From Ritz to Writs
I know that you, the reading, voting, taxpaying public, have many questions regarding the fate of our fallen governor, J. Fife Symington III. Some of these questions are profound. Others are profane. As a public service, I will employ the handy Arizona Republic-style Q and A format to address a few of your queries. This "user-friendly" format works best when read aloud, preferably altering your voice to assume different personae. If, by chance, you aren't alone, different people can read different parts. It's a great quality-time activity.
Let's get started, shall we? Ask away.
Q: Okay. Will Fife get raped in prison?
A. I was wondering when you would ask that. Many people--several of my colleagues included--will be disappointed to learn that white-collar criminals and first-time offenders sentenced to federal minimum- and low-security prisons are not often subjected to such indignities.
There aren't herds of violent sexual predators prowling such prison "camps," some of which feature "dormitories." Q: If Donna Hamm of the prisoner advocacy group Middle Ground agrees with your assessment, would she say why?
A: Yes, she would. "I think the combination of the fact that he is not a small or a slight man and is an older man who'll be essentially confronted by other white-collar offenders," Hamm says, adding that sexual assaults are "much more prevalent in the higher custody levels of state prisons."
On the other hand, there's don't-ask/don't-tell.
Q: Fife has been awful mean to Donna Hamm and Middle Ground. Do you think she'd help Fife the inmate?
A: She says she would.
Q: What percentage of inmates in federal prisons are in for violent crimes?
A; 8 percent.
Q: That's not too many. Do we really need to lock up so many nonviolent criminals?
A; Well, Fife has always favored harsh treatment.
Q: Really? Has Fife said something he'll regret?
A: In spades.
Q: Do tell.
A: "Whether they are juveniles or adults, the criminals of America have found too many faithful friends in judges."
Q: Anything else?
A: Of course. How about this one? "The public seems to perceive, and I agree with them, that criminal defendants as a class are faring pretty well in the justice system--certainly much better than their victims."
A: Wait, there's more: "I am not prepared to adopt the rehabilitation theory of punishment as Arizona's purpose or justification for imposing criminal penalties. . . . Our purposes for punishment are retribution, which is to say justice; and deterrence."
Q: Do you think he's changed his mind?
A: Odds are better that he's simply forgotten. Why, I asked John Dowd that very question. "Upon further review," the barrister responded, "my client was under the influence of Jay Heiler when he made those ill-advised remarks."
Q: Is there any chance Fife could be a target because of his pronouncements?
A: Yes. There's a chance he would require protective custody.
Q: Oh, that's good.
A: Well, not really. Protective custody means you're put alone in a cell for 23 hours a day.
Q: Tell me about other indignities.
A: Well, even if he's in a minimum-security facility, he'll be shackled if he ever travels to court or anywhere else.
Q: Go on.
A: Well, I'll let the aforementioned Hamm say it: "It's going to be a humbling experience for someone like Fife Symington. He will have to share a dormitory or cell space with another person. . . . He will be subject to strip searches. He will still be handcuffed and placed in leg shackles when he is transported. The process of depersonalization will begin to take place, and he will have to be known by his prison identification number and wear a uniform.
"His privacy will obviously become a precious commodity, even when performing routine bodily functions. He'll have minimal access to telephones and reading materials. His phone calls will be taped and or monitored, except for [those with] his attorney."
Q: Bummer. What do friends of Fife think of his chances?
A: If George Leckie knows anything about our justice system--and he does have experience--Symington won't even go to prison. During an impromptu soliloquy at the Ritz-Carlton on the evening of conviction, Leckie brazenly predicted that Symington would do no time because U.S. District Judge Roger B. Strand lacked the fortitude to send Symington there.
"Strand's a fucking wimp," Leckie said.
Q: Holy potty mouth.
A: I know. My parents will read this.
Q: Well how, exactly, did he say this?
A: He spat it.
Q: Does George remind you of any specific animal? A bird, perhaps?
A: Yes. A plucked bantam rooster.
Q: Did he say anything else?
A: Yes. Leckie maintained that he was acquitted of federal bid-rigging charges because the judge on his case, Earl Carroll, isn't a wimp. He suggested vaguely that if Strand were Carroll's equal, Symington also would have skated.
Q: Yeah, so?
A: Under federal sentencing guidelines--a set of draconian rules imposed during the Reagan administration by law-and-order politicians like Symington--our disgraced governor is ineligible for probation on two of the seven counts on which he was convicted.
Unless Strand departs from those sentencing guidelines, Arizona's 19th governor is going to prison.
Q: That's all well and good. But where does that word "draconian" come from?
A: Draco, Athenian lawgiver of the seventh-century B.C. whose laws were proverbially harsh. Not to be confused with Draco, the dragon constellation near the polar regions of the Northern Hemisphere, near Cepheus and Ursa Major.
Q: Is Strand really a wimp?
Q: You want Symington to do some time, don't you?
Q: Tell me, Jeremy, are there any tattoos recommended for prospective prisoners?
A: Yes, there are. At least that's what my source says. (Dale Ormond, proprietor of Crawling Squid tattoo shop in Phoenix.)
Q: Let me guess--Dale Ormond is quotable.
A: Bingo. Here's what he said: "Skulls, a lot of skulls. . . . And motorcycles. Make them think he's a tough guy. A lot of them all over his arms and back. He needs multiple hardcore prison tattooing before he goes in."
Ormond also suggests tattoos of brass knuckles and switchblades.
Q: Are prison tattoos different from tattoos we law-abiding people have the privilege of getting?
A: Yes. Because tattoo devices are illegal in prison, body art done behind bars utilizes only black ink. Ormond says all you need is a motor from a cassette recorder, a guitar string and some ink to create tattoos. Because of this, prison tattoos have a distinctive appearance.
Q: Did Dale recommend any specific designs?
A: Yes, he did. It's on this page.
Q: Golly. That's rad. Will Fife be able to participate in any prison activities?
A: I'd say he's a good candidate for a leadership post in the Aryan Brotherhood.
Q: Hahahahahahahahah. Will Fife get a nickname?
A: Yes, all prisoners are given nicknames. It's federal policy.
Q: What was former associate U.S. attorney general and Clinton confidant Webb Hubbel's prison nickname?
A: Big Easy.
Q: Neat. What was Charles Keating's?
A: Big Hard.
Q: What do you think Fife's will be?
A: Edgar Winter. Whitesnake, maybe.
Q: How many people are in U.S. prisons?
A; More than a million.
Q; Will Fife be put to work?
A: Yes, federal Bureau of Prisons spokesman Todd Craig says, "All federal inmates are going to be required to work if they're able, seven hours a day."
Q: What will Fife do?
A: He could teach other inmates to read. He could rake lawns or gravel beds, do maintenance. He could be working in one of the prison industries, making cheap office furniture. He could work in the kitchen, although the kitchen is considered one of the least desirable assignments.
Of course, they could also project movies on his bare back.
Q: Will he be able to talk on the phone?
A: Yes. He'll have a list of 30 approved contacts.
Q: Can he get conjugal visits?
A: Yes, but do you think he really wants one?
Q: How many federal prison facilities are there?
Q: Will Fife get to choose his facility?
A: No. Although Judge Strand can make a recommendation, the federal Bureau of Prisons ultimately decides where he'll go.
Q: I wouldn't be surprised if he wanted to get out of Arizona.
A: Hey, you're supposed be asking questions.
Q: Is there any recommended reading for Fife?
A: Of course. My personal favorite is Doing Federal Time: A Handbook for Businessmen Who Are Facing Federal White-Collar Criminal Charges, which was self-published by the controller of a bank who was sent away for 18 months. Guy's name is Ronald TerMeer.
Q: What does that book say?
A: An excerpt in Harper's says that while Fife should be safe, he can expect "a high level of emotional stress . . . a noisy environment."
And Fife, a gourmand, can expect a rude awakening at mealtime. TerMeer: "Beware of the meat dish: Most knives will not cut through the grade of meat served in prison."
But he recommends eating something at every meal, no matter how dreadful.
Q: What about the fines Fife will have to pay? Then there's his bankruptcy, too.
a. All sentenced inmates with financial obligations will develop, with the assistance of staff, a financial plan to meet those obligations.
b. Each financial plan will be effectively monitored (not by Coopers & Lybrand) to ensure satisfactory progress is being made.
c. Inmates who refuse to participate in the Inmate Financial Responsibility Program or fail to comply with provisions of their financial plan will incur appropriate consequences. (Caning.)
Q: Are there any other tattoo designs that guy from the Squid recommended?
A; Glad you asked. Here's one he likes. With this tattoo combination, he says, nobody will know who Fife is.
Q: That makes me feel a lot better. Sounds like he could have used that program when he was on the outside. Is there a prison lexicon or nomenclature that Fife should bone up on?
Q: Okay. Do you know the prison term meaning "life sentence?"
A: All day, as in "He's doin' all day . . ."
Q: What about a prison guard?
Q: White men?
Q: Maybe Fife's nickname should be William Billy.
A: Shut up. Here are some other helpful terms:
Catcher: Sexually passive or submissive, often victimized.
Dump Truck: A lawyer who makes an easy deal at the expense of the client.
Fish: A new inmate.
Keester: To hide contraband in the rectum. Prisoners keester money, drugs and even shanks.
Kit: Items for taking drugs.
Laying the Track: Having sex.
Monster: HIV. "He has the Monster."
Safe: Women prisoners may hide contraband in the "safe" (vagina).
Q: Hey, I'll bet you can't use all those terms in a sentence.
A: He was laying the track with an all-day monster fish catcher, dreaming of a safe place, when a badge says his billy dump truck was caught with a keestered kit.
Q: Hey, this has been educational. Anything else the Fifester should know?
A: Well, Harold S. Long, who wrote a book titled Surviving In Prison closed it with this advice:
"Confront your weaknesses, build them strong, and rise up from the oppressions you are about to endure, and know that the strong will survive and return with greater wisdom."
Q: Do think Fife will learn his lesson?
A: No, but maybe he'll learn to play the harmonica.
Get the This Week's Top Stories Newsletter
Every week we collect the latest news, music and arts stories — along with film and food reviews and the best things to do this week — so that you’ll never miss Phoenix New Times' biggest stories.
- Inmates Accuse Arizona of Experimenting with Lethal-Injection Drugs
- 10 Things Arizonans Hate About Snowbirds
- Scottsdale Couple Are Pioneers in Tiny-Home Movement in Arizona