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Martha:Tale of two prisons
The celebrity homemaker leaves prison soon. With Big Brother watching, freedom will be elusive.
March 2, 2005: 12:05 PM EST
By Krysten Crawford, CNN/Money staff writer
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NEW YORK (CNN/Money) - Don't think Martha Stewart will be free and clear when she exits prison this week.

Sure, she'll be saying good-bye to 980 fellow inmates, a cleaning job that pays slave wages, bad food, and a prison staff who watched her every move.

But when Stewart leaves the sprawling West Virginia minimum-security prison dubbed "Camp Cupcake" she'll head directly for another, albeit far more familiar, confine: her 153-acre estate in Bedford, N.Y., where she will spend the next few months under house arrest.

Stewart, who turned a passion for arts and crafts into an empire, was convicted a year ago on criminal charges that she lied to investigators during an insider trading probe of her personal sale of ImClone Systems stock in late 2001. In July she was sentenced to five months in prison and five months of home detention.

In part to stem big financial losses at her company, Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia (Research), Stewart chose to serve her sentence now rather than await the outcome of her court appeal, which is pending.

To hear legal experts tell it, home detention is better than prison. But it's hardly a vacation.

Prison alumni like Stewart "say there are a lot of comparisons between house arrest and jail, in terms of the loss of your freedom and the control that the state still has over you," said Brian Payne, a professor at Old Dominion University who has studied the home detention experience and is author of Incarcerating White-Collar Offenders: The Prison Experience & Beyond.

"They say it's like being in jail," continues Payne, "except you don't run out of small things like toilet paper."

Another small, ubiquitous thing

The biggest source of angst -- aside from not being able to go out to dinner or the movies with family and friends -- is the electronic ankle bracelet that, according to Stewart's sentencing order, she must wear and cannot remove during her home confinement.

Stewart will likely be outfitted with the device once she arrives at her Bedford home, legal experts say.

David Novak, a former felon and author of a book on prison life who is now a consultant to convicts, likens the electronic device to a "very small" pager -- a vast improvement, he says, over the bulkier gear of yore. "They used to be much more cumbersome," said Novak.

Typically these ankle bracelets are linked to detectors installed on a detainee's home phones. The latest gadgets, according to Payne, rely on the same satellite technology now common in cell phones.

Either way, the devices are linked to the U.S. probation office and notify watchdogs when their possessor has strayed off bounds.

Payne's research found that women more than men chafe at having to wear the monitors. Shaving legs is one problem that women had. "It's also like wearing a scarlet letter," he said, referring to the symbol of shame depicted in Nathaniel Hawthorne's novel about a 17th century adulteress who is forced to wear the letter A as a result.

But more than just a physical discomfort or embarrassment, the monitors serve as a constant reminder of a lack of freedom and the power the government still retains over the captive, said Payne.

"The probation officer assigned to (Stewart) will basically be her CEO," he said. The official can, for instance, grant exceptions to the limits placed on Stewart's movements. While the trial judge who sentenced Stewart last March said she can work up to 48 hours a week, the probation officer has the power to extend that or allow her to leave her house for, say, a doctor's appointment.

Party time?

Stewart is scheduled to meet with her new guardian next week, according to a source familiar with the arrangement. At that time a schedule will be set for how often Stewart must check in, either by phone or in person, with probation officials.

Once the home detention piece of her sentence ends in August, Stewart will remain on probation for another two years.

Any meetings between Stewart and her assigned supervisor are likely to be brief and, if all goes well, will become less frequent over time, said legal experts. In traditional cases, a probation officer will try to assess whether his or her charge is doing drugs or consorting with other felons.

But in most white collar cases like Stewart's, the sessions are usually limited to general questions like "Are you being compliant (with the home detention restrictions)? Are there any issues coming up, like travel, that you need authorization for?" said Novak, the prison consultant.

One thing, according to Novak, that Stewart will be able to do while confined to Bedford: host one of her signature soirees. Anyone but a convicted felon can come.

"She can do anything she wants in her house," said Novak. "But it is a gilded cage."

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