Published: Oct 3, 2017 10:45 a.m. ET
“When the rich get sent to prison, they call these wise guys first”
Former congressman Anthony Weiner cried when a judge sentenced him to 21 months in prison last week for sexting with a 15-year-old girl. Prison is tough and most felons have no idea what to expect. For a few thousand dollars, however, high-profile felons like Weiner can hire a “prison consultant” to help smooth the transition to life behind bars.
Weiner’s attorney didn’t respond to a question on whether he’s using a prison consultant, and neither did the lawyer for Shkreli, who was recently sent to a Brooklyn detention center while he awaits sentencing on fraud charges. But Weiner and Shkreli are just the type of convicts who typically use prison consultants. They’ve already helped the likes of Bernie Madoff and Martha Stewart.
What do these prison preppers do?
A combination hand-holder, shoulder-to-cry-on, and red tape slicer, prison consultants prep future inmates for life behind bars, teach them how to make the best use of their time “on the inside,” and can even help inmates shave time off their sentences.
Many of the consultants have been to prison themselves and know from personal experience how to navigate the Bureau of Prisons bureaucracy.
Prices for their services range from $500 for advocating for better medical care in prison to $20,000 for comprehensive post-prison consulting to help ex-inmates rebuild their lives by starting new businesses — in fields they’re not legally barred from working in — or writing books.
Marketwatch talked to prison consultants to find out how they would advise Weiner and Shkreli. The best part? Many of these tips work for non-criminals too.
Use the ‘SWOT’ technique
In movies and on TV, surviving prison requires brawn. But Larry Levine, founder of Wall Street Prison Consultants, counsels clients to use their brains first.
He tells them to use a classic business-school technique — a SWOT analysis — to evaluate a situation’s strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats. Levine, who served 10 years at 11 federal correctional institutions, coaches inmates to use it when confronted with a decision in prison, where nervousness can cloud judgment.
Use your time wisely
Just as life is short and easily squandered, a prison term can be too. “A lot of inmates sit around watching MTV, jerking off and playing cards, and that’s their five years,” Levine said.
A better way to spend your sentence? Educate yourself at the law library and share your knowledge with other inmates, or write a book.
When in prison, listen more than you talk
“The best advice I could give the congressman is to mind his own business, show people respect and don’t get caught up in drama,” Levine said. “In other words, fly under the radar.”
That will be a tall order for Weiner, the two-time New York City mayoral candidate whose fall from grace has been widely chronicled in the media and in a documentary film.
He faces significant hurdles in prison, Levine said, because his conviction for sexting with a 15-year-old girl will brand him a “chomo” (prison lingo for a child molester). That puts him among the lowest of the low at his facility, Levine said.
And unlike other non-violent offenders, Weiner may not end up at a so-called “Club Fed” minimum security facility, Levine said, because Weiner’s sex crime could send him to a higher security prison.
His fellow inmates could include drug dealers and bank robbers, who will probably see Weiner’s tears in the courtroom as a sign of weakness — another reason he could be targeted for verbal or physical assaults, Levine said.
Stay humble and hustle for nice jobs
Weiner’s going to have a rough road ahead of him, Levine said. “The inmate population is going to hate him.” His advice? “He’s got to just watch his s*** and be quiet and docile.” Make friends with the prison guards, but don’t be too obvious about it.
“There’s a lot of politics that goes on in prison,” he added. “You need to know who to ally yourself with.”
Levine, who landed in prison after working as an “efficiency expert” for the mob, charges clients $2,500 to $5,000 for services including “psychologically preparing” clients for jail and helping them get the best jobs while they’re in prison.
Prison staff will typically give famous inmates demeaning jobs like emptying trash cans or cleaning greasy pots and pans, Levine said.
The worst job at a prison is cleaning the showers, Levine said. The best are paper-pushing jobs in an air conditioned office.
Just like in the regular working world, getting a good job isn’t about what you know, it’s about who you know, Levine said.
There’s a lot of turnover in prison jobs because the workforce is constantly cycling in and out of the facility.
“You have to know somebody who’s going to tell you: apply for this, apply for that,” Levine said.
Think long-term even for a short sentence
Similar to how a wise employee starts contributing the maximum to a 401(k) retirement account as soon as they get a new job, prison inmates should stay focused on their post-prison life.
High-profile inmates should avoid “scenarios that could lead to trouble” — which means they should stick close to their cells and avoid participating in card games, steer clear of the television room and even avoid the chow hall as much as possible, Levine said.
“If challenged, he must understand how his response will influence the rest of his life.” Getting into a fight could mean time in the SHU or special housing unit, more commonly known as solitary confinement.