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Prison Looks Different for Two Celebrity Women

by Jordan Arizmendi

On May 30, 2023, over a year after her felony conviction for fraud and conspiracy, Elizabeth Holmes, 39, founder of bogus and bankrupt blood-test maker Theranos, arrived at her home for the next 11 years: the Federal Prison Camp (FPC) in Bryan, Texas.

Photographs showed Holmes entered the lockup smiling. The minimum-security FPC-Bryan has been nicknamed ‘Club Fed’ for its relative comfort: Prisoners share four-person rooms, sleep in bunk beds, play Uno late into the night and can purchase hobby items, like crochet needles, from the commissary.

The federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) established an FPC adjacent to each higher-security penitentiary so that lower-security prisoners assigned to work details could come and go more easily. Each FPC has dormitory housing, a low staff-to-inmate ratio and little to no perimeter fencing. White collar criminals populate most cells.

But Holmes will still make lifestyle adjustments. Instead of her trademark black turtlenecks, she’ll wear khaki pants and shirts. She can have no jewelry, except a wedding band or a religious medallion, and nothing worth over $100. Her work assignment is mandatory and pays $0.12 to $1.15 per hour – not bad for someone with no reported net worth, but a far cry from the billions she once had.

Meanwhile, 900 miles away at BOP’s Federal Correctional Institution for women in Tallahassee, Florida, socialite Ghislaine Maxwell, 61, is serving a 20-year sentence for grooming underage sex-trafficking
victims for boyfriend Jeffrey Epstein. Found dead in August 2019 of a suspected suicide in his cell at a BOP lockup in Manhattan, the 65-year-old followed a murky path to a half-billion-dollar fortune before he died awaiting trial on sex-trafficking charges.

Maxwell is not as wealthy, but wealthy nonetheless; when arrested in 2020, she was worth about $20 million. Her father, Robert Maxwell, was a flamboyant Czech immigrant who cobbled together a media empire that financed an extravagant lifestyle until his body was found floating near his yacht in the Atlantic in 1991. His businesses then went bankrupt.

His daughter’s life in her new digs got dicey after Maxwell, a strict vegan, struck up an arrangement with an unnamed prison kitchen worker for extra fruit, vegetables and tofu. Two fellow prisoners found out and attempted to extort commissary credit in exchange for not reporting her. Maxwell showed a guard the threatening note she got from the pair, known as “Las Cubanas,” sending them to solitary confinement for 47 days. Reportedly left fearful that “snitches get stitches,” Maxwell then refused to use the showers without a guard escort.

As in male prisons, there is violence and rampant mental illness in women’s lockups. The U.K. Ministry of Justice even found female prisoners more violent than male prisoners. Assaults in U.K. prisons holding women occurred at a rate of 419 per 1,000 prisoners in 2022, compared to just 255 per 1,000 prisoners in men’s lockups.

Sources: Tallahassee Democrat, The Guardian, The Telegraph