The “people” have spoken — and Ghislaine Maxwell has been sentenced to 240 months behind bars. To the average person who’s never been locked up, this would seem unfathomable. Especially at age 60! Still, the prison experience is in some measure what you make it.
I spent a year in the garbage disposal that was (and still is) the Metropolitan Correctional Center. And while I’d never ever want to repeat it, the experience wasn’t all terrible.
Some inmates are simply incorrigible. They will whine about everything and own none of their indiscretions. Any attempts at constructive activity or rehabilitation are nowhere to be found. They will remain defiant until the day they die.
Others take a different view. During my time inside, I decided to work and read as much as possible. Regardless of the slave wages, I took as many jobs as the system would allow. Mopping floors, wiping down counters, opening and traying hundreds of pounds of canned vegetables, loading an industrial dishwasher, clerical work and watching suicidal inmates? I did it all for ranging from six to 40 cents per hour (mostly in the six-cent range). And I won’t even bother to list all the classics I read.
The point is: I decided that working and reading were the constructive activities I would employ to make the hours go by more quickly.
From all indications, Maxwell has taken the high road. Rather than sit and sulk marinating in her woes, prison officials report that she’s helped other women with their GED coursework and been sociable overall.
There is a component to prison life that some people — and even inmates subjected to being locked up — don’t understand. And that is the proximity to your friends (assuming you can make some) prisoners enjoy. I found one or two guys whose company I really liked. To hang with them on the outside would require a considerable commute . But in prison, they were both a 20-step walk away.
No matter where you’re designated upon sentencing or the people with whom you’re incarcerated, chances are you’ll find a kindred spirit or two. Inmates in the right frame of mind will grab whatever silver lining lies within those walls.
But 240 months? That’s 20 years, you say, and intolerable. That number is a bit deceptive. In the federal system, inmates receive 15% off their captivity for “good time.” “Good time” is not a difficult score. It simply means you stay out of trouble — not that you’re a “model inmate,” as they call the best of the worst. So she’ll lose three years off her stay right there.
The Second Chance Act (which actually preceded the First Step Act) affords older inmates who don’t pose a threat to the community a 33% sentence reduction. They do have to serve a portion of that 33% in home confinement, but being locked up at home is a step up from being in prison.
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The federal system also includes halfway house time. Depending on the length of a prisoner’s sentence, he or she will be afforded the opportunity to spend a significant part of that time residing in a privately run facility from which they can leave for work and essential chores. It’s not like going home, but again, preferable to prison.
Take all this into account and bear in mind that Maxwell has already been locked up for about a year (which counts toward her sentence as “time served”), she’ll likely be released around age 72. Her life is not over — if she doesn’t want it to be.
Maxwell’s boyfriend (Jeffrey Epstein, who I suicide-watched and came to know quite well during my incarceration) was not of the constructive mind she appears to be. Epstein was deathly afraid of prison and had no plans to adapt and deal with his reality. As entitled as he was, Epstein figured he’d be able to bond out, get a slap on the wrist, and continue on his merry way as he had before.
But when the judge denied his bail — airplane and island as collateral notwithstanding — the old boy spiraled down the hopper. Unlike his counterpart, he chose to not assimilate. General population wasn’t for him. He spent his stay in protective custody or in a suicide cell. And a month of that would make anybody want to kill themselves.
I don’t know Ghislaine Maxwell, and Epstein never said a word about her. But from what I’ve read and my own experience with inmates both suicidal and as upbeat as could be given the circumstances, my intuition tells me she’s gonna make it.
Her statement of contrition to the victims at sentencing , whether heartfelt or otherwise , indicates she’s on the right path. About now she’s probably thinking “one day at a time. I’m gonna make it.” I’ve been there myself. There’s light at the end of the tunnel.
Mersey is a writer.