prison . . . to begin serving my five-month sentence."
Later, she issued a statement, saying, "Today marks the beginning of the end of a terrible experience, and I am now one step closer to getting this awful time behind me. . . . While I am serving my sentence, my attorneys will continue to pursue my appeal. They believe it is a strong appeal that presents very serious legal issues, and the brief will be filed shortly with the court."
Stewart and her former Merrill Lynch & Co. broker, Peter E. Bacanovic, were convicted in March of conspiracy, obstruction and lying to federal investigators about her December 2001 sale of ImClone Systems Inc. stock. U.S. District Judge Miriam Goldman Cedarbaum sentenced each of them to five months in prison but ruled they could stay free on bond while they appealed their convictions. However, Stewart asked last month to begin serving her prison time immediately, citing both personal and business needs to "put this nightmare behind me."
The Federal Bureau of Prisons confirmed her arrival, saying that Stewart had turned herself in at 6:15 a.m. Like all new inmates, Stewart was photographed, fingerprinted and assigned a bed in the dormitory-like facility, said bureau spokeswoman Traci Billingsley. New prisoners are issued khaki clothing, bedding and a towel.
Just days after attending a wedding at a posh resort on Paradise Island in the Bahamas, Stewart, 63, checked into this 105-acre campus where she will be required to work at a job that pays between 12 and 40 cents an hour. She will be limited to 300 minutes of personal phone calls a month -- though that rises to 400 in during the holiday season in November and December.
Founded in 1927, Alderson is the nation's oldest federal prison for women. It has housed both famous and infamous prisoners, including jazz singer Billie Holiday, who worked in the prison's now-closed garment factory while serving time for drug possession, World War II propagandist Iva "Tokyo Rose" D'Aquino and Lynette "Squeaky" Fromme and Sara Jane Moore, each of whom tried to kill President Gerald R. Ford. It was converted to a minimum-security prison camp in 1988, and now houses about 1,040 women, primarily drug offenders and women convicted of white-collar offenses such as fraud.
The prison's religious, educational and work programs have a good reputation with defense lawyers, but the union that represents the prison guards has complained in recent days that staffing cuts that have reduced the complement of guards to 44 -- down from around 60 in the early 1990s -- will make it difficult to protect Stewart. Bureau of Prisons officials say staffing is adequate.
Camera crews and reporters have flooded the nearby town of Alderson, population about 1,100, and yesterday more than four dozen reporters, photographers and onlookers had gathered outside the prison's stone entranceway by the time the prison confirmed Stewart's arrival. Two television networks had stationed cameras on rented cranes, and still photographers shot pictures of every passing car, just to be safe. But most of the crews had not arrived yet when Stewart's SUV drove by.
The domesticity entrepreneur also eluded four Alderson residents who had come to the prison waving handmade signs: "Honk if you love Martha" and "Alderson: It's a Good Thing."
"There's a lot of hype, and we're not used to it," said one of them, Nikki Massey, 21, an emergency room clerk whose grandmother once worked at the prison. "We're supporting her, and the prison," which is one of the area's big employers.
Even as Stewart surrendered to the prison, her legal team, now led by appeals specialist Walter E. Dellinger III, continued to press her case. On Thursday, he sent a letter to Cedarbaum and U.S. Attorney David N. Kelley accusing prosecutors of failing to share evidence with Stewart's lawyers that might have helped her win an acquittal. Both Bacanovic and Stewart's lawyers must file their formal appeals with the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals by Oct. 20, but a hearing is not expected until early next year. Stewart may miss that court date, however, because federal prisoners are not guaranteed the right to attend appeals court hearings.
Stewart said in her statement that she thinks her business empire, Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia Inc., will be "in good hands" while she is locked up, but the company has suffered enormously since word first leaked in 2002 that Stewart's personal stock trades were under investigation. Advertisers have fled from the flagship magazine, Martha Stewart Living, and production of Stewart's Emmy-winning syndicated television show is on hiatus until next year. But the stock began rising last month when Stewart announced plans to go to prison immediately and cut a deal to work with reality television guru Mark Burnett.
The stock closed yesterday at $16.02, down 57 cents or 3.44 percent.
Analysts remain skeptical about the company -- most of the big research houses either recommend selling it because they think its stock price is too high, or they have recently dropped coverage. William Mack of Standard & Poor's is in the first group. "I think things have got to get better. It's hard to imagine how they could get worse. But I don't think we're going to see a profit until 2006."
But Stewart remains officially upbeat. "Every day I am away, I will look forward to rejoining [the company] to pursue my life's work . . . creating beautiful, practical and educational magazines and television programs, as well as inspiring and useful products for the home," Stewart said in her statement. "I'll see you again in March."