The food’s great, the activities stink, but all in all, Michael Cohen should be alright, maybe even the object of indifference, if he gets shipped to an upstate New York federal prison, according to one inmate there.
A day after Donald Trump’s onetime personal lawyer was sentenced to a three-year prison term — for crimes including campaign finance violations based on hush money payments to two women who said they had affairs with Trump before his presidency — MarketWatch learned about the locked-up life at the prison where Cohen could serve his time.
“The reality is that this is the best camp in the federal system. It is basically an old age home for felons. It is set in the woods and we have no fence or wire or anything. The staff is good and the food is plentiful,” one Federal Correctional Institute Otisville inmate wrote in an email. “I think I eat better here than I do at home.”
At the same time, the inmate said, “there are not a lot of educational opportunities and most of the jobs only last a few minutes a day. So we are all fighting boredom.”
The inmate answered MarketWatch questions relayed by a white-collar prison life consultant, Justin Paperny, founder of White Collar Advice. Paperny asked his client’s name be withheld because prison officials don’t like inmates sharing details about incarcerated life.
Otisville is known as the federal system’s “Jewish” prison, because many of its inmates are Jewish, Paperny told MarketWatch. It serves homemade food during Shabbat, the inmate said, and even hosts Passover Seders. Cohen — who is Jewish and whose Holocaust survivor father urged him not to protect Trump — may end up there.
On Wednesday, Judge William Pauley, after sentencing Cohen, said he’d recommend the Bureau of Prisons assign Cohen to Otisville. The compound holds 840 inmates and has minimum and medium security facilities, roughly 80 miles north of downtown Manhattan.
But Pauley’s recommendation is only that: it’s the Bureau of Prisons who has final say on where inmates serve. Cohen, 52, has a March 6 surrender date. Cohen’s lawyer, Guy Petrillo, could not be reached for comment.
In a statement to MarketWatch, the Bureau of Prisons noted Cohen was not in its custody. According to its policies, “designation information is not releasable until after an individual arrives at his or her Bureau of Prisons destination.”
Wednesday’s sentencing might have been a media circus, but Cohen actually might not be the big talk in the Big House, according to the well-eating inmate.
Inmates are far more interested, he said, in the First Step Act, a criminal justice reform bill that could soon come up for a vote in Washington D.C.
Among other things, the bill could allow inmates to trim prison time with new rules on “good time credits.”
The bill “is all that gets talked about every day,” the inmate wrote. “If it passes then everyone will love Trump. No one gives a damn about Russia.”
Right now, educational programming is lacking at Otisville, the inmate said, who’s still waiting to hear back about his request to do an MBA program while he’s incarcerated. “There are no redemptive features where I can come out of here saying I learned something, or got a license or education of some degree,” he said.
Paperny said from his experience, some staff and prisoners will “embrace” Cohen, but others will shun him.
“Celebrity clients of mine have been given special treatment from staff — more phone minutes, desirable bunk and job,” Paperny said. “If a staff member is enamored with his celebrity Cohen will get the better job, bunk, and other special perks.” Paperny advises his clients not to accept any special treatment.
Some inmates might “test” the convicted lawyer to try enhancing their own status, Paperny said. That bullying could include ordering Cohen to get out of a seat or to pay “rent” on laundry machine usage for example, he said.
Paperny at one point was a Bear Stearns stockbroker. He received an 18-month sentence following his guilty plea to hedge fund fraud and then built this consulting business.
Larry Levine, the founder of Wall Street Prison Consultants, cautioned against assuming Cohen would go to Otisville — or even go to prison at all.
“I’ve got clients right now who have been sentenced up to three years ago but still haven’t gone in because they’re cooperating. They’re out on the street, cooperating, giving information to the government,” Levine said. “This dude may never go into custody. They used this as a tool. I don’t think he’s ever going to see the inside. Look at the valuable info he has in his head.”
Levine, like one of the Otisville inmates, noted the facility’s reputation for housing many Jewish inmates. The commissary list even includes a kosher section. “I call it the federal Jewish heaven. But as far as him going there — that’s the farthest thing from a done deal,” Levine said. Levine served time at 11 different federal prisons over 10 years and considers himself a “connoisseur” of federal prisons.
Cohen didn’t sign cooperation deals with Manhattan federal prosecutors, or the special prosecutor’s probe into Russian meddling in the 2016 election. An assistant U.S. attorney in the special prosecution probe did, however, say Wednesday that Cohen gave “credible and reliable information.”
The well-eating inmate said Cohen “will not be in danger because of that. A ton of guys here have cooperated one way or another — so this is probably the best place for him.”
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