Michael Cohen, the former Trump fixer who said in court on Wednesday that he’s been living in a “mental incarceration” while “fixing” things for the president for the past 12 years, will no longer have to imagine what it’s like to be incarcerated. Why? Because this past week, he found out that he’s headed to real, physical prison. But not just any old prison: Cohen is going to jail for white-collar crimes, which means he’ll be going to white-collar prison.
And white collar crime is defined as…?
According to the FBI’s website, the term — which was coined in 1939 — stands for crimes that are characterized by, “deceit, concealment or violation of trust and are not dependent on the application or threat of physical force or violence.”
“The motivation behind these crimes is financial — to obtain or avoid losing money, property or services or to secure a personal or business advantage,” per FBI.gov. But before you start thinking that white-collar crimes don’t sound so bad, think again: The FBI emphasize that a single scam can destroy a company, devastate families by wiping out their life savings or cost investors billions of dollars.
That sounds like it could be pretty bad. But white collar prison… doesn’t sound so bad?
Well, dear average guy who seems to have above-average instincts, you’re right. Often referred to as “Club Fed,” white-collar prison is basically just another way to describe low and medium security prisons. It works like this: In the Federal Bureau of Prisons, there are five different security levels and inmates are assigned to a specific level of security based on their custody and classification score, which itself is calculated by the Bureau of Prisons’ Designation and Sentence Computation Center (DSCC), per PrisonerRescources.com.
According to The Morales Law Firm, the DSCC classifies inmates based on the level of security they require and whether or not they need any counseling or medical/mental health treatment. Other factors include the inmate’s release residence; the level of overcrowding in a particular institution; and any additional security measures.
All of which fails to acknowledge that, as per a 2017 study, black men have traditionally received sentences that were on average 20.4 percent longer than that of white men for the same federal crimes. “The Sentencing Project also found that black men are nearly six times as likely as white men to be incarcerated, and Hispanic men are 2.3 times as likely,” reports ABC News.
Fuck’s sake. Okay then, so which cushy white-guy prison is Cohen heading to?
In Cohen’s case, the prison recommended by the judge — but which will have to be confirmed by the DSCC — is FCI Otisville, about 70 miles northwest of New York City.
“Also known as Federal Correctional Institutions (FCIs), medium security prisons tend to house inmates in cells, and a number of these inmates do have a history of violence. All medium-security FCIs are surrounded by spools of razor wire and multiple fences, along with an armed perimeter vehicle that circles the prison night and day. Depending on the prison, violence can be prevalent and severe. Prisoners must have less than 30 years remaining on their sentences to be housed at medium-security FCIs. Most prisoners are permitted to be housed at medium-security FCIs. Staffing levels are higher than at low-security FCIs, but lower than at high-security federal prisons,” reports PrisonerRescources.com.
Which might sound intimidating to you, but with regard to FCI Otisville specifically, CNN reported that in 2009, Forbes named it one of “America’s 10 cushiest prisons.” That’s probably why Bernie Madoff, who admitted to running a criminal Ponzi scheme in 2009, had his lawyer request that he be sent to FCI Otisville for his crimes. (Madoff is, however, incarcerated at FCI Butner.)
For comparison’s sake, in high-security prisons, inmates are housed in cells and most of them have a significant history of violence. “These are some of the most violent prisons in the United States, where prisoners die each and every year due to gang and other group forms of violence,” reports PrisonerRescources.com. “All high-security federal prisons have either multiple reinforced fences or an actual wall surrounding the prison. Most also have gun towers.”
Eesh. So what’s life like at one of these cushy prisons?
Mickey Sherman, an American criminal defense attorney, spent part of 2011 in the Otisville, New York, camp (which is slightly more lenient than the FCI) for tax evasion. In 2012, per a report in Business Insider, Sherman claimed that the most combative part of prison took place when inmates watched American Idol and argued over who got kicked off. They also have a decent-sounding menu with plenty of kosher options. “Given its proximity to New York’s sizable Jewish population, the FCI Otisville commissary includes a number of kosher foods, including matzo ball soup, gefilte fish, beef cholent and rugelach,” reports CNN. Cohen will have access to a rabbi as well.
That sounds better than the food I’m eating! What other activities do they offer?
Quite a few: Weights, cardio equipment, bocce ball, horseshoes, a basketball court, a handball court, a tennis area, a baseball diamond, running and walking are all available, per PrisonerRescource.com.
In maximum security prisons on the other hand — according to at least one account — there isn’t so much as a single blade of grass: The only things to do are read and do push-ups. “You could also write, but the only pens you could get were expensive and then when you got them, they were these little floppy rubber ink pens, the length of a crayon — so that it can’t be made into a [weapon],” writes Travis Dusenbury, a prisoner at ADX (United States Penitentiary Administrative Maximum Facility in Florence) for The Marshall Project.
Jesus, man, the medium security prison offers more than my gym does. So what’s the most low-level crime you have to commit to get into this place?
Technically all it would take is catching an out-of-season fish and not having enough money to pay the fine. Or, y’know, stealing a car. But before you go all Grand Theft Auto, consider this: Even in a white-collar prison, you’re woken up every day at 6 a.m. sharp. And according to a CNBC report on white-collar prisons, you’re awakened at midnight, 3 a.m. and 5 a.m., every single night as well. “But there is no time to dwell on that this morning, or any morning,” writes Scott Cohn. “You have exactly 90 minutes to shower, get dressed, make your bed — no, you can’t let that go for today, or any day for that matter — get some breakfast and get to your job, where the most you will ever hope to make is $1.15 an hour.”
But if that all sounds good to you, then by all means, evade paying taxes for a couple years and you’ll find yourself playing bocce ball with your fellow prison bros in no time.