JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Corrine Brown's spiritual adviser escorted the former U.S. representative to a work camp in Central Florida late Monday morning, about 20 minutes before the deadline for her to begin serving a five-year sentence.
The 71-year-old former Democratic congresswoman reported to the minimum-security prison camp that is part of the Coleman Federal Correctional Complex. Bishop Kelvin Cobaris, of Orlando, said he walked her to the door and prayed with her before she entered the facility in Sumter County, about a 2½-hour drive southwest Jacksonville.
Cobaris said Brown didn’t appear to be nervous as she exited a black van and walked in to be processed.
"I saw emotion, but I didn’t see nervousness or fear. She was just ready to go face what she needed to face," Cobaris said. “She's still the strong leader that we all know she is, and she sends her love to all of her constituents and those who have supported her throughout this process."
Brown, who was convicted last summer of federal corruption, conspiracy, tax evasion and fraud, was sentenced last month to five years in prison, three years of probation, and to make restitution of $250 per month.There are numerous rules inmates must follow regarding phone calls, mail and counseling
Brown will continue to receive her federal pension until she exhausts her appeals.
Carla Wiley, the woman who founded the unregistered charity that Brown was accused by federal prosecutors of using as a personal slush fund, also began serving her sentence Monday. She was ordered to report to Federal Prison Camp Alderson in West Virginia, which is the prison where Martha Stewart did her time.
As of Tuesday evening, both Brown and Wiley showed up as incarcerated inmates on the Federal Bureau of Prisons website -- Brown under inmate number 67315-018, which she had already been assigned, and Wiley under inmate number 66813-018
The other co-conspirator in the charity fraud case, Brown's former chief of staff, Ronnie Simmons, began serving his sentence at a Maryland prison three weeks ago. He was assigned number 67316-018.
A former inmate told News4Jax that Brown will have access to television and the internet. Joe Rojas, the head of the union for correctional officers at Coleman, said Brown will be treated no different than anyone else.
"She will be in a cubical. She will be assigned a bed assignment like any other inmate," Rojas said. "I know this will probably be shocking for (her), but it would be shocking for anybody coming in: She has to wake up at a certain time, eat at a certain time and go to bed at a certain time."
It’s a routine Rojas said she will have to get used to, unless she wins her appeal. If her conviction is not overturned, she'll likely serve 80 percent of her 60-month sentence at Coleman, with her final weeks at a different facility, where she would ultimately be released.
Richard Pari, who worked as a corrections lieutenant at Coleman, and a former prisoner there who is only using the named Alice, described what Brown will likely experience at the prison.
Pari said Brown will be given a green jump suit and a locker that's 3 feet high and 2 feet wide for her personal belongings. She will be put in the general inmate population and share a 10-by-10-foot cell with another woman.
"They enter a new lifestyle and you have to adapt to that new lifestyle," Pari said. "Everything is taken from you."
Statistics from the Federal Bureau of Prisons show that only 23 of nearly 400 prisoners at the Coleman facility are over the age of 64. Brown is 71.
Alice said age was not a consideration for those sentenced to the camp.
"You were expected to do what any 20-year-old could do," Alice said. "They didn't care."
Both Pari and Alice said that Brown's name and reputation will proceed her.
"Let's put it this way: Being high profile, people might try to exploit you for money and commissary (credits)," Pari said. "And even then, hypothetically, she has a lower bunk. She could be strong-armed for that."
"The inmates will probably know her. A lot of them will. The guards will definitely know who she is, but it won't mean anything to them. They're going to let her know, 'Just because you were somebody out there, you're not going to be anybody in here,'" Alice said.
Alice said the food was horrible, but the guards were respectful and some women even received decent medical care.
She said jobs include cleaning up around the compound, cooking, trash pickup, lawn mowing, pulling weeds, laundry, cleaning inside the nearby men's prison, electrical work, warehouse work or serving as a driver.
Alice said the hardest part was the initial transition. All new prisoners are given military-like uniforms and steel-toed boots. They can buy sweets, T-shirts and sneakers once their families put money in their commissary accounts.
Prisoners also can't see family and friends until they each pass the approval process, which includes background checks. For some women, Alice said, the process takes two months.
Brown shouldn't expect any privacy, even for weekend visitation, Alice said.
"It was one big room, and it was crowded," she said. "There would be 200 to 300 people in one room, and you just sit and talk, and you learn to talk loud."
She said the facility is kept clean -- by the inmates.
"They make you keep it clean. You are waxing and polishing and shining concrete floors," Alice said. "They are the shiniest concrete floors I've ever seen in my life."
She reiterated that age is not a factor to the government, and she personally saw three elderly women die in prison from natural causes.
Alice said the experience was humbling and that it changed her.
"Everyone comes through the gates saying, 'I didn't do it. I'm not guilty,'" Alice said. "At some point, you sit down and say to yourself, 'I must have done it or I wouldn't be here.' Then you say, 'I did it. I just have to get through this time.'"