I-TEAM: What could Corrine Brown's life be like in prison?

Recently released Jacksonville woman tells I-TEAM what prison is really like

By Lynnsey Gardner - Investigative reporter

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - A Jacksonville grandmother recently released from a Florida federal prison camp told the I-TEAM on Thursday what former U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown's life could be like if she's sentenced to prison time for her conviction of using a fake charity to steal from needy children and donors.

Brown's sentencing on multiple counts of fraud and other charges is scheduled to take place Nov. 16 at the federal courthouse in downtown Jacksonville -- the same courthouse where "Alice," the woman who shared her story with the I-TEAM, was convicted.

News4Jax has agreed to conceal the identity of the former prisoner because she's still on probation. A judge sentenced her to five years for insurance fraud in Jacksonville.

Alice reached out to the I-TEAM to tell Brown and everyone at home what prison is really like for aging white-collar criminals.

"Everyone comes through the gates saying, 'I didn't do it. I'm not guilty,'" she said. "At some point, you sit down and say to yourself, 'I must have done it or I wouldn't be here.'"

After her experience with the federal government as an inmate, Alice said, she has no doubt Brown will be sentenced to prison for her crimes, and she should hope she goes to a minimum security prison camp, compared to a federal correctional institution.

"She's going to be scared," Alice said. "She's going to be upset and she's going to be in denial."

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Looking back on Brown's case, Alice said, she feels like Brown has a debt to be paid to society.

"The same as I did," she said.

Alice told the I-TEAM that she feels like her age was never a consideration when she was in camp.

"You were expected to do what any 20-year-old could do," she said. "They didn't care."

Alice estimated 90 percent of all female prisoners are required to work Monday through Friday, unless they have a documented medical condition from a doctor.

Alice is in her 60s, so she expects Brown, who is 70 years old, would also be put to work. Alice 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.

"It is that movie, 'Groundhog Day.' You wake up, you go to work, you come back and you go to bed and then you wake up," Alice said. "Time doesn't move the same inside as it does outside."

Alice said a minimum security prison camp puts women together in a dormitory-like setting with no bars on the windows or fence around the facility. They live in 10-by-10-foot cubicles with two to three women per cube.

She added that guards do not carry guns and there aren't nightly lock-ups. Doors are left open at all times. The only time Alice recalled them being locked shut was during a tornado warning. Prisoners do have two mandatory count times a day when they line up to be counted at 4 p.m. and 10 p.m.

While the food was horrible, Alice said, the guards were respectful and some women even received decent medical care.

Sources told the I-TEAM that Brown is suffering from depression. Alice said that would be taken very seriously at prison camp.

"That is the one thing they will watch for," she said. "There is a psychologist and there is a psychiatrist on the staff."

Alice said Brown will be more than a number -- immediately.

"The inmates will love her. They will look at her like a celebrity," she said. "But the guards will look at her and say, 'You may have been somebody out there, but in here, you are just another inmate.'"

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.

Alice said the facility is clean, and the staff is usually respectful. 

"It's just a place to punish you by keeping you away from your family. That's all it is," Alice said. "It's a place to keep you away from your family. That's the hardest punishment they can think to give you at this point."

Alice said the women who were given the harshest sentences, and the most time away from their families, were the criminals who refused to accept responsibility.

"(The ones who) fought it tooth and nail, they have been very harsh on those ladies. I've seen them get some very, very tough sentences," Alice said. "I was offered 18 months in a plea bargain and I didn't take it and I was given 18 years."

So far, Brown has adamantly denied any wrongdoing and continues to hold out hope for probation. Alice fears for Brown, saying she thinks she'll receive a longer sentence because of her firecracker personality. 

In Brown's case, how much time prosecutors will push for is still unclear. But a court officer is expected to recommend seven to nine years.

Alice said any ideas of a female prison from the show, "Orange Is the New Black," isn’t accurate. At Alice's prison camp, there were no gangs and the women had a close sisterhood bond and looked out for each other.

She reiterated that age is not a factor to the government, and she personally saw three elderly women die in prison from natural causes.

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