Life behind bars for Lori Loughlin and Felicity Huffman will be 'traumatizing,' experts say

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Suzy Byrne
·Editor, Yahoo Entertainment
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If Felicity Huffman and Lori Loughlin do in fact serve time for their roles in Operation Varsity Blues, the experience will be "traumatizing for life," says a former inmate. (Image: Getty Images)
If Felicity Huffman and Lori Loughlin do in fact serve time for their roles in Operation Varsity Blues, the experience will be "traumatizing for life," says a former inmate. (Graphic: Quinn Lemmers/Getty Images)

It looks like Lori Loughlin and Felicity Huffman will at least be doing some time in federal prison for their parts in this college admissions scandal. And while the public generally has the perception that it will be a walk in the park for the celebrities, experts — including one who has served time in federal prison — say that’s just not true.

Those who follow celebrity legal matters have come to expect stars to spend just hours or minutes behind bars for misdeeds (see: Khloé Kardashian, Lindsay Lohan, Nicole Richie). And because Operation Varsity Blues scandal is a bribery case based on the elite, including these actresses, paying huge sums of money to unlawfully get their children into college (with Loughlin paying out $500,000 and Huffman dropping $15,000), people think they’ll buy their way out of this, too.

However, it doesn’t seem to be the case. Huffman’s plea deal reportedly stipulates some prison time (the federal guidelines suggest in the zero to six month range) and Loughlin, who shunned a deal only to be slapped with an additional charge, faces around five years, a legal expert says. We are talking about federal crimes here, and in a time when Americans are fed up with white privilege.

“Federal prison is night and day from state prison,” attorney Debra Bogaards of Bogaards Law in San Francisco tells Yahoo Entertainment. “When celebrities like Huffman and Loughlin are incarcerated in federal prison, they’re going to be referred to as convicts or the more derogatory ‘inmates,’ which is a term used to describe those with weak or suspect intestinal fortitude. While federal prisons may resemble more of a country club — hence the nickname ‘Club Fed’ — they are still grim, grimy and uncomfortable. It is not an easy ride.”

Loughlin and Huffman will be spending their days with other white-collar cheats, embezzlers, lawyers, politicians and commodities brokers, as well as low-level drug dealers. “They still sleep in a dormitory,” says Bogaards. “It’s still cramped. They typically work eight hours a day at a very low pay rate — pennies on the dollar. They have to wear uniforms rather than their designer clothing. And the food — they’re not going to find their gluten free, vegan specialities.”

A prisoner who did time in Martha Stewart’s ‘Camp Cupcake’ predicts it will be ‘traumatizing for life’

When domestic diva Martha Stewart, aka inmate No. 55170-054, was incarcerated for five months in 2004 for conspiracy, making false statements and obstruction of agency proceedings from the sale of ImClone stock, the then-63-year-old served time in at the minimum security facility Federal Prison Camp, Alderson in Alderson, W.Va. Chatter about it having an outdoor swimming pool and the inmates playing tennis led to the press dubbing the facility “Camp Cupcake.” But the perception that it was a country club was an illusion, according to Evie Litwok, who was incarcerated there soon after.

In a Medium essay, Litwok — who now runs the website Witness to Mass Incarceration, in which she documents the stories of former inmates — wrote that when she was told she was assigned to Alderson, a friend told her to “bring your racket” for tennis matches. However, the conception that she would be having a ball was shattered upon arrival when she was stripped naked and had her cavities searched. She was 60 years old and worked eight hours a day, earning just $5.25 her first month. Her jobs included the “backbreaking work of mowing the lawns in the hot summer,” which reached 100 degrees in the sun, “and shoveling snow” in the freezing winter. She was also sent to solitary confinement during her sentence — after speaking up about a dying inmate’s medical issue not being addressed. While Stewart went back to her billion dollar empire when she got out, Litwok wound up homeless for nearly two years.

“Prison is traumatizing for life,” Litwok tells Yahoo Entertainment. “There are 4,000 to 5,000 prisons, jails and detention centers in the U.S. with about 2.5 million people in them. Is it possible that some people in some prisons — not necessarily camps —are having an easy time? Yes. I’d say a handful. But those instances, certainly in women’s prisons, are not the norm.”

No matter how long Loughlin and Huffman are incarcerated, “You’re still in prison,” Litwok notes. “You can only get visitors on the weekends. You’re limited on phone calls and emails. You can be on email for about 30 minutes a day,” and all communications are read by officials, “and phone is about 300 minutes a month and monitored. So we’re talking about 20 phone calls at 15 minutes a piece — and that includes time you have to communicate with your lawyers, children, parents, friends. It’s not a lot of time.”

Litwok, who started the Suitcase Project to help former prisoners who come out of prison with nothing, says that while there may be accommodations made for the stars, “The rules don’t change. You have to eat with everybody — eat the crap everybody eats — and the healthcare is as bad as everyone else’s.” She said one physician’s assistant was in charge of the health of more than 1,000 inmates, telling one ailing inmate she was just “fat” and should go walk a track for exercise, his go-to remedy for sick inmates; soon after that, her gallbladder ruptured.

“Dental care was me asking for a cleaning in 2010 and getting a letter saying, ‘You’re on the list, but we’re currently filling requests from 2007,’” she continues. “Your teeth could fall out and they don’t give a sh**. You could have cancer metastasize,” as it did for a fellow inmate who officials were aware needed surgery when she arrived for her sentence, “and they don’t give a sh**. You can be in solitary confinement — as I was — with 200/100 blood pressure and the physician’s assistant told me, ‘We get more money when you’re dead than when you’re alive.’ When I was in solitary confinement, I asked a guard for toilet paper and he said, ‘Wipe yourself.’”

While Huffman and Loughlin’s mistreatment likely wouldn’t be so extreme — it’s not a bed of roses.

“They may have a little more stuff — pay someone to do their laundry for them or get special favors from inmates taken with their celebrity — [but] it wouldn’t make prison and the loss of your freedom any better. They don’t get to see their families or talk to them every day. Even if they give them a really good bed, which no one gets in prison, maybe they get a wooden one instead of metal one or the mattress is slightly thicker than the typical half an inch. But they won’t get different food — and the food is disgusting. People are dying around you,” due to inadequate healthcare. And the guards are unimpressed with everyone, she says, with a focus on punishing the inmates.

As for the touted swimming pool and tennis courts, they are no longer. “There was a broken down basketball court and racketball court,” Litwok says, “but understand there are cracks and pebbles all over it. They don’t resurface it and we’d trip on it and almost kill ourselves.”

Litwok concludes, “They are going to be very uncomfortable in prison — period.”

The “Club Fed” myth

While Stewart got a new poncho in prison, which an inmate friend made in crochet class, and talked about making jam out of the crabapples on the trees, she’s also called her prison stay “a horrifying experience,” adding that there was “nothing good about it.”

The Real Housewives of New Jersey’s Teresa Giudice is on the same page. While she became a yogi during her stint as prisoner No. 65703-050 at Federal Correctional Institution, in Danbury, Conn., she has called incarceration “a living hell,” adding, “I mean there was mold in the bathrooms. There was not running water constantly. The showers were freezing cold… The living conditions were really horrible. Like, horrible.”

We reached out to the Federal Bureau of Prisons to clarify a few points. For one thing, like Litwok said, “there are no swimming pools” at “Camp Cupcake” or “any of our BOP facilities,” explained a spokesperson. As for tennis courts, “All courts in the Bureau of Prisons (BOP) facilities are labeled as multipurpose courts, which can be utilized for a multitude of different games or sports that involve a court. They are not specific to tennis.”

The FBP pointed us to its website for more information on what an inmate can expect upon entering prison (the prison issues all “clothing, hygiene items and bedding”) and well as the recreation and leisure programs (including “ceramics, leatherwork, models, clay, mosaics, crochet, knitting, sculptures, woodworking” and the ever-important “lapidary,” which involves engraving and cutting stone and gems) offered, “varying at each institution, based on the mission of the facility.” And the dismal information about work assignments and pay is outlined as well. (Litwok breaks it down, saying, “It’s a joke. The most anybody made was $100 a month in the top position, but most of us made $25. And prices in commissary are double what things cost outside of prison.”)

As for whether Huffman and Loughlin would get special perks, the spokesperson insisted to Yahoo Entertainment that, “All inmates are treated equally and housed commensurate with their appropriate security needs. High profile inmates do not receive preferential treatment in BOP facilities.”

The truth is that “Club Fed” ended in the early aughts. ABC News reported at the time, “Long gone are the days when inmates… dressed in regular clothes and easily won parole after enjoying the taxpayer-funded tennis courts and swimming pools.” And, at the time, inmates said it really hadn’t been that way for some time.

Dance Moms star Abby Lee Miller, who spent eight months in federal prison for fraud in 2018, shared her advice for the celebrities — and said to watch out for the guards, who were far worse than any of her fellow inmates:

But a celebrity’s “living hell” may not be your living hell

While Giudice was traumatized by shower mold and cold water, among her complaints during her prison stay for fraud, your average person may be able to withstand more than that.

“What would a ‘living hell’ look like to your average celebrity?” Bogaards wonders. “They’re not going to get their nonfat mocha latte in the morning before they head to yoga class. They’re not going to be sipping rosé with friends at lunch. They’re not shopping on Rodeo Drive for the latest fashion trends. They’re not going out to the latest hotspot for dinner or to see Hamilton. And they’re not going to have their favorite moisturizers and beauty products.”

That said, “They’ll have limited phone time to talk with their family,” Bogaards says. “They’ll have a cellmate, perhaps. And while some of them may have a movie night, get to play racketball or got to art lessons, they are still confined to the prison. So they have lost their freedom. They’ve lost their comfortable down pillow to sleep on at night.” And the mansion dwellers who have assistants and cleaning people are going to roll up their sleeves and werk. “Can you imagine Felicity Huffman or Lori Loughlin cleaning a toilet bowl?” Bogaards asks. (Stewart did, in fact, scrub toilets and floors during her stint.)

Bogaards concludes, “When you have your freedoms restricted — even though it’s not as grimy and gritty as state prison — your life is changed forever.”

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