Jeff Smith: What Sandusky Can Expect in Prison — And What the Washington Post Doesn’t Understand

As our regular RP Nation readers know, contributing recovering politician and former Missouri State Senator Jeff Smith spent a year in a federal prison due to circumstances relating around a campaign finance violation.  His pieces about his political rise and fall, and his observations about sex in prison have been this site’s most popular reads — by far.  

A few months ago, he gave some helpful advice to former Governor Rod Blagojevitch upon the beginning of his prison term.  

Today, he answers the question on the minds of many Americans: What can the nation’s most infamous pedophile — former Penn State assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky — expect during his life term in prison.  It is certainly not what the mainstream media has reported:

Last week, the Washington Post ran an AP story about what ex-Penn State coach Jerry Sandusky can expect in prison.

I’m not sure if they ran such an airbrushed version out of naivete or because it’s a family newspaper. But in case anyone is curious, let me see if I can shed a bit more light.

If prison were India, there would be two classes of untouchables: snitches and pedophiles. Child molesters try desperately to blend into the population. However, the most famous pedophile in the nation right now is going to have a hard time blending in.

1) According to the Post, Sandusky “will be able to watch college football, including Penn State, when the games are broadcast on ESPN or another major network.”

If the television set in the common area is tuned to the Penn St. game, then Sandusky just might be able to watch it. But if it’s not, and Sandusky – or any other newbie – walks up to try to change the channel, the result will not be pretty.

2) The Post notes that cards, dominoes, and board games. are popular prison activities in which Sandusky could participate.

No one will want to be seen playing cards with Jerry Sandusky. From the minute Sandusky walks onto the compound, he will be targeted, and anyone who voluntarily and publicly associates with him will immediately be suspect.

3) The Post writes that Pennsylvania prison cells are designed for two people, but it’s possible he could end up in his own cell or in a small dormitory.

It’s not just “possible,” it’s overwhelmingly likely. Given the fact that he will be in danger from the moment he arrives, I imagine that he’ll start out in isolation until emotions surrounding the case cool. If not, anyone Sandusky is placed with would have to fight Sandusky in order to preserve his own reputation, which would lead to the removal of one (or both) from the cell. The problem would likely continue for as long as Sandusky is placed in the general population.

4) According to the Post, Sandusky could be swapped in for an inmate in another state.

It’s possible, but it probably wouldn’t change anything for him: his face was ubiquitous around the country, not just in Pennsylvania.

5) Inmates, noted the Post, generally spend an hour in the yard, which might entail playing softball, though the bat has to be tethered and secured to the backstop.

The bat being tethered to the backstop would not prevent it from being used on anyone standing (or dragged to a location) near the backstop.

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Jeff Smith: What Sandusky Can Expect in Prison — And What the Washington Post Doesn’t Understand

Jeff Smith: Why Dirty Magazines Cost $1K in Prison – and Why We Should Nurture Inmates’ Entrepreneurial Spirit

Contributing RP Jeff Smith researches the amazing but untapped (and capitalist) potential in prisons in his audition for the TED speaking program.  

If you are unfamiliar with TED, click here.

They select a winner based on reader feedback, so PLEASE go here and vote!

Listen to Outstanding “This American Life” Podcast f/t Jeff Smith

When I learned that my good friend and our contributing RP, Jeff Smith, would be the featured guest on National Public Radio’s “This American Life,” I was thrilled.  My favorite radio program was taking on the story that Jeff first wrote about here at this site in a series of provocative, hilarious and sometimes moving stories.

The program exceeded all of my highest expectations.  In thirty minutes, the program provides a new, independent look at the career, scandal and recovery of Jeff Smith.  And, while I am obviously biased, I think it demonstrates that despite his serious setbacks, Jeff’s voice will continue to educate, provoke and make us laugh for many years to come.

Click here to listen to the podcast: “The Postcard Only Rings Once.

Jeff Smith on NPR’s “This American Life”

We are really thrilled to report that contributing RP Jeff Smith will be the featured guest this weekend on National Public Radio’s “This American Life,” the wildly popular radio program hosted by Ira Glass.

Jeff will be discussing his unique career trajectory — from rising political star, to federal prisoner, to college professor on the journey toward redemption.  It’s a journey that he first discussed exclusive at The Recovering Politician.  And soon, we will expect a bestselling book on the experience.

The show sounds very interesting:

Religion makes it pretty clear what differentiates mortal sins from venial ones. Mortal are the really bad sins and venial the lesser ones. But in our everyday lives, it can be really difficult to determine just how bad we’ve been. This week we have stories of people trying to figure out that question.

Check your local NPR schedules this weekend for “This American Life,” and/or the podcast will be available on Sunday at 7:00 PM EDT by clicking here.

So please tune into Jeff this weekend!

Jeff Smith on NPR’s “Talk of the Nation”

Contributing RP Jeff Smith hit the national radio airwaves yesterday to talk about the advice he’s given to Rod Blagojevitch on his first day in prison.

Click here to listen to the NPR interview.

Click here to read his essay.

Jeff Smith: Advice for Blago on His First Day in Jail

As former Illinois Rod Balgojevich spends his first full day behind bars, contributing RP Jeff Smith offers him a few educated tips:

After spending a year in federal prison on an obstruction of justice charge stemming from a 2004 congressional campaign violation, I have a few tips for former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich as he heads for prison.

1. As your grandma probably taught you, God gave you two ears, two eyes and one mouth — use them in proportion.

• When you get to prison, listen, watch and learn. You’ll have a hundred questions on your first day and in one month you will know the answer to 90 of them without having to ask and risk looking stupid.

•Don’t ever ask anybody about their crime. If they want to tell you what they did, fine. But you won’t know if they’re telling the truth. And if you ask and strike a nerve with someone, the result may not be pretty.

•Don’t talk about how you got railroaded. So did everyone else.

•Don’t ask anything about anyone’s family; it will be a sore subject with many, especially those who have not seen or heard from their children or ex-wives in years.

•Don’t ever talk about how much time you have. Someone else has more.

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Jeff Smith: Advice for Blago on His First Day in Jail

Jeff Smith Offers Advice For a Guilty Pol

Our own contributing RP Jeff Smith recently appeared on The Brooklyn Politics Show to offer some advice to former New York State Senator Carl Kruger, who was recently sentenced to a hefty prison term for bribery.

From Sheepshead Bites:

Instead of shelling out thousands of dollars on a prison consultant before pleading guilty, former State Senator Carl Kruger could have just talked to someone who was in his shoes a couple of years ago.

Formerly incarcerated Missouri State Senator Jeff Smith appeared on The Brooklyn Politics Show to talk about his time in prison, and he offered a piece of advice to soon-to-be-sentenced Kruger.

“My main piece of advice for him would be to just go there and be positive and finds way he can help other inmates. There’s lots of ways you can help people and burnish your reputation in there so that you have an easier time and you can continue doing good,” said Smith. “I’m sure when he first got into public service, he did it probably for the right reason and then things got mixed up a little bit”…

Check out the interview – Smith is an entertaining speaker with insight into an experience few of us (hopefully) will share.


Jeff Smith Hits the Public Radio Airwaves

Our own contributing RP, Jeff Smith, once again is hitting the international public airwaves, the subject of a lengthy interview on National Public Radio on his jail experience and recovery.

Click here to listen.

Listen to Jeff Smith on National Public Radio

National Public Radio’s “Q”: A popular program — produced by the Canadian Broadcasting Company that reaches hundreds of public broadcasting stations in the U.S — just broadcast a 20-minute interview with Jeff Smith about his career and popular posts here at The Recovering Politician.

Click here to listen to the fascinating program.

Jeff Smith: When J.T. Met Pork Chop… (or Sex, Lies & Prison Love)

Click the picture above to read Jeff’s critically-acclaimed piece about his path from rising political star to federal prisoner to hopeful redemption.

Last month, I moved cross-country from St. Louis to the New York City area. The other night, a colleague invited me to a party. It was teeming with Brooklyn hipster-intellectual types – young college profs, Times reporters, social entrepreneurs, assorted do-gooders.

The only person I knew was the host, but he kindly introduced me around as a New School prof teaching in their public policy graduate program (yawn) who once ran for Congress (yawn) and served in the Missouri Senate (slightly more polite yawn). They were Brooklyn-ites, after all.

Midwestern-ness emanated from me like stink from a skunk. I could feel it when I used the word “wife” instead of partner, the self-consciously gender-neutral term they used when referring to spouses or long-time companions.

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Then the host told them where I spent 2010, and their curiosity was insatiable.

Was it white-collar? (Maybe 5%.) Was it violent? (Occasionally.) Did you get in fights? (A couple.) Did you get hurt? (Yes.) What were the people like? (More interesting and less pretentious than you.)

They reached for the gin, hoping the liquid courage would help them ask the question they were dying to ask. But it didn’t. Instead, one stammered, “Did you get…, uh…was there a lot of sex?”


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A few weeks after you get to federal prison, you go through orientation. The first thing they do is take you down into the visiting room to show you a mandatory sexual assault video featuring a 40-ish white guy warning you not to eat the Snickers bar that may be waiting on your bed when you return to your cell. (He ate his, unwittingly signaling the predator who left it for him that he was ready and willing.) All the guys in the visiting room laughed. So did I. But at 117 lbs, I reminded myself not to accept any sweets during my tenure, lest I “get my windows tinted,” in the parlance of Federal Correctional Institution, Manchester.

As you might imagine, things can get pretty nasty when several hundred guys are confined in a small area without the benefit of female interaction, other than a pair of (arguably) female prison administrators. Outside muscle-building substances, pornography was perhaps the most prized possession on the compound. Its value hinged on a woman’s measurements, which were, up to a point, proportional to the price of the material. Depending on how brazenly a woman displayed her ass(ets), one magazine could fetch up to $200 in stamps, due to the recurring revenue stream available by copying pictures and selling them individually and/or renting the magazine (after laminating it in plastic). The purveyors of such contraband, who could become quite wealthy by prison standards, were dubbed “entrepre-niggaz.”

My first cellie, who favored a young Morgan Freeman, was a frequent customer. One day about a week after I moved in with him he told me was going back to the bathroom to “get married to (his) baby Coco,” his slang for masturbation. He was partial to magazines featuring the impossibly curvaceous (39-23-40) bleach blonde who recently burst onto the reality television scene as the wife of rapper Ice-T. My cellie would return from the bathroom fifteen minutes later and announce, “Now I need a muthafuckin cigarette!”

He was unusually open about his sexual proclivities, which probably should not have surprised given that he had been locked up for most of the previous 20 years. As he liked to tell me, “I got more time in this place on the toilet than you got time.”

One day I was on my way down to the visiting room to see my now-wife and he approached me with a business proposition. “Ten stamps if you can get me a lil’ Teresa on here,” he said, thrusting a tissue into my hand and inhaling theatrically. “Mmmm-mmmm, I bet she do smell like fresh strawberries!”

He was astonished when I declined his offer. “Cellie, you ain’t even got to DO shit. Easiest ten stamps you ever make. And I bet she love that shit, knowin’ I be gettin’ off on her.”

Um, no, Cellie, actually, I don’t think she would love knowing that. But thanks for thinking of her.

I would not have been surprised had others accepted his offer. First, some inmates were desperate for stamps. One was nicknamed Five-Stamper; word was, there was nothing he wouldn’t do for five stamps. And visiting room shenanigans were not uncommon. For instance, one newbie got sent up the road to a higher-security facility for manually pleasuring his girlfriend in the visiting room one day as I sat nearby.


When it came to women, there was really no limit to inmates’ imagination. The quickest way to get into a fight was by switching the channel during a women’s softball game or track meet, events that are watched with as much whooping and hollering as homemade porn at a frat house.

They assumed I was sleeping with any woman who visited me, regardless of the woman’s age or attractiveness. Some of my work colleagues at the prison warehouse even fantasized about our boss, a squat woman with the build of a high school wrestler, the demeanor of a drill sergeant, and the sensuality of an amoeba. “Lemme catch Miss Horton in the club once I’m sprung, bihhh,” said my friend ‘Ville as he pumped his hips.

My cellie often told stories of “gunslingers” he had met during his time. There was one female guard who occasionally patrolled, and one day while she was patrolling the show hall, he contemplated whether it would be worth it to “gun her down.”

“You crazy?” I asked. “You’re almost to the door!” He’d been locked up off and on for 20 years, but only had a year left.  “What she do to you anyway?”

He spoke to me slowly, as if I were a child. “Prance around in front of me with that fat ass, is what she did. Fuck they gon’ do, throw me in the hole?”

“Cellie, they’ll give you life!” I exclaimed.

He scrunched up his face. “How they gon give me life fo’ gettin’ off on some bitch?”

Only then did he realize that I didn’t understand his slang. He explained that “gunslingers” were men who ran strings from their toes up their leg to lubed up toilet paper tubes fitted around their penises. To “gun her down” would’ve been to wire himself and go to the chow hall at mealtime, position himself at a table near her post, and toe-tap away until he…well, I won’t extend the gun metaphor any further.

* * *

Most inmates at FCI Manchester were non-violent (though as a warehouse buddy of mine liked to brag, that didn’t mean they hadn’t shot people – just that they didn’t get caught).  They were crack or meth dealers at their last, lowest-security-level stop on a multi-facility national tour, courtesy of the U.S. of A. FCI Manchester was usually pretty calm. Sure, we had lockdowns when they found steroids or dangerous contraband. Sometimes there were fights; guys might attack each another with slocks (padlocks wrapped in socks) or homemade shanks, other times there were just were normal fistfights. And since most people were close to the door – you couldn’t be in a minimum-security facility unless you had less than ten years to go – most inmates avoided beefs, lest they be shipped to the hole.

But one act of violence I did not see was prison rape. Actually, I saw prison love.

* * *

If felons were cars, Porkchop was as standard-issue as a Ford Taurus. Like several others (Popcorn, Peanut, Hot Dog, etc), he was named after his favorite food. He was 6’2” and husky, with close-cropped dark hair, a goatee, and more tattoos than teeth. In and out of state and federal prison for nearly 20 year, his offense ranged from selling meth to kiting checks to stealing cars. He spent every waking hour smoking, on the weight pile, or watching TV. A habitual offender, the law called him. To us he was just a regular thug, always trying to get over for a cigarette, a beef jerky, or a pack of mackerel, the $1 protein source of choice at FCI Manchester.

The minute J.T. came on to the compound, Porkchop had his eye on him. Now, J.T. wasn’t flamboyant – not one of the dudes who wore makeup (grape Kool-Aid on the eyes, cherry on the lips, Tang on the cheeks). He wasn’t the type we got warned about by the gruff veteran staffer during orientation: “You might wanna move now if you got a single and go move in with somebody you know,” he’d warned. “You don’t wanna get a cellie with boobs.”

J.T. was just a regular drug offender, nondescript, mostly kept to himself other than the occasional poker game. But Porkchop took a shine to him, pursuing him quietly but relentlessly. First it was bringing J.T. into his “car”, the small group with whom he worked out. Then it was showing him how to make a nacho, a unique prison dish made in a bowl with rice, chips, beef jerky, cheese, beans, onions, peppers, most smuggled out from the warehouse. Finally, it was ironing J.T.’s greens before Visiting Hours on Sunday.

And then one day, as I walked down to the bathroom late one night, I saw it. They were in bed together, snuggling and talking quietly. I saw a newbie snicker, and then a prison old-head ice-grilled him. “It ain’t none o’ yo muthafuckin bidness,” said the look, and the newbie scurried back to his cell. After that, no one said a word about it. And it remained that way every night for the next few months until I left.

* * *

I hadn’t thought about Porkchop and J.T. for over a year, until the other night, after that Brooklyn party. Those incomparably enlightened and erudite hipsters, themselves mostly unattached and plotting their next conquests (“So, she’s not looking for anything too serious, right?”), were palpably fascinated with the sexualized brutality of prison rape.

I wonder if any of them will ever experience the type of intimacy that J.T. and Porkchop shared.


Editor’s Note: To learn more about Jeff Smith’s fascinating path from rising political star to federal prisoner to hopeful redemption, read his critically acclaimed piece, “The Long and Winding Journey to My Second Act.” 


For media requests and individuals interested in contacting Jeff to be made aware of future book events and speaking engagements, please email


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The Award-Winning Documentary about Jeff’s Early Career (2006):

The Recent New Republic Article About Jeff (2011):

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