ALDERSON, W.Va. – There are no gates or fences, and most days anyone can drive straight to the warden's home at the Federal Correctional Institute here.
But after Martha Stewart (search) announced that this is where she will serve her time for lying to federal investigators, a corrections officer was stationed at the entrance to turn back reporters and the just plain curious.
The famous and the felonious are nothing new to the town of Alderson. The prison's past inhabitants include two women who tried to kill President Ford — Lynette "Squeaky" Fromme (search) and Sara Jane Moore — and jazz singer Billie Holiday (search), sentenced on a drug charge.
"When Squeaky Fromme ran away, the reporters just swamped the town," resident Karen Lobban said. "At the same time, Harry Belafonte was walking down the other side of the street, and no one even noticed him."
"Martha Stewart will love it here, and we hope she will want to come back after she's released," Lobban said. "This is a beautiful community."
Stewart, 63, said in a statement Wednesday that she had hoped to be imprisoned closer to her family, but was pleased that the government had assigned her "so quickly" to "the first federal prison camp for women in the United States."
"I look forward to getting this behind me and to vigorously pursuing my appeal," said Stewart, who must report to Alderson by Oct. 8.
A source familiar with the government's decision, speaking on condition of anonymity, told The Associated Press that the Bureau of Prisons (search) selected Alderson because it was more remote and less accessible to the media than Stewart's first choice, Danbury, Conn., or her second choice of Coleman, Fla.
Those prisons are also more overcrowded, the source said. The Coleman prison, for example, is packed with inmates moved from other Florida prisons because of the recent hurricanes.
Stewart's new prison home is tucked into a town of about 1,000 residents that relies on inmates to clean up the river banks, mow grass and pick up trash. The inmate-staffed fire department assists the town's volunteer department when needed.
"They're a good neighbor to have," said Neta Roush, president of a civic improvement group known as Alderson Main Street (search). "They're really a big help to our town, and we're glad to have them."
Betty Alderson, who once worked as a secretary at Alderson and now runs a department store begun by the family of the town's founder, said the prison "looks a lot like a college. It's a beautiful campus."
She recalls the days when the wife of gangster "Machine Gun" Kelly (search) was incarcerated at the prison.
"She used to collect walnuts, pull off the husks and use them to dye her hair," she said. "None of them have ever caused the town any trouble."
Other Alderson residents were scarcely aware of the latest celebrity sent to do her time in West Virginia.
"We have more serious things to worry about, like floods and hurricanes," said Joanne Jones, a clerk at the local IGA food store.
Stewart and former stockbroker Peter Bacanovic were convicted of lying to federal investigators about why Stewart sold 3,928 shares of ImClone Systems Inc. (IMCL) stock in December 2001.
They received the same sentence — five months in prison, plus five months of house arrest. Bacanovic was also allowed to remain free while he appeals. He has announced no plans to enter prison.