Those who have served time in the federal prison system say Rod Blagojevich is in for a wake-up call, especially because federal policy typically dictates that convicts facing more than 10 years don’t qualify to start their sentences at any of the minimum security prison camps, commonly called Club Fed.
"As soon as he has that first strip search, his life is going to be completely different," said former Cicero Town President Betty Loren Maltese, who served six years of an eight-year sentence for stealing $12 million in municipal funds in an insurance scam.
Illinois' former governor on Wednesday was sentenced to 14 years on federal corruption charges. Former convicts stressed that VIPs don’t get special treatment.
"From the moment you walk in there, it’s all pretty humiliating," said ex-Gov. George Ryan's former chief of staff, Scott Fawell, who served 52 months, mostly in a federal prison camp. "You get there... They sign you in, give you a number, hand you your bunk, your bedding and pillow and tell you what bunk you are in and you march down there and you look around as you are walking there and you think 'Oh my God!'"
If anything, Fawell and Loren-Maltese said, the favored few in the outside world get harsher treatment inside the walls of a federal prison facility.
"They’ll call you in a little more. They’ll put a little more heat on you. They’ll try and put you in your place, so you understand you’re just like everybody else,” said Fawell.
"You’re given assignments as soon as you get there. You’re known as what’s called A&O, Admissions and Orientation. So you have some of the worst jobs [like] cleaning toilets," she recalled.
"He will be on a strict regimen. You have 10-minute movement. You’re locked in at 8:30 at night until six in the morning, so it’ll be a big difference. A big difference," she added.
Blagojevich may spend the initial portion of his sentence in a traditional, prison-type setting, the location yet to be determined by The Bureau of Prisons. Typically, the agency tries to keep inmates no farther than 500 miles from immediate family. So options for the ex-governor include Pekin, Ill., Terre Haute, Ind., and Oxford, Wis.
"It’s a painful day leaving your family," recalled Fawell. "When you’re walking across those gates, you know it’s over for all intents and purposes, the life you’ve been living."
Blagojevich surrenders to prison on Feb. 16, 2012.