What comes to mind when you picture incarceration? Brewing jailhouse hooch and getting in fights? Spitting in your enemy’s lotion like Brianna “Princess Thug” Guerra of Girls Incarcerated? A bloody tampon sandwich à la Orange Is the New Black?
At Dublin Federal Correctional Institute’s satellite camp, where Felicity Huffman has been since October 15, life in prison is much more club fed than FCI Danbury. The Desperate Housewives actress, who paid $15,000 to inflate her daughter’s SAT score as part of the college admissions scandal, is allowed visitors and can sunbathe outside. Crafts like cross-stitching and origami are made available. She can participate in bingo, and ping-pong tournaments. Food ranges from Bran Flakes to fish sandwiches to Salisbury steaks. She wears, as this photo shows, an apparently subjectively chic olive-green jumpsuit practically identical to an ELLE.com approved Alex Mill piece.
As one Twitter user puts it, “she’s on vacation from life right now.”
FCI Dublin has a cushy reputation and history of housing celebrity inmates, like heiress Patty Hearst and Hollywood’s infamous madame Heidi Fleiss, who was convicted of federal charges of tax evasion in 1996 and served 20 months. Fleiss, speaking via telephone to ELLE.com from her parrot sanctuary in Nevada, says Huffman’s two weeks in prison will be a breeze.
The former prison facility opened in 1974 and is located about 40 miles east of San Francisco. It’s considered a low-security facility with just over 1,ooo female inmates, plus an adjacent minimum-security satellite camp housing 175 more women, where Huffman is staying. Fleiss was also sent to the satellite camp when she arrived in 1996. She says inmates immediately surrounded her, offering to buy her coffee and toothpaste from the commissary. The expectation, she says, was to give something in return, like a sexual favor. Fleiss claims to have had sex with a fellow inmate in both the FCI Dublin’s chapel and in the electrical closet.
Sleeping areas were often ant-infested, she recalls, and the bathroom’s water pressure was nonexistent. The food? “Awful, horrendous,” she says. “I was raised a vegetarian on organic food. All the starch and the processed food was gross.”
Her advice to Huffman: “Be friendly to everyone. Don’t be arrogant. Don’t be rude, whatever you would be in everyday life, be. You should be respectful of other people’s space. I definitely wouldn’t receive Snickers and Dr. Pepper or buy them for other people, things like that. Don’t try and be anyone’s best friend.”
There’s nothing easy about incarceration. But recent celebrity inmates, like Teresa Giudice of Real Housewives and Dance Moms star Abby Lee Miller, have sparked interest about what life on the inside is really like for the rich and famous.
According to FCI Dublin’s inmate handbook, Huffman is awakened each day at 5 a.m. She is responsible for making her bed and for tidying up her cell floor. Generally, there are two women to a cell. Inmates wear jumpsuits or sweats available for purchase at commissary. They are not allowed cell phones, but have radios and computer access. Zumba and yoga classes are available, according to The New York Times, and the facility’s volleyball court and horseshoe pit are newly renovated.
Former federal prosecutor Anthony Brass, who represented Danielle Steele’s accountant in 2009 and has several female clients who have served time at FCI Dublin, says the facility is “much nicer” than a local county jail or a supermax prison. It’s a desirable place to be, he says, as far as correctional facilities go.
“Dublin doesn’t, for the most part, have female gang members or murderers or people who are used to resolving problems with violence,” he says. “Inmates there face shorter sentences, because they are people who have pled guilty as opposed to people fighting their charges to the bitter end. It reduces pressures on the inmates and reduces levels of desperation.”
For that reason, he says, the facility is run with a certain degree of trust and autonomy. There are classes and jobs available to inmates in laundry and food service sectors, though it’s unclear whether Huffman has a designated job and, if so, what it is.
The security at FCI Dublin is also incredibly low, says director and founder of Wall Street Prison Consultants Larry Levine, and there are no fences or locked doors on the satellite premise. An anonymous Bureau of Prisons official also told The New York Times the camp where Huffman is located houses “white-collar criminals.” Breakouts are incredibly rare.
Levine, who served 10 years in federal prison for racketeering, advises clients before going into lock-up and is currently working with three people involved in the college admissions scandal. He believes Huffman could be receiving special treatment at FCI Dublin because of her celebrity-status, like cutting the food line and limited exposure to other, more dangerous inmates at the facility.
“The Bureau of Prisons wants to keep her safe and happy [for fear of] bad PR when she gets out,” he says. “Do you think they want her talking about how bad of a time she had in jail?”