Last December, we reported about convicted Illinois governor Rod "Blago" Blagojevich's desire to complete his sentence at FCI Englewood, a facility Forbes called one of the best places to serve time a few years back. Now, a U.S. District judge has granted his wish. But is the Englewood facility really all that cushy? A spokesman says no -- and kind of.
"I would not call this a country club," FCI Englewood public information officer John Sell told us. "As an organization, we're kind of concerned about the perception of inmates having inappropriate comforts."
Despite the joint having been the home of Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh during his '90s-era trial in Denver, that's certainly its reputation. Forbes noted that prisoners "can blow off steam by playing pool, ping-pong or even foosball." And the list of items available for inmate purchase, on view below -- along with the prison handbook -- is certainly extensive. Residents can buy a wide variety of foods, many of them listed by their brand names (Cinnamon Graham cereal, Milky Way candy bars), plus clothing and hygiene items ranging from safety scissors and toenail clippers to a ponytail holder.
Sounds extravagant -- but according to Sell, these commissary options are "pretty typical" of what's available at low-security prisons around the country, and so are the recreation options.
If that's the case, why does he think FCI Englewood is the sort of place where current inmates like ex-Enron executive Jeff Skilling would like to pay their debt to society?
"Maybe it's the location," he speculated. "It's in Denver, near the Rocky Mountains, with nice scenery. And it's a low-level institution with nonviolent offenders."
At the same time, he emphasized that a prison jolt shouldn't be looked upon as an extended vacation.
"Sentenced inmates here at the Federal Correctional Institution have to work," he said. "They must have a job unless there is a medical or security reason why they're unable to do so. And we're basically a small city, so they're assigned institutional jobs serving those labor needs. They can be food service workers, orderlies keeping housing units and other areas clean, plumbers, painters, groundskeepers. And they're going to be busy while they're here. They have a very regimented day.
"We get them up about six in the morning," he continued. "Breakfast is at 6:15, and at seven, they're going to work. They work from seven to 10:30, and then go to lunch -- and around noon, they're back to work again until approximately 3:30. They have dinner about 4:45, and then they're allowed leisure time, recreation activities or the library, until around eight." At that point, they're required back at their housing unit, with lights out around 11 p.m.
In addition, FCI Englewood "provides correctional programs and activities to teach inmates to use their time constructively. And we give them incentives to develop personal responsibility, and teach them consequences for their behavior."
One example: The facility offers a substance-abuse program that Blagojevich reportedly hopes to enter -- and if he completes it successfully, a year could be subtracted from his fourteen-year sentence.
In the end, though, even Sell couldn't paint FCI Englewood as the Alcatraz of Colorado. "It's a pretty easy place to do your time, to be honest with you," he acknowledged.
That's undoubtedly music to Blago's ears. In the meantime, check out the FCI Englewood commissary list and handbook below.
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More from our Media archive: "Timothy McVeigh on Oklahoma City bombing's 15th anniversary: 'Get over it.'"