Prison life could jolt Nacchio
Menial labor, puny wages, wake-up at 6: It's no "Club Fed"
By Julie Dunn, Staff Writer
Monday, April 23, 2007
Joe Nacchio, once accustomed to a seven-figure salary and
multimillion-dollar bonuses, could soon be earning 12 to 40
cents an hour doing menial labor as a federal prison inmate.
It's a dramatic fall for the former Qwest chief executive, who
was found guilty Thursday of 19 counts of criminal insider
trading. Each count could carry a maximum penalty of 10 years
in prison and a $1 million fine.
In prison, Nacchio, who earned an annual salary of $1.17 million
from Qwest, could expect to work seven hours a day as a food
server, plumber, painter, warehouse worker or groundskeeper,
according to the Federal Bureau of Prisons. He could use his
new salary to buy items from the prison commissary or to pay his
"Club Fed does not exist anymore," said California attorney Alan
Ellis, co-author of the "Federal Prison Guidebook."
"These places suck. The amenities are not what you're used to
-- there are probably no toilet doors. You're showering with
everybody else. Your job is menial, and you're away from your
loved ones and friends."
Nacchio is scheduled to be sentenced July 27. If sent to
prison, the former hard-charging executive would have a
Wake-up is at 6 a.m. Lights out at 9 p.m. At the 4 p.m. daily
count, all inmates must stand at their bunks to be tallied.
Legal analysts say it's likely that Nacchio, 57, would be sent
to a low-security federal prison. These facilities feature a
double-fenced perimeter and mostly dormitory or cubicle housing.
"If you're a 'master of the universe' type, as most CEO's are,
prison can be a very difficult experience," said Ellis, who
specializes in the defense of white-collar offenders. "No
longer are you giving orders; you're taking orders."
Other convicted executives, including former Enron chief
executive Jeff Skilling and former WorldCom chief executive
Bernard Ebbers, are serving time in similar prisons.
"He is entering a whole new world. It's almost like going to a
foreign country," said Jeffrey Ian Ross, a criminology professor
at the University of Baltimore and author of several books,
including "Behind Bars: Surviving Prison." "Your time is not
your own -- you wake up when someone tells you to, you wear a
uniform. It's a very regimented lifestyle."
Nacchio's attorney's have said they will appeal the conviction.
As a federal prison inmates, Nacchio would be limited to 300
minutes of phone calls each month. He could not accept incoming
calls. Nacchio would be able to put his wages toward his phone
bill. He also could spend his earnings at the commissary on
items such as toiletries, stamps and snacks.
His wife, two sons and other approved visitors would be able to
visit at least once a week.
If sentenced to prison, Nacchio also wouldn't have to pack a big
suitcase. Inmates are limited to bringing in a wedding band --
no stones -- a religious book and medallion. No family photos
or other personal items are allowed.
Of the 195,820 inmates currently serving time in the federal
prison system, 53.6 percent are doing time for drug offenses,
followed by 14.3 percent who are in for "weapons, explosives and
arson." Slightly more than 4 percent were convicted for
"extortion, fraud and bribery," the category Nacchio would fall
Low-security prisons house the largest percentage of the
population, with 38.5 percent.
Ellis said he believes Nacchio has a good chance of ending up in
a minimum-security prison, also known as a camp, which usually
has no perimeter fencing. Martha Stewart served in such a
"If he goes to a camp, he's highly unlikely to see any hint of
violence," he said. "That's the ideal solution."
Staff writer Julie Dunn can be reached at 303-954-1592 or