Do Celebrities Get Special Treatment Behind Bars?

This is a partial transcript of The Big Story With John Gibson, March 8, 2004, that has been edited for clarity.

JOHN GIBSON, HOST: Well, Martha Stewart (search) is probably going to prison. She's not the first famous figure to do time behind bars. Heather Nauert is here with more on celebrity convicts.

HEATHER NAUERT, FNC CORRESPONDENT: That's right. Well, celebrities, business tycoons, and political operatives have all spent their fair share behind bars.

So what can Martha Stewart expect if she's forced to do hard time? We are joined now by radio talk show host G. Gordon Liddy (search) who served nearly five years in prison for his role in Watergate (search). Big question, Mr. Liddy, do celebrities get special treatment behind bars?

G. GORDON LIDDY, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: No. They don't get special treatment behind bars, but they are treated differently in that if they suspect that you have residual power, if they suspect, as in the case of Ms. Stewart, that she has a lot of money, there will be a lot of approaches to her by other convicts offering various scams, and deals and things like that. And the best advice that I could give her would be not to pay any attention to them.

NAUERT: Well, what kinds of things exactly are you talking about? Does Martha Stewart have access to my kind of money? Can she pay people to do nay of her chores for her, or how does that work?

LIDDY: The way it works is you buy cartons of cigarettes, and you give them to someone else, and someone else does your laundry.

NAUERT: All right. How likely is she to attract any kind of negative attention there because of who she is, either from prisoners or from prison guards? Does she have something to be afraid of?

LIDDY: She'll have negative attention probably from both, but I have met Martha Stewart. She is a tough, strong personality. The newspapers say that the guidelines are 10 to 16 months. Martha Stewart can do 10 to 16 months standing on her head.

NAUERT: OK. But she's tough in one way, and you are tough in another way. Martha Stewart, we think about as being a tenacious businesswoman, but actually when you were in prison, and I have heard this story a few times already, you held your hand over a flame to try to ward off the other guys who might try to harass you, to show them that you were tough, that you could with stand pain. What about Martha? Is she tough in that way that you had to be tough?

LIDDY: Well, I suspect that she certainly is. She probably won't have to go to measures like that. But, really, the way that I show people I was tough was I was willing to fight and I did fight until both of us were in the hospital.

NAUERT: Who do they pick on in jail?

LIDDY: They pick on the weak. The jail is a microcosm. It's just like the world. If you present as a weak person, you will be ineluctably be attacked. If you present as a strong person, they'll be very careful around you.

NAUERT: We tend to think of these minimum security prisons where we understand that Martha Stewart might actually go as being sort of the club fed, the places with tennis courts, et cetera. What are these prisons like today?

LIDDY: Well, I can't speak as to how they are today because I think I was last in prison about 30 years ago. They certainly weren't that way then. There was the rumor that they were that way, but the rumor was wrong. They were kind of a mud hole when I was there.

NAUERT: Supposedly, they've gotten tougher in recent years. Can you speak to that at all?

LIDDY: Minimum security prisons are not tough. Actually, medium security prisons aren't tough. And if are you in a place like Atlanta or Louisburg, which is a maximum security place, I have been there, it's a very structured environment, and if you know what you are doing, it's not difficult to do time there.

NAUERT: What do you do with all your time there? Especially when you are a bright, educated person who is used to being busy all the time?

LIDDY: Well, I used to read a lot, and if I was in solitary, and I was 106 days in solitary confinement, what I would do would be play symphonies in my head, review books that I had already read in my head, and I would work out.

NAUERT: Do you think that anybody is going to be likely to help her on the inside?

LIDDY: Yes. All kinds of people will offer to help her. She has to be very, very careful with whom she associates and whom she even accepts something from.

NAUERT: So this is going to require a new level of street smarts?

LIDDY: Yes, but I suspect that she's going to be up to the challenge.

NAUERT: OK. What's it like being out of touch with people when you are used to communicating with so many people on a daily basis?

LIDDY: That is difficult. What you have to do is prioritize, and you get so many phone calls, and you prioritize those. But, of course, you can write as many letters as you want.

NAUERT: So Martha Stewart might be writing some pretty handwritten letters to some of her friends out there.

LIDDY: Yes, but she should remember that they're going to be reviewed by the guards, and sometimes the Guards will play tricks with them. If, for example, a guy has a wife and he has also got a girlfriend, the guards, being sort of sadistic, will switch letters and things like that.

NAUERT: All right. Mr. Liddy, thanks so much.

LIDDY: You're welcome.

NAUERT: Have a good day. John.

GIBSON: Practical advice. Heather Nauert, thank you very much.

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