Riding in the rear of a green Cadillac with tinted windows, Conrad Black made the four-hour trip from his seafront home in Palm Beach to a prison in northern Florida.
Once there, after a farewell embrace of his wife, the 63-year-old newspaper tycoon, who once ran over 200 newspapers, was whisked inside, photographed, fingerprinted and issued with his prison garb, khaki pants, underwear, socks, steel-tipped boots and a khaki shirt emblazoned with his prison number 18330-424. Unless he succeeds in appealing his sentence for defrauding shareholders in his company, Hollinger International, he will be behind bars for the better part of six and a half years.
Already one US court has rejected his plea to be allowed to remain free on bail while his appeal is under consideration. In a last minute column he wrote over the weekend for the New York Sun, one of the papers in which he once had an interest, Black said: “I cherish my liberty as all people do, but I am unafraid. I have faith in American justice.” He still believes he will be ultimately exonerated.
In prison Black shares a small cinder-block cell with one other inmate. The one window is sealed, there are two chairs and single desk. Visiting hours are from 8am to 3pm, but only at weekends. All inmates (there are over 2,000 in the prison, most of them serving time for non-violent drug and firearm offences) have to work at such taska as cleaning toilets, waxing floors, washing pots in the kitchen and helping serve food. For this Black – like all the inmates – will be paid 12 cents an hour.
In contrast to the lavish lifestyle he once led, Black will only be allowed prison fare. There are three meals a day in the prison canteen, most often such food as spaghetti and hamburgers. There are five roll calls each day and prisoners must be in their cells by 9pm. Lights go out at 11pm.
Prison facilities include a library, jogging track and a baseball court. If he wishes Black can enroll in the prison school and teach the other inmates, which he has said he might do. He will also be allowed to continue work on his memoirs which he started last year. He had previously written biographies of President Nixon and Franklin Roosevelt as well as the Premier of Quebec Maurice DuPlessis.
Because Black renounced his Canadian citizenship seven years ago in order to accept a British peerage, it is expected he will be deported to Britain on completion of his sentence or release from jail. If his appeal – which is scheduled to be heard in June – does not succeed he will be expected to serve 85 per cent of his sentence before being eligible for parole.