Two years ago, Lea Fastow, former assistant treasurer of the Enron Corporation, was anticipating a move into a 12,000-square-foot house that she and her husband were having built in the exclusive River Oaks section of this city. It would have six fireplaces and Italian flagstone flooring, and would cost $3.9 million.
Instead, on July 12, she will move into the austere, high-rise Federal Detention Center downtown. A closet-size cell there will be her home while she serves a one-year sentence after pleading guilty last month to tax evasion.
She and her husband, Andrew S. Fastow, had to sell their River Oaks house after the implosion of Enron left both of them in a legal morass. Mr. Fastow, Enron’s former chief financial officer, will also go to jail. As part of a plea bargain agreement, he could serve up to 10 years for concealing Enron’s debt and inflating its profits while making millions for himself.
Besides dealing with the dangers and indignities of prison life – from the threat of violence and routine strip searches to scratchy toilet paper and narrow bunk beds – Mrs. Fastow, 42, is likely to find that the mixed-sex, highly secure detention center will be anything but the kind of pastoral prison camp that many people still associate with white-collar criminals. And, former convicts say, her time will be more difficult because she is a woman, white and wealthy.
That is grim news for Martha Stewart, another well-known woman accused of a white-collar crime, unless her conviction is overturned on appeal or she has more luck than Mrs. Fastow did in persuading a federal judge to recommend that she be assigned to a low-security, women-only prison.
“Let’s be honest: jails are racist, sexist and homophobic places,” said Ray Hill, who served eight years in prison for burglary and is now a consultant to people facing time behind bars. He is also the host of “The Prison Show,” a call-in radio program for inmates and their families in southeast Texas. When white people are a minority in prisons, he added, they often suffer the most abuse. Being rich only makes things worse.
Gabriela Reza, a Hispanic woman who served 4 months of a 10-month drug-possession sentence at the Houston center last year, agreed. “You hate to say it, but just like on the outside, people tend to help people who are like them – and Hispanics and blacks are the majority in there,” she said.
After Mrs. Fastow surrenders to the authorities, which she is scheduled to do at 2 p.m. on July 12, she will be assigned to an 8-by-10-foot cell in the 11-story, 1,100-bed prison, which houses people serving relatively short sentences or awaiting trial on a variety of charges, including violent offenses.