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Enter a ‘Hellish Place’

From the May/June 2007 Issue

Tougher rules and longer sentences mean that prison for white-collar inmates is no longer Club Fed. Prisoner No. 20532-050 tells his eyewitness story to Luke Mullins.

 

I. Just Another Felon

Alfred A. Porro Jr. came to Allenwood in a large transport bus guarded by a handful of armed correc­tions officers. Like the five other prisoners on board, he arrived in full shackles. As the bus rumbled to a stop, the officers escorted the new inmates off the vehicle and turned them over to their keepers.

Porro disembarked with relief. Over the past two days, he had been whisked from one prison to another—no one would tell him where he was headed. Now, at least, Porro knew he would be serv­ing his time at a minimum-security prison camp. Good news, he thought. And the grounds, Porro had to admit, were less than intimidating. With sweeping grasslands and thickets of trees, the camp presented none of the chilling images that the term “prison” calls to mind. No fences, no coiled razor wire, no sharpshooters on towers. It might as well have been a college campus.

‘It’s not Yale, it’s jail,’ says the former corrections officer. ‘We don’t separate a white-collar guy from an organized-crime guy from a bank robber—they’re all the same.’

But as he took his first steps onto the prison grounds, Porro became overwhelmed with dread. He was 64 years old, with seven children and 11 grand­children. During the good times, he was a respected lawyer and a business partner to Lawrence Taylor, the famous Giants football star. When he went on trial, the press called him the “Teflon attorney,” who had made “Houdini-like escapes” from previous investigations. At his core, he still considered him­self a man of deep faith. But on that day, November 11, 1999, Al Porro was just another convicted felon disappearing into the federal prison system.

He carried another burden into Allenwood as well. A few days earlier, his wife, Joan, had reported to the minimum-security Federal Correctional Institution in Danbury, Connecticut, to begin a prison sentence of nearly five years. Porro shuddered with guilt at the hardships she now faced. “My wife went to jail because of me,” he said. “You have to know how dev­astated I was to see my wife crying and shackled and to know that it was because of me.”

 

II. Welcome to Prison Camp

Porro became prisoner No. 20532-050 when a jury of five men and seven women found him and his wife guilty on 19 counts that included wire fraud and filing false taxes. “Justice finally caught up with Alfred Porro,” U.S. Attorney Faith Hochberg told the Newark Star-Ledger, shortly after the conviction.

Like many other white-collar convicts, Porro wound up in a prison camp—a punishment often dismissed as a Club Fed holiday for wealthy, well-con­nected criminals, who spend their days sunbathing and working on their short irons. But scores of interviews with former inmates, legal experts, aca­demics, members of advocacy groups, and others who know prisons paint a starkly different picture. In recent years, changing demographics, tighter reg­ulations, and lengthening sentences have combined to make life in prison camps more and more similar to life in higher-security facilities. “It’s not Yale, it’s jail,” says Dennis Faulk, a retired employee of the Federal Bureau of Prisons who spent part of his 27-year career at Allenwood prison camp. “We don’t separate a white-collar guy from an orga­nized-crime guy from a bank robber—they’re all the same.”

Certainly, if you have to go to jail, federal prison camp is the place to be. But for inmates who have left behind powerful jobs, close families, and abun­dant lifestyles, prison camp can present significant hardships. “You’ve been giving orders your whole life, and now there’s this buffoon with an IQ of 20 telling you to clean the toilet—and you’ve got to do it,” said one representative of a prisoner-advocacy group.

After serving five years in two different facili­ties, Porro reflected on his experience. “It’s a hellish place,” he said, “especially for a white-collar guy.”

 

III. ‘You’re Alone’

The Allenwood Federal Correctional Complex is tucked into the foothills of the northern Allegheny Mountains, 11 miles south of Williamsport, Pennsylvania, where the Little League World Series is held each year. In 1999, the complex—which sprawls over 640 acres of delightful countryside, smack in the middle of the state—comprised four different facilities: a high-security penitentiary, a medium-security correctional institution, a low-security correctional institution, and a mini­mum-security camp. A mile-long stretch of road, twisting through thinning woodlands, separates the camp from the other three facilities. From Porro’s vantage point, as he disembarked from the van in the camp parking lot, he couldn’t see the grim build­ings that confine some of America’s worst villains.

SuitsInstead, he faced a cement staircase leading up to a network of squat, red-brick buildings, where less violent convicts do their time. Alongside the housing units and administration buildings are such ame­nities as a gym, a softball diamond, a bocce pitch, and a tennis court slipped inside an oval track. From the grounds, inmates gaze at the soft mountaintops that rim the horizon. Deer poke their heads out of tall brush and dart into the forest, as groups of wild turkey gobble across the grass.

As the bus rolled away, the camp officials removed the prisoners’ shackles and led them into an admin­istration building at the edge of the camp. Inside, the inmates sat on wooden benches and chatted qui­etly with each other, as the officers called them for processing, one by one. When he heard his name, Porro went into a separate room for paperwork. Officers took photographs, made fingerprints, and conducted a full body-cavity search. Next, Porro was issued his provisions. He stuffed his khaki uni­form, underwear, shoes, t-shirts, jacket, bedding, towels, and socks into a prison duffle bag. Two cor­rections officers, one with a clipboard, walked him 100 yards to Housing Unit A, one of three buildings where inmates lived. Inside, the hallways carried the pine scent of the government-issued cleaner used to scrub the floors.

Instead of cells, Allenwood camp inmates lived in cubicles, which were arranged in three rows cover­ing the length of the room. The setup felt more like an army barracks than a prison. Just like all the others, Porro’s cubicle was a tight fit for two people—nothing but a bunk bed and a split-level locker on a plain linoleum floor. After showing Porro to his new home, the officers quickly departed. “It’s like being dropped in a strange country,” Porro said. “Although there’s a lot of people around, you’re alone.”

Before Porro even had a moment to digest his new surroundings, Joe Galluzzi approached his cubicle. Galluzzi, who was then 68, had been in Allenwood for a year and had earned enough seniority to land one of the unit’s coveted single cubicles, across the hall from Porro. (As a newcomer, meanwhile, Porro would be sleeping on the top bunk.)

Galluzzi greeted Porro warmly and asked if there was anything he needed. Since inmates are restricted from bringing most forms of personal property into prison, Porro didn’t have basic toilet­ries like soap, toothpaste, or shower shoes. Galluzzi told Porro not to worry; he would get him the items. “I wanted him to feel comfortable and know that there were people he could count on,” Galluzzi said. The two had similar backgrounds and would soon become close friends. They had both been raised in New Jersey, had comparable troubles with the law, and were roughly the same age. Galluzzi was a certified public accountant who was convicted of wire fraud and sentenced to seven years in prison. Although the two had never met, Galluzzi had been following Porro’s trial in newspaper articles that his wife had mailed to him.

Later that day, Galluzzi walked Porro down to the cafeteria. In the early days, Galluzzi made sure they took all their meals together. When inmates approached him to ask about the new guy, Galluzzi would always introduce Porro as a friend. “After a month or so, he knew more people than I did,” Galluzzi said.

There were about 800 inmates at Allenwood camp when Porro arrived, and, as he became more comfortable with them, some began to ask about the length of his sentence. “I’ll be out in six months,” Porro would respond.

Porro really believed that. Although he had been given a term of nearly six years, he was confident that the legal system would overturn his sentence and release him. Like most other inmates, Porro had appealed his conviction shortly after it came down. Now, he just needed to wait until the right appellate judge took a look at the case. He wouldn’t be in prison for long, he assured himself: a couple of weeks, maybe months. “I was not there to stay,” Porro said.

 

IV. Multiculturalism

To Porro, the biggest initial surprise about life at Allenwood was the diversity of his fellow inmates. Most of the camp prisoners were not the rich white guys he had expected to see but poor African Americans and Hispanics—most of whom, Porro would soon learn, were drug offenders. “I was of the impression that the camps were primarily for white-collar criminals,” Porro said. “That’s just not the case.”

Porro had additional baggage: ‘I would get up every day, look in the mirror, and say, “This is the guy that put his wife in prison.”’

Despite widespread perceptions to the contrary, minimum-security prison camps are not reserved for former congressmen and CEOs. “People assume that you go to a prison surrounded by lawyers, doctors, and politicians,” said David Novak, a for­mer inmate who is now president of a consulting firm that prepares con­victs for prison life. “In fact, when you go to a camp, a full 70 percent of the other inmates are there as a direct result of the war on drugs.” In 1970, according to the Sourcebook of Criminal Justice Statistics, drug offenders made up just 16 percent of all federal prisoners, but by January 2007, the proportion had risen to 54 percent.

In part because of the increasing number of drug convictions, the federal prison system has expanded on a massive scale—from just 21,000 inmates in 1970 to 193,000 in 2007. As the system strug­gled to accommodate the ballooning population, many nonviolent drug offenders were sent to the camps. As a result, when new inmates like Porro arrive, they enter an unlikely community where the nation’s elite—professionals, politicians, corporate executives—live alongside the indigent foot soldiers of the drug trade.

“When you first get there, you’re a little apprehen­sive about mixing with the drug dealers, but then you learn that the drug dealers are a little appre­hensive about mixing with you,” said Fred Shapiro, a former attorney and accountant who defrauded a slew of Philadelphia-area financial institutions out of more than $8.5 million. Shapiro now runs an organization called Ethics Now! and gives paid talks to business schools, corporations, and profes­sional groups.

 

V. ‘Watch Your Backside’

It didn’t take long for Porro to get his bearings. He located the telephone fastened to a hallway wall and learned he was allowed to use it 15 minutes a day, at his own expense. He found the housing unit’s kitchen, a crude four-microwave setup bustling with inmates seeking a break from the cafeteria’s monotonous menu. He made his way into the TV room, which was always packed, especially during playoff time.

The commissary, or prison store, was inside an administration building not far from Housing Unit A. There, inmates could buy items like sweatshirts and ice cream with funds drawn on their prison accounts. Prisoners are generally limited to one commissary visit per week—and the event is typi­cally the week’s highlight. Funds in their accounts come from checks sent by their families or wages earned from work assignments.

Older inmates like Porro often found it difficult to complete the daily chores that camp life demanded. For help, they turned to a group of inmates that he called “odd-jobs guys.” In exchange for fees, such inmates would clean your room, do your laundry, or take care of any other small-scale inconve­nience. Since currency is not permitted on the grounds, inmates barter. For example, an odd-jobs guy might wash Porro’s clothes in return for, say, a pack a cigarettes. At Allenwood, the odd-jobs guys were generally drug offenders, Porro said, but cer­tain white-collar inmates, particularly those that had been cleaned out by the feds, would also offer their services.

At any prison, it’s good to have friends on the kitchen staff. Inmates who work there enjoy unique access to food not widely available, like vegetables and baked goods. If an inmate had a buddy in the kitchen, he might be able to trade something pur­chased at the commissary for a less accessible item: tomatoes, pasta, broccoli, or eggs.

Eventually, Galluzzi introduced Porro to leaders among the blacks and Hispanics. Camp inmates, like those in higher-security prisons, tend to divide themselves by race. Although racially charged vio­lence was nearly nonexistent, Galluzzi, as Porro put it, “made sure that the ‘good guys’ met me and would treat me right—and they did.” Because min­imum-security federal prison camps are generally limited to offenders who have not committed vio­lent crimes, inmates are unlikely to encounter prison riots, forced sodomy, or the other terrifying hallmarks of higher-security institutions. But camp inmates also can’t afford to relax. After all, most of their peers are gutsy streetwise men from hard­scrabble backgrounds; these inmates may not have been convicted of violent crimes, but that doesn’t mean they don’t have a violent past

“Even though they weren’t hardened criminals, you had to watch your backside,” said David London, a former bank CEO who served time at a federal prison camp after he was convicted of embezzling more than $400,000. Violent incidents at federal prison camps tend to occur during downtime. “One of the things I learned quickly is you don’t play bas­ketball,” said Webster Hubbell, associate U.S. attorney general—the third-highest Justice Department official—under President Clinton. Hubbell spent 18 months at a federal prison camp after pleading guilty to mail fraud and tax evasion.

“Most of the fights in prison that I witnessed emanated from the TV,” said Nicholas Wallace, the former president of ESM Government Securities, Inc., who spent six years at two federal prison camps after his $350 million fraud drove 69 Ohio S&Ls into bankruptcy. Wallace recalled a group of imposing drug offenders who used intimidation to control the television room of a Florida prison camp. In one particularly dis­turbing incident, Wallace witnessed an inmate being thrown through a glass window after a disagree­ment regarding which TV program to watch. “They lost their tempers, and one of them came flying through the window,” Wallace said.

Mark Morze spent five years in federal prison for his participation in the ZZZZ Best Co. scam, a noto­rious 1980s crime that defrauded investors of $100 million. While the Lompoc federal prison camp in California was making a transition to becoming a higher-security facility, Morze witnessed one inmate kill another with an exercise weight during an argu­ment over a food item. “This guy’s head caved in like a watermelon,” Morze said. “I was eight or nine feet away and I got blood splattered on me.”

One reason violence in prison camps remains low is that authorities impose harsh punishment on anyone involved. Prisoners who get in a fight are immediately removed from the camp and reassigned to a higher-level facility. It’s a powerful threat.

 

VI. An Appeal Denied

Porro quickly learned to move to the drum­beat of prison life. Lights on at 5:00 a.m., down to the cafeteria by 6:00 a.m., clean up your cubi­cle before reporting to work by 7:00 a.m., break for lunch at 11:30 a.m., back to work at 1:00 p.m., and knock off at 3:30 p.m. Dinner is at 5:00 p.m. and mail call shortly thereafter. Lights out at 10:00 p.m. Meanwhile, corrections officers counted the inmates throughout the day to ensure that no one had escaped.

Porro’s first job was in the kitchen, where he spent seven hours a day wrapping silverware into napkins for about $8 a week. Other inmates had jobs mop­ping floors, cleaning bathrooms, or landscaping the grounds of Allenwood’s higher-security facilities—a detail that was considered favorable because it allowed them to work outdoors.

MopWhen inmates finished work in the early after­noon, the rest of the day was theirs. Some lifted weights, ran laps, and participated in intramural sports. Although not particularly appetizing, prison meals were generally healthy. Alcohol and drugs, of course, were strictly prohibited. “I have heard a lot of people say that the two to four years I spent in jail probably added ten years to my life,” Morze said. “You got in the best shape of your life, and there were no toxins.”

Boredom, meanwhile, can be a powerful enemy, especially for white-collar inmates who once held positions of tremendous power and responsi­bility. “Your life is a big blah,” Porro said. “I went from moment-to-moment busyness to basically doing nothing.” To keep their minds active, some inmates become voracious readers; others embrace religion or take up new hobbies, like leatherwork. But Porro soon found a different distraction. As inmates learned he was a lawyer, they began ask­ing Porro for his help writing legal briefs or appeals. “Unfortunately, there were a lot of [lawyers] in there,” Shapiro, the former attorney and accoun­tant, said of prison camps in general. “And to the extent that they helped other inmates, they were quite popular.”

Although some lawyers would offer their legal ser­vices in exchange for goods, Porro refused any form of compensation. “I thought that was horrible,” he said. “You’re taking from people you’re living with. I would say, ‘Forget it, we’re here together, we’re a family.’” While at Allenwood, Porro did work for more than 100 inmates, he said.

But six months into his incarceration, Porro was still focused on one big case: his own. “When you’re first there, your mind is still alive because you think you’re going to win on appeal,” Porro said. “There is still hope.”

Porro was more than just hopeful; he was cer­tain his conviction would be overturned. He took pity on the less fortunate prisoners—drug offenders and white-collar criminals alike—who would have to serve all of their sentences. He promised other inmates that he’d get them out of prison too, once he was released. “I was convinced that I was going to be out in six months,” he said.

Then, one evening in the spring of 2000, he received a letter from the Third Circuit Court tell­ing him that his appeal had been denied. “You feel like you have no blood in your system,” he said. “You’re a total corpse.” After reading the letter, Porro took a long walk around the prison grounds. It was a chilly night, and the moon was full. As he walked, Porro asked God how this could have hap­pened to him, and how he could possibly make it. It was only then that Porro finally came to the “cold realization” that the legal system would not get him out of his predicament. He was going to be in Allenwood for the duration.

“I didn’t think I was going to make it,” Porro said. “I couldn’t conceive of going to prison for six years.”

 

VII. A Harsher Prison Life

Life in federal prison camps has grown less com­fortable for inmates over the years. When Morze was incarcerated in Lompoc, corrections officers and administrators would wistfully recall the good old days of the 1970s, when several Watergate con­spirators were imprisoned there. Back then, inmates would order expensive chili from the legendary Chasen’s restaurant in Beverly Hills, or maybe shoot a few holes of golf at a neighboring course. Occasionally, an inmate would even sneak out for a late-night visit to the prostitutes who were hud­dled in the back of a Winnebago parked nearby, the prison officials told Morze.

Porro’s biggest initial surprise was the diversity of the inmates. Most camp prisoners were not the rich white guys he had expected but poor African Americans and Hispanics, most of whom were drug offenders.

But new restrictions eliminated such flagrant disparities between prison camps and higher-secu­rity facilities, said Novak, the former inmate who is now a consultant. In years past, camp inmates could receive work assignments in nearby commu­nities, allowing them to get off the prison grounds on a regular basis. They enjoyed a liberal furlough policy, enabling them to spend entire weekends away from the camp. Inmates could wear their own clothes while they did their time. There was no spending limit at the commissary or time limit on telephone use.

But all that has changed. Today, nearly all inmates remain on the grounds for their entire sentences, wearing prison-issued uniforms just like inmates at higher-security facilities. Each month, inmates can spend no more than $290 at the commis­sary and 300 minutes on the telephone. At the same time, regulations regarding camp vis­its have tightened, and inmates seeking to com­plete their sentences at halfway houses face more hurdles.

Taken together, the measures have created a sur­prising degree of parity between the camps and other prisons. “All the regulations are the same. They don’t change just because you’re at a camp,” said Bryan Lowry, president of the Council of Prison Locals, a union representing federal corrections officers. “The Bureau of Prisons is the Bureau of Prisons.” The changes were an effort to fight the per­ception that prison camps are unduly cushy, Novak said. “The Bureau of Prisons is incredibly sensitive to accusations that they are coddling white-collar offenders,” Novak said. “They are very sensitive to the ‘Club Fed’ mythology.”

 

VIII. The Terms Grow Longer

As the Bureau of Prisons has worked to establish parity between the rules at prison camps and higher-security facilities, legislators have lengthened the sentences of white-collar offenders. Between 1997 and 2005, the average white-collar sentence has increased 24 percent, while the average sentence for a drug offense has risen 2 percent. “During the S&L crisis, it was very rare that you ever saw a sen­tence of more than one or two years,” said Peter J. Henning, a professor at Wayne State University Law School in Detroit. “Now judges are peeling off ten-year sentences like dollar bills.”

This trend has come from efforts to criminalize more types of behavior and to increase penalties for violating existing laws, said Ellen S. Podgor, an associate dean and professor at Stetson University College of Law, in Gulfport, Florida. At the same time, the elimination of parole in the federal prison system, which occurred in 1987, has ensured that offenders, even for nonviolent crimes, serve nearly all their sentences inside prisons.

Such measures have been driven by the cor­porate scandals of the past two decades. The public’s contempt for white-collar criminals, said Henning, began to sim­mer in the aftermath of scandals involving high-profile financiers like arbitrageur Ivan Boesky and investment banker Michael Milken, but built to a climax with the more recent corporate scandals at Enron and WorldCom. “The American public is pissed,” said Alan Ellis, a nationally recognized expert in federal criminal sentencing and a former president of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers.

Some observers argue that the public’s growing antipathy is being recognized by the courts. “The high-profile scandals have generated more pub­lic concern about white-collar crime, and I think judges are no doubt aware of that,” said Marc Mauer, the executive director of The Sentencing Project, a Washington, D.C.–based organization that sup­ports reform of the criminal justice system.

As a result, recently convicted CEOs are now receiving sentences that had previously been reserved for perpetrators of violent crimes like rape and murder. In 2005, Bernard Ebbers, for­mer chief executive of WorldCom, was sentenced to 25 years in prison for a massive accounting fraud. The Washington Post pointed out that Ebbers, who began serving his term at age 65, received a sentence longer than “the organizer of an armed robbery, the leaders of a Bronx drug gang and the acting boss of the Gambino crime family.” Former Enron CEO Jeffrey Skilling received a 24-year sentence. Adelphia Communications founder John J. Rigas, at age 80, got 15 years. And these executives aren’t sent to prison camps, which are limited to inmates with less than ten years to serve. Instead, they must serve their long sentences in higher-security facil­ities with some of the most violent criminals in America.

In the face of this trend, a small cadre of academ­ics and advocacy groups has begun to argue that the government has gone too far in its punishment of white-collar criminals. “These draconian sentences have reached astronomic proportions,” Podgor said. Julie Stewart, the president of Families Against Mandatory Minimums, an organization working to reform sentencing laws, agreed. “I think the white-collar offenders are, by and large, getting more than they deserve,” she said.

But as the widening gap between high- and low-income Americans becomes a focus for politicians and journalists, such arguments are unlikely to find much support. “People say, ‘Listen, you had it all, and you messed up, so why should we have sympa­thy for you when some kid who was dealing crack didn’t have any of these chances?’” Shapiro said.

“What people don’t understand is that all peo­ple—rich or poor—have demons.”

 

IX. Before the Fall

Like most white-collar inmates, Porro landed in federal prison after a steep, hard fall. Today, at 72, he is a beefy man with a halo of white hair and dull blue eyes. Although he is nearly six feet tall, his tendency to slouch forward makes him appear much shorter. Porro moved into a modest home in a Cuban section of Miami two years ago, shortly after his release, and the sun has worn and leathered his skin. His kind smile and a gentle demeanor belie his half-decade in prison.

‘During the S&L crisis, it was very rare that you ever saw a sentence of more than one or two years,’ said the law professor. ‘Now judges are peeling off ten-year sentences like dollar bills.’

Porro grew up in Bergen County, New Jersey, not far from New York City. His father was a printer and his mother a seamstress. Together, they provided a stable, middle-class upbringing for Porro and his two siblings. He graduated from Rutgers law school in 1958 and became the municipal attorney for East Rutherford. A short time later, he was hired as an outside legal counsel by a Democratic congressman from New Jersey named Henry Helstoski. It was Porro’s first real taste of power, and today, more than three decades later, he still remembers how proud he felt walking through the halls of Congress. Porro’s association with Helstoski enhanced his reputation back home, and he began to represent landowners and local municipalities that were battling the state and federal government over wetlands. He won big cases, and enjoyed handsome returns.

After the Giants moved out of New York and into a new stadium in East Rutherford, Porro started to represent several players on the football team. Among them was Lawrence Taylor, the Hall of Fame linebacker who would soon become a partner with Porro in several business ventures, including two restau­rants, a go-go bar, and a golf driving range. In 1984, Porro married Joan, who would later become his law partner.

With his mounting legal victories and new high-profile clients, Porro found himself in a fast-moving world of powerful businessmen and flashy pro ball­players. He attended meetings with Donald Trump and closed a deal with Joe DiMaggio. “I was rubbing shoulders with all the big shots,” he said. At the same time, Porro began to accumulate the trappings of success. He got rid of the old Jeep and bought a brand-new Cadillac and later, a Lexus. He moved out of his Cape Cod–style home and into one with an outdoor tennis court and a swimming pool.

But Porro’s legal headaches were never far behind his victories. As his career steamed forward, he faced an obstruction-of-justice indictment in fed­eral court, a conflict-of-interest indictment in state court, and a New Jersey Supreme Court ethics investigation. Porro beat both indictments, but the ethics probe resulted in a reprimand. Still, after emerging from such high-stakes confrontations largely unscathed, Porro felt indestructible. No one—and certainly not the government—could stop him.

“What puts most people in white-collar prison is success,” Porro said. “The problem with success is that there’s never enough.”

 

X. Found Guilty

As Porro left for work on a chilly December morning in 1996, just a couple of days before Christmas, four armed agents from the Internal Revenue Service met him at his car. They presented him with a lengthy indictment that included filing false tax returns and fraud. The encounter was not a total shock; a year earlier, a team of shotgun-wielding federal investigators had rifled through Porro’s home and office, searching for incriminat­ing documents.

CuffedThis time, the agents said that they had intended to arrest him, but perhaps the matter could be worked out more favorably if he would accompany them to the office of Assistant U.S. Attorney Perry Carbone, in Newark. Porro agreed.

The thrust of the government’s case was that Joan Porro, then the executor of a trust that a former cli­ent had set up for his two children, had invested some funds from the trust in one of Al’s business ventures with Lawrence Taylor. Since documents regarding the investment were distributed by the U.S. Postal Service and did not disclose Al Porro’s stake, the Porros had committed mail fraud, the government contended.

At the meeting that morning, Carbone presented what Porro later called a tempting deal. The feds offered to reduce his potential punishment drasti­cally and to allow his wife to avoid prison altogether. But in return, the government wanted Al Porro’s tes­timony. He was to choose one person from a list of his former associates and provide testimony to sup­port the government’s case. (Through a spokesman at the U.S. Attorney’s office, Perry Carbone refused to comment on any of his dealings with Porro.)

Porro insists that the statements he was asked to make as a witness for the government were false. Still, the idea of keeping his wife out of jail was appealing. But it was Joan who convinced him to reject Carbone’s offer and fight the charges, Porro said.

Two years would pass before the case went to trial. “After more than a decade of fire-walking through state and federal investigations, Porro goes on trial today in federal court in Camden on wide-ranging fraud charges,” the Newark Star-Ledger said on January 12, 1999. The Porros represented them­selves in the nine-week trial and argued that the investment in the Porro/Taylor venture was in the best interest of the beneficiaries of the trust, who received a 10 percent return on their investment. Meanwhile, prosecutors inundated the jury with 2,000 pieces of evidence and 41 witnesses, includ­ing Lawrence Taylor himself.

On certain mornings, Porro was found kneel­ing in silent prayer before the judge’s bench in the empty courtroom. And just before the verdicts were returned, Porro’s family linked hands and sang “Amazing Grace” in the courthouse rotunda. But after three days of deliberation, the jury found both Al and Joan guilty on all 19 counts. Seven months later, a federal judge sentenced Al to nearly six years in prison, and Joan to nearly five. Calling the couple a flight risk, the judge had them taken into custody immediately.

After the judge had finished speaking, Joan and Al Porro removed their jewelry and placed the items on the defense table. They exchanged a tear­ful goodbye with their family before being escorted out of the courtroom.

 

XI. Wives and Lovers

The toughest parts of any inmate’s life—sepa­ration from loved ones and loss of freedom—are just as painful in the camps as they would be in a higher-security facility. Porro, of course, had addi­tional baggage: “I would get up every day, look in the mirror, and say, ‘This is the guy that put his wife in prison.’”

Prisoners assigned to the sanitation details at Allenwood and Lewisburg would meet at a garbage dump located between the two camps and exchange bread for olive oil.

Since the prison system imposes tight restrictions on communication between inmates, Porro and his wife were permitted to speak by phone just two times a year. But they exchanged letters every day, passing along news they had heard from their chil­dren and reflecting on passages from the Bible.

Through her letters, Porro learned that his wife’s experience at Danbury was much more harrowing than his own. Joan Porro spent her days working in a ware­house and felt constantly threatened by the widespread lesbian activity that she witnessed on the prison camp grounds. “The inmates in a women’s prison are not like those in a men’s prison,” Al Porro said. They’re worse.

Soon, even Porro’s children were touched by the fallout from their parents’ incarceration. One son, an attorney, saw clients turn their backs on him. Another son, then a local councilman, chose not to run for reelection after receiving an anonymous let­ter that ended with the words, “like father, like son.” Meanwhile, Porro’s elegant house fell into foreclo­sure and was eventually sold at a large loss.

Separated from his family and racked with guilt over his wife’s ugly fate, Porro’s time moved slowly. Holidays came and went, birthdays of children and grandchildren passed. Loved ones died. “I cried a lot,” Porro said. “Guy’s that’ll break down and cry in prison, they’re really made of something. Guys that don’t, they’ve really got problems.”

To distract himself, he began leading afternoon Bible classes. He also taught courses on constitu­tional law and public speaking to other inmates. Eventually, he joined a group of prisoners who trav­eled to local colleges, such as Bucknell University, Susquehanna University, and the University of Maryland, to lecture on business ethics. Through this experience, Porro was able to glean a degree of meaning from his incarceration—a way, perhaps, to keep others from making the same mistakes he had made. It was only a small measure of solace, but it helped.

Most inmates, however, found no meaning in prison. Instead, they tried to release stress by spend­ing long hours lifting weights. “They would become monsters,” Porro said. Others directed their anger toward family and friends during the short telephone conversations they were afforded each day. Since the phone was located in an open hallway, conversa­tions could be heard by dozens of other inmates. Porro recalls often hear­ing prisoners screaming at their wives or lov­ers, “F— you! You’re a whore! You’re screwing around!” In prison, said Porro, “you really start understanding how much people are hurting.”

Many marriages end as a result of imprisonment. “The longer the sentence, the less likely the marriage is to survive,” said Shapiro.

Inmates have also been known to lie to their children in an effort to protect them from the embarrassment of their incarceration, Shapiro said. For example, some inmates tell children that they are away on a long business trip to Europe, and, in some cases, even route letters through an address overseas to support the made-up story. One of Porro’s sons-in-law told his children that their grandfather and grandmother were away “writing a big, important book.”

 

XII. Sex in the Shower

Late one night at Allenwood, Porro got up to use the bathroom, just 15 yards from his cubicle. But as he entered, he heard a muffled commotion coming from the shower and saw two sets of feet beneath the curtain. He had heard rumors of this kind of activ­ity before, but had never seen it for himself. “I got out of there as quick as I could,” he said.

A short time later, another inmate heard the noise and pulled back the shower curtain. There, he dis­covered two white-collar inmates engaging in sex. As with previous homosexual incidents, news of the encounter spread fast. “The next morning, it was all over,” said Porro. “Everybody knew.” A couple of days later, a group of disapproving inmates set fire to the mattress of one of the prisoners who had been in the shower that night.

Although much less common than at higher-security facilities, gay sexual activity does exist at the camps. Rape and forcible sodomy, however, are rare. “Most of the sex in the federal system is con­senting,” said Faulk, the retired employee of the Bureau of Prisons. Inmates that engage in such activity generally do so in secret. “It would have to be pretty discreet, because any form of sexual con­tact is a pretty significant infraction,” Novak said. Meanwhile, exposed homosexuals are treated with disdain by the general inmate population.

 

XIII. More Prisoners, Less Crime

The striking growth of the federal prison pop­ulation was triggered by a change in the American philosophy of criminal justice that occurred in the early 1970s, says Douglas A. Berman of the Moritz College of Law at Ohio State University. Berman, an expert on criminal law and sentencing, said that before that time, Americans had taken a European approach to incarceration, viewing pris­ons as places to rehabilitate criminals and return them to society as healthy, productive citizens. But this “enlightened” model fell out of favor. “Crime rates were rising throughout the 1950s and 1960s,” Berman said. “People on both the right and the left concluded that we were doing more harm than good in the name of rehabilitation.”

Several camp inmates attempted to escape while Porro was incarcerated, and all but one were eventually apprehended. If you’re caught, you are immediately moved to a higher-security facility.

Since then, the prison system has evolved into a method for punishing lawbreakers and keeping them off the street. As the new approach—pred­icated on the idea that more prisoners equal less crime—became more popular, the inmate popula­tion marched upward, Berman said. In 1985, there were roughly 744,000 men and women in custody at federal, state, and local prison facilities. But by June 30, 2005, that figure had grown to nearly 2.2 million, according to the Sourcebook of Criminal Justice Statistics.

The get-tough approach pleased the public in other ways. The increase in prison facilities for the expanding inmate population created steady jobs and stimulated economic activity. Meanwhile, media reports of former inmates committing vio­lent crimes after release hardened attitudes toward prisoners, Berman said. The trend has affected criminals of all stripes: the drug addict who robs a convenience store, the jealous husband who kills his wife’s lover, the stockbroker who steals from his cli­ents, and the CEO who cooks the books.

 

XIV. Smuggling Sperm

Camp inmates who worked as landscapers at higher-security facilities were important sources of information at Allenwood. These inmates would hear about events at one facility and pass the news on to another. And in the fall of 2000, the landscap­ers began telling a story that no one could believe.

Federal investigators, they said, had targeted a handful of inmates and corrections officers at Allenwood’s low-security prison for their roles in a bizarre sperm-smuggling ring. Prosecutors would later allege that inmates had conspired to bribe corrections officers to help sneak cryogenic sperm kits into and out of the prison. The sperm was then passed on to the inmates’ wives, who were trying to get pregnant.

Allenwood officials first became suspicious when Kevin Granato, a convicted hit man for New York’s notorious Colombo crime family, was observed in an Allenwood visiting room with a toddler that he identified as his own. Authorities were puzzled as to how Granato could have fathered the child because he had been in jail for more than a decade at that point, serving time for racketeering and murder. (As a federal prisoner, Granato had not had a conjugal visit during his incarceration.)

Prosecutors said that Granato and his family con­spired with corrections officers to sneak the frozen sperm out of the prison. The sperm was then taken to a New York fertility clinic and used to inseminate Granato’s wife. Along with four corrections officers, Granato eventually pleaded guilty to his role in the scheme and had 16 months tacked on to his 24-year sentence. And he was not alone. Alleged mob asso­ciate Antonio Parlavecchio and his wife were also indicted on charges that he conspired to smuggle sperm out of Allenwood while serving time there for racketeering.

As Allenwood’s sperm-smuggling scandal made headlines across the country—even the BBC picked up the story—it quickly became folklore for a camp population with its own time-tested means of getting contraband into the facility. Since camp inmates must adhere to rigid personal-prop­erty restrictions, nearly any possession that is not prison-issued or purchased at the commissary is considered contraband. Food was the most popu­lar illicit item at Allenwood camp, and everything from chicken cutlets to pizza pies would turn up on the grounds. Alcohol, cigars, marijuana, and even steroids were smuggled in. (Inmates would also make their own liquor inside the camp by ferment­ing fruit.) Additionally, cell phones have become a popular form of contraband. They allow inmates to communicate with family members or girlfriends and even conduct business—legal and otherwise—without being pestered by the authorities. “It drives the guards crazy,” Shapiro said.

Prisoners at Allenwood had several different ways of sneaking goods onto the grounds. Many would wait until dark, climb the steep embankment behind the housing units, and trek the three-quar­ters of a mile through the woods to Route 15. There, they would collect food packages stashed by arrangement with friends or family members. This path became so worn that inmates took to call­ing it the “Ho Chi Minh Trail,” said Faulk, the retired Bureau of Prisons employee. Sometimes, family members would pass along items during a visit, or guards were bribed to bring in food and other goods from the outside.

While Porro was a camp inmate, the procurement and distribution of contraband became so systemic that banned goods were eventually traded between prisons. Olive oil and pasta—two wildly popular items—were not available at Allenwood, but 20 minutes down the road at the U.S. Penitentiary in Lewisburg, inmates could purchase such goods at the commissary, Porro said. Meanwhile, Lewisburg camp inmates did not have regular access to bread, which was freely attainable at Allenwood. To resolve the problem, inmates assigned to the sanitation details at Allenwood and Lewisburg would meet at a garbage dump located between the two camps and exchange the goods.

Financier Ivan Boesky cooperated with the prosecution of colleagues. When he was in Lompoc, he ‘was despised by every man in prison.’ Fellow inmates would not even acknowledge his presence.

With no walls and only a handful of corrections officers on duty, prison camps are easy places from which to slip out. Camp inmates attempting to escape will generally arrange for a friend to meet them in a car several miles away, but others sim­ply walk off the grounds. Several camp inmates attempted to escape while Porro was incarcerated, and all but one were eventually apprehended. When such inmates are caught, they do not return to the camp. They are moved to a higher-security facility and usually have their “good time” taken away.

Porro said that inmates cheer for their dar­ing comrades to make it, but everyone knows that escape attempts nearly always fail. “Each time I heard about one, my heart would drop for the per­son,” Porro said. “You wish them well, but the odds are against them.”

 

XV. Goodbye, Allenwood

In the spring of 2002, prison officials abruptly announced that the Allenwood camp was being con­verted into a facility that would house drug offenders only. White-collar inmates would be reassigned to other camps across the country. Porro learned that he would be transferred to Lewisburg, just a few miles away. He was given two days to collect his things and say his goodbyes. (The Allenwood camp was later shut down altogether as a cost-saving measure.)

The news came as a disappointment to Porro, who, despite the hardships of life at Allenwood, felt comfortable in his routine and was reluctant to uproot. Porro’s pro-bono inmate clients became frantic when they learned he was leaving, and before he departed, he scrambled to make other arrange­ments for them. He spent his final day at Allenwood exchanging hugs and best wishes. Porro was relieved to learn that Galluzzi would be coming to Lewisburg with him. The two were loaded, unshackled, onto a bus with roughly 50 other inmates for the brief trip to their new home.

 

XVI. The Missing Buckle

The United States Penitentiary at Lewisburg is an imposing, cement-and-brick castle in the center of an expansive blond hay field. The sharp, square buildings that make up the prison camp are just out­side the steep walls and forbidding guard towers of the penitentiary, creating an ominous atmosphere for new camp inmates.

Still, it didn’t take long for Porro to adjust to life at Lewisburg. Many prisoners had seen footage of him speaking to college students on the local news and warmly received him. Two inmates even car­ried his bags to the room. “It’s like I was a seasoned ballplayer moving from the New York Yankees to the Chicago Cubs,” Porro said. “Whereas when I got to Allenwood, I was a rookie.”

CalendarLewisburg did not have Allenwood’s amenities—no bocce pitch, no indoor gym, no tennis court—but the buildings were more modern, and, even bet­ter, Porro was soon made law librarian, a highly respected position that enabled him to spend more time working on inmates’ cases.

When Porro first got to Lewisburg, he was given a standard, prison-issued belt buckle. It was nothing exceptional: rectangular in shape, gold in color—pretty much the same as everyone else’s. But unlike the other prisoners, who had received buckles that had been worn by previous inmates, Porro got one that was brand new. It took on a special meaning for him. “When you wore it, you kind of think that it’s making you look better,” Porro said. “The only time I would use it was when I went on a visit.”

Then, about a year into Porro’s stay at Lewisburg, the buckle suddenly disappeared. He looked every­where but could not find it. The thought of losing his one valued personal possession left him dejected.

He was hunting for the buckle one afternoon when a friend, an Italian-American inmate in his forties, stopped by his room. The other inmate, who was short and stocky and had a thick New Jersey accent, received a subscription to The New York Times and came by each day to lend it to Porro.

The inmate was well respected by both the pris­oners and the corrections officers—“the kind of guy that no one wanted to mess with,” Porro said.

As he entered the room, the other inmate could tell that there was something that was bothering his friend.

“I can’t find my belt buckle, and I know I had it here,” Porro said.

“Oh yeah? I’ll take care of it,” the inmate said.

Porro had had his suspicions about the buck­le’s disappearance. His roommate at the time—a Hispanic in his mid-thirties who was the brother of a Major League baseball player—was serving a long sentence for selling drugs. Although the two of them got along well enough, Porro was always suspicious of his roommate, who ran a small-scale barter opera­tion trading watches and cigarettes. It was possi­ble, Porro thought, that his roommate had swiped the buckle and traded it for something else.

Although Porro didn’t witness a confrontation between the Hispanic and Italian-American prison­ers, something must have happened. The next day, his roommate apologized profusely as he returned the belt buckle, insisting that it must have gotten mistakenly mixed up in his things.

A short time later, Porro ran into the Italian. “Did you get your buckle back?” the Italian asked.

Porro responded only by smiling.

“After that, I never had anything go missing,” Porro said.


XVII. ‘You Have a Tumor’

One morning, not long after the belt-buckle inci­dent, Porro noticed a speck of blood in his urine. Porro was almost 70 at the time, and he immediately recognized the implications. On that day, the camp doctor happened to be in the cafeteria when Porro was having his lunch. Concerned that Porro could have a kidney stone, the doctor quickly arranged for him to see an outside specialist. When a sonogram failed to turn up anything, the camp doctor grew even more worried and sent Porro to a urologist, who performed a cystoscopy, a painful procedure that involves threading a tiny camera through the urethra and into the bladder. “You have a tumor in your bladder,” the urologist told Porro, “and it has to be removed.”

The Lewisburg medical staff arranged the opera­tion at the nearby Evangelical Community Hospital. Prison authorities dis­patched a corrections officer to accompany Porro while he was being treated—and even made sure the officer was in the operating room.

Although the opera­tion was a success, Porro’s family was not allowed to visit during the five days he spent in the hospi­tal. He has since made a full recovery but, as a precaution, must undergo a cystoscopy every three months. The irony is that if Porro had been working at the breakneck pace he kept before he went to prison, he doubts he would have even noticed the blood in his urine: “Had I been home, I probably would not be talking to you today.”


XVIII. The Rat

Late one evening, after Porro had recovered from the operation, corrections officers entered the upstairs floor of Lewisburg’s sole housing unit and escorted a prisoner off the grounds. The authori­ties didn’t say a word, but the inmates immediately became suspicious.

The measures have created a surprising level of parity between the camps and higher-security facilities. Said Bryan Lowry, president of a union representing federal corrections officers, ‘The Bureau of Prisons is the Bureau of Prisons.’

The missing inmate was a slow-witted drug offender in his mid-thirties, whom Porro described as a “big, dopey white guy.” The man was 6-feet-7 and maybe 270 pounds, and had lived with his mother in West Virginia before arriving at Lewisburg. “He had very little in terms of formal education,” Porro said. “He could barely write.”

After several days, the inmate suddenly reap­peared, telling the other prisoners that he had been off fighting the drug charges that had landed him in prison. But no one believed him. Instead, the inmates assumed that, like the other prisoners who had left and returned amid similar circumstances, this drug offender must be cooperating with the government.

“They treated him horribly when he got back,” Porro said. “Nobody would talk to him. He would go to the weight room and everybody would shun him and walk away.”

The prisoners turned out to be correct. The inmate, Porro said, had, in fact, become a govern­ment witness in a case against a higher-level target. And while his cooperation had cut his sentence nearly in half, it had also made him a pariah.

Since many inmates receive assignments to prison camps in return for their cooperation with federal prosecutors, the camps have a large num­ber of “rats,” detested by the rest of the population. “If word gets out” that you cooperated with the government, “you really risked—even in the camp—violence,” Hubbell said.

Morze served time in Lompoc with Boesky, who had turned government witness (and received a sentence of three and a half years) to help take down Milken and other traders in the late 1980s. “[Boesky] was despised by every man in prison,” Morze said. Although the general population would not even acknowledge his presence, Boesky was never alone in prison—a husky inmate in his mid-thirties accompanied him at all times. Morze believes that Boesky hired the prisoner to serve as his bodyguard, fearing inmate resentment toward him could boil over into violence. “[The inmate] was big enough to be a deterrent,” Morze said.

The fuming animosity that camp inmates carry toward government witnesses is rooted in the sense of betrayal that all inmates harbor, Porro said. “Everyone in prison has been betrayed by some­body.” When an inmate cooperates with the government, he not only turns his back on the prison community but also dredges up painful memories for practically all inmates.

 

XIX. Release

For each year of incarceration, federal inmates can get their sentence reduced by 54 days for good behavior. As a result, sentences, even with the ban on parole, can be 15 percent less than the maximum. Ebbers, for example, will serve at least 211/4 years of his 25-year sentence—that is, if he lives to his mid-eighties.

By keeping his nose clean for his entire incarcer­ation, Porro was able to knock 270 days off of his six-year sentence. Even better, his request to spend the final six months in a halfway house had been granted. Porro was scheduled to leave the prison system on May 17, 2004—one thousand six hundred and forty-nine days after he entered.

But as his release date approached, Porro grew nervous. Although he was overjoyed to rejoin his family—especially his wife—Porro had heard that white-col­lar offenders had a tough time on the out­side. Old friends want nothing to do with you, and convicted felons can’t find work. After five years of a monot­onous routine, things would be different now. What would life be like on the outside?

Porro’s last full day in prison was busy with administrative protocol. He visited the medical unit, where the staff confirmed that he was in solid physical shape—a process that helps indemnify the prison system against future lawsuits. He stopped by the supply division and returned his prison-issued clothes—his winter jacket, shirts, socks, under­wear, shoes, everything except the gray sweatsuit he would wear the next day. Then, he went through an administrative clearance to ensure that he did not have any pending disciplinary violations.

Porro spent a restless final night in prison. “You can’t sleep,” he said. “You’re like a kid waiting to see what Santa Claus brought him.” The next morning, Porro had a breakfast of dry cereal in the cafete­ria. He then returned to the housing unit to col­lect his things, before heading to the adminis­tration building with Joe Galluzzi. There, correc­tions officers searched Porro one last time. One of them checked Porro’s name off a list and wished him luck. Porro and Galluzzi then embraced, and said their goodbyes.

Finally, he walked into an adjacent room where his wife, his youngest daughter, and her fiancé were waiting. Since Joan Porro, who had been released about a year before, was a convicted felon, she had to get special permission from the Bureau of Prisons to receive her husband at the prison. “You hug and you cry and it’s a beautiful, beautiful moment,” Al Porro said.

The family climbed into Joan’s forest-green Jeep Cherokee and drove off. Outside, it was sunny and clear. “If you could ever picture in your mind what it’s like when you pass on and go to heaven, it’s that kind of day.”

A few miles down the highway, the family pulled over at a rest stop. Al went to the bathroom and changed into a pair of slacks and a sport shirt, while Joan arranged the eggplant and broccoli rabe that she had prepared for her husband. The family opened the back door of the Jeep and ate the food as if they were tailgating before a college football game. But they didn’t have much time. Porro had to report to a halfway house in Newark that very eve­ning. Soon, the family packed up the food and got back on the road.

Luke Mullins is a reporter for The American Banker. He wrote about his experiences in the Dominican Republic for the 2006 Random House anthology, “Twentysomething Essays by Twentysomething Writers.” His article on Lou Dobbs appeared in the November/December 2006 issue of The American.

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