When disgraced former Chicago schools chief Barbara Byrd-Bennett reports Monday to begin serving a 4 1/2-year prison sentence for corruption, she’ll be checking into the minimum-security facility in West Virginia where Martha Stewart and former Ald. Sandi Jackson also did their time, the Chicago Sun-Times has learned.
Byrd-Bennett — prisoner No. 48517-424 — will serve her sentence at the Federal Prison Camp Alderson in southeastern West Virginia, according to a source with knowledge of the matter.
The women’s prison — which came to be known as “Camp Cupcake” during domestic arts maven Stewart’s time there — is about five and a half hours south of Byrd-Bennett’s home in suburban Cleveland.
The prison is also where Charles Manson follower Lynette “Squeaky” Fromme and Sara Jane Moore, who each tried to assassinate President Gerald Ford, were held for more than three decades apiece before being released.
Byrd-Bennett’s lawyers requested the Alderson prison camp, which currently houses just under 1,000 women.
They declined to comment Thursday.
Byrd-Bennett, now 68, tearfully pleaded guilty in October 2015 in a kickback scheme to steer millions of dollars in contracts from the Chicago Public Schools to consulting companies where she formerly worked, with the promise she’d get her payoff when she left CPS. Tripped up by her own emails implicating her in the scheme, the former top schools administrator, once referred to affectionately as “B3” by Mayor Rahm Emanuel, told the judge who in April sentenced her, “I ought to be punished.”
At Alderson, there’s no barbed-wire perimeter fencing. Prisoners sleep in bunk beds in dorms. On weekends, the prison has a weekend “coffee hour” and a late-morning brunch. It also allows seasonal sunbathing. On their lockers or desks, inmates can keep a framed photograph, a small plant and a fan. And MP3 players, with earphones, also are allowed.
Stewart served five months at Alderson starting in 2004 after lying to federal investigators about an insider stock deal. Jackson entered the West Virginia prison in 2015, telling friends the year she spent there was her “Martha Stewart sabbatical.”
The prison features a number of volunteer and recreational activities, including arts and crafts classes, step aerobics, Pilates, bocce ball and talent shows.
Byrd-Bennett should expect to undergo a two-week orientation before being permanently assigned to housing, according to the prison’s handbook. During that time, she’ll attend “lectures and group meetings to learn about regulations, programs and activities” and receive “a thorough physical examination and complete educational and psychological tests.”
Despite the amenities, she’ll be subjected to multiple head counts a day.
Alderson’s uniforms, required during daytime business hours or evening visits, are khaki, not orange. Byrd-Bennett will be issued three bras, four uniform pants, four brown T-shirts, eight pairs of underwear, four uniform shirts, eight pairs of socks and a pair of steel-toe shoes.
Byrd-Bennett also may wear a wedding band as long as it contains no stones, the handbook says.
Alderson also boasts three pages of items, available for purchase through its commissary, including a long list of shampoos. It also has generous visiting hours on Fridays through Mondays, as well as holidays.
Once assigned to a work detail, Byrd-Bennett — who made $250,000 a year plus benefits at CPS — will make no more than $5.25 a month, based on the hourly pay in prison of up to 40 cents an hour. What she earns will be credited each month to her commissary account.
The former teacher, principal and trainer of school administrators could end up working in prison as a teacher’s aide.