In prison, just another Joe (Nacchio)
Set to check in Tuesday, Nacchio will be stripped of his
stature, says one who's been there.
By Andy Vuong
Sunday, April 12, 2009
Should Joe Nacchio report to a federal prison in Pennsylvania as expected Tuesday, the former
Qwest chief executive will be strip-searched and issued a green
button-up shirt and matching pants.
He'll get a pair of shoes, a toothbrush, toothpaste, a razor, a
bar of soap and laundry detergent.
Within two to three hours, the 59-year-old
native will have a "bunkie," an inmate with whom he'll share a
cubicle on a floor of cubicles.
Two to three days later he'll have been assigned a prison job
that pays between 12 and 40 cents an hour, likely cleaning a
bathroom or serving food.
"It's going to sink on him that he's not important anymore,"
said Jimmy Tayoun, a former Philadelphia
politician convicted of bribery who spent more than three years
at Schuylkill. "No one
cares who he is."
Unless he's transferred or released early for good behavior, the
prison camp at Schuylkill Federal Correctional Institution in
Minersville will be Nacchio's home for the next six years, the
outcome of his conviction for illegal insider trading.
But the minimum-security Schuylkill
camp — it's a satellite location to the medium-security prison
of the same name — is hardly the "Club Fed" critics paint,
former inmates say, despite the decent living conditions and
The worst part may be the isolation and time away from family.
"It's going to be awfully lonely," Tayoun said.
The one-time superstar was recruited from AT&T in 1997 by Qwest
founder Philip Anschutz and orchestrated the
company's takeover of phone giant U S West in 2000. Nacchio
reaped millions in the aftermath.
But Qwest flirted with bankruptcy at the end of his tenure in
2002, mired in an accounting scandal and saddled with $25
billion in debt.
Five years later, Nacchio was convicted on 19 counts of illegal
insider trading, accused of selling $52 million in Qwest stock
in early 2001 based on private warnings that the company was
Far from familiarity
Schuylkill is a long way from familiarity for
Inmates work about seven hours a day, five days a week.
Otherwise they read, watch television, work out or play sports
such as softball, basketball and bocce.
There isn't a fenced perimeter, and there's only one guard per
"It's nice as far as being incarcerated goes," said George
Stantzos, an inmate from 2001 to 2005. "In reality, it's
not nice. You're put in a melting pot with people from all
different levels of society and you have to (coexist)."
Politicians, bankers, doctors and lawyers roamed the grounds
during Tayoun's days from 1991 to 1994. It's also home to
white-collar criminals and nonviolent drug offenders.
"We have enough talent, we could run a city," Tayoun said he
once quipped to a guard.
ImClone Systems founder Sam Waksal, a key figure in Martha
Stewart's stock-dumping scandal, served 18 months there for
securities fraud, bank fraud and other charges. Waksal's
first job was to clean the same bathroom every day, said
Stantzos, in Schuylkill on
Waksal had little to say when contacted for this story.
"What does one say? It's prison," he said.
Beds, desk and dresser
Opened in 1991, the Schuylkill
camp can house 300 inmates. The cubicles each hold two
inmates with a bunk bed, desk and dresser. They're
separated from other cubicles in the dormlike setting by
4-foot-high cinder-block walls.
Dibs on a bottom bunk, where there's more privacy, is based on
medical need or seniority.
The cafeteria is in the nearby administration building, where
there's a gym and rec room.
Inmates get visitors on alternating weekends and 500 minutes a
month of phone time, each call limited to 15 minutes.
Family members can wire money for inmates to use at the
Escape attempts are rare, but food smuggling is another matter.
Inmates often have family and friends leave food in the woods
following visits, Stantzos said.
"At nighttime, the inmates would run out to the woods (and) grab
the food," he recalled.
"Shakedown" searches for contraband occur frequently, sometimes
turning up some interesting things.
An inmate's smuggled toupee was confiscated. He refused to
leave his cubicle for a month, not even to eat, Stantzos
"This guy was a psychiatrist," he said. "That's the crazy
thing about it."
Former Massachusetts state Sen. Joseph Timilty, who did a
four-month stretch in Schuylkill, chronicled his time behind
bars in a book, "Prison Journal: An Irreverent Look at
Life on the Inside." In it, he suggests the government
should order criminals such as Nacchio to do community work
rather than spend thousands of taxpayer dollars to keep them
"Sending people like him and me to these types of camps,"
Timilty said, "is an absolute waste of money."
Librarian Barbara Hudson contributed to this report. Andy
Vuong: 303-954-1209 or