Trial Balloon

A Federal Prison Activity Bag

Posted at 5:15 AM on June 30, 2009 by Dale Connelly (18 Comments)

It's not likely that Bernard Madoff will spend all 150 years of his sentence in prison, but the time that he does spend there will be highly structured with lengthy stretches of solitude. There is plenty of advice available regarding how he might survive in the environment he is entering.

There's even a business called "Wall Street Prison Consultants", designed to cater to the needs and answer the question of inmates-to-be who were white collar titans and never thought they would face time in an actual Federal lock up. I wish I had invented this idea for its comic cynicism, but it is shockingly real.

A Reuters story about Mr. Madoff's prospects had this prediction:

The chances of Madoff running his own investment club inside the prison are slim, but -- when he isn't working -- he should have plenty of time to read, write, exercise, and even network with other prisoners, if he chooses. Some inmates learn new skills like painting. He can write and receive letters, make limited phone calls for 25 cents a minute, and it is possible he will have access to email, although his messages can be monitored.

I already know that some Trial Balloon readers would be untroubled by the e-mail limit, the TV limit, and no access to the internet. And the idea that you could get a lot of reading done is ... well ... an intriguing perk, if you are a bookish sort.

But remember, you're carrying a lot of guilt around, or at least you say you are. Can a book list express genuine regret? What do you read? Escapist literature, understanding that true escape is impossible? And why should a guy who bilked so many of their life savings be allowed even the brief mental release of a good book when there are so many bad ones to deepen his suffering?

Maybe the court should mandate a reading list chock full of scolding, finger-wagging moralists. Tales of the unjustly fleeced? The bleakest, most boring books ever written?
The ideal punishment would be to saddle the prisoner with volumes that read like a sledge hammer breaks boulders - slowly, with lots of dust and pain.

A long time ago I struggled with the sheer magnitude of Moby Dick, but if I had 150 years' worth of empty afternoons, a nice cement floor to sit on and some lukewarm water to sip from a dented tin cup, perhaps I could find a bit of enjoyment in Melville's wordy tale. Or, by the time I got done, I might feel that I had suffered for my crimes.

How about you? What's in your Federal Prison Activity Bag?

Comments (18)

there is no punishment too severe for Bernie, but he might be humbled by being forced to read Ulysses and then write a book report- i don't think more than a dozen people have really ever read the whole thing, have they?

Posted by shelley | June 30, 2009 5:34 AM

I read Moby Dick recently and did enjoy it, but Anna Karenina might be appropriately dark. I think the book report idea is a great one!! He would have time to write quite a few.

Posted by Vicky | June 30, 2009 6:03 AM

Shelley... I'm laughing out loud! I put Ulysses on my summer reading list after my freshman year in college (we're into decades ago now) and I STILL haven't read it. But who would we get to read the book report and could really tell if the book got read!?!?!

I'm voting for a large stack of Harlequin romances - that would do me in!

Posted by shelikins | June 30, 2009 6:07 AM

two suggestions:
from my bookish husband - Ayn Rand's The Fountainhead
and from me - any great big Organic Chemistry textbook. no skipping pages. and complete all of the "for further understanding" questions at the end of the chapters.
and no tapioca pudding for bedtime treats.
good morning All!

Posted by barb in Blackhoof | June 30, 2009 6:18 AM

One of the most disturbing things about Mr Madoff's crimes is that he used their common religious faith to prey upon fellow Jews and Jewish organizations.I think he needs a complete review of the Torah, all the commentaries, and associated readings so he can come to understand the extent of his sin.

After that he will long for Harlequin novels and light reading like Ulysses!

Posted by Beth-Ann | June 30, 2009 6:41 AM

Perhaps the complete Charles Dickens would be instructive and fitting for him. :-)

Posted by elinor | June 30, 2009 7:07 AM

Bernie's troubles began in elementary school (because he obviously didn't get the message back then). The books he REALLY needs are simple, easy to read and just weren't available when he was a kid. The Berenstain Bears books -- each one with a plot line that has a character just like him who gets into trouble, but with help from Ma and Pop learns his lesson and does right in the end. Here are but a few of the 125 available:

Berenstain Bears Get the Gimmes
Berenstain Bears and the Bad Influence
Berenstain Bears and the Golden Rule
Berenstain Bears and the Bad Habit
Berenstain Bears' Trouble with Money
Berenstain Bears and the Truth
Berenstain Bears and the Green Eyed Monster

That's it. He gets to read them over and over and over and over

and over



Posted by Jeanne | June 30, 2009 7:09 AM

I agree with Beth-Ann...first the Torah, then Ulysses...or, better yet, Finnegan's Wake. Out loud.

I tried to convince members of my book club to read Ulysses out takers, ended up finding "Ulysses for Dummies" on the web.

But for Bernie, that's too good.

Have a great last day of June all...looking a little grim and gray out there...bees are huddling.

Posted by cynthia in mahtowa | June 30, 2009 7:13 AM

Dale, I heard on NPR (or did I read it on the web?)that Moby Dick (and Scarlet Letter) are (were intended to be) comedy/satire. Could it be true?

Posted by cynthia in mahtowa | June 30, 2009 7:51 AM

Perhaps we need to have Bernie go back a little further and provide him with a Grade 5 math book with lots of story problems involving money. I can remember some pretty grumpy grade 5 teachers who would make sure he did them correctly. Eventually he could work his way up to balancing complex algebraic equations under the tutelage of a humorless math teacher and football coach. He could do laps and push ups for incorrect answers.

Posted by Renee | June 30, 2009 8:11 AM

Would Bonfire of the Vanities be too obvious?

After that, I suggest the hypoxia-inducing Gravity's Rainbow, with a large dictionary at the ready.

Posted by Linda in St. Paul (West Side) | June 30, 2009 8:21 AM

I'm still thinking, but maybe he will end up teaching others what he learns. My husband says Alfred North Whitehead's "The Aims of Education" from his college days should be fine punishment for anyone...

Posted by Barbara in Robbinsdale | June 30, 2009 8:47 AM

poor bees! happy goats - for the cool weather. Cynthia, can one feed bees? tapioca pudding? toast with home made grape jam? hot cocoa?
speaking of books, i heard one reviewed and discussed yesterday - Pride, Prejudice and Zombies. 80% of the text is Jane Austen's and 20% is new with zombies. new edition coming out for the holidays with "30% more zombies" sounds too entertaining for Bernie......

Posted by barb in Blackhoof | June 30, 2009 8:50 AM

Barbara, why stop there? Didn't Alfred NW write something called Principia mathemetica? I also have heard that Don Quixote is entirely unreadable.

Posted by Renee | June 30, 2009 8:52 AM

Since he'll have the dictionary on hand (for Gravity's Rainbow), let's add Foucault's Pendulum by Umberto Eco. I didn't even know there were so many words I didn't know!

And, if the prison thinks he needs the occasional break from reading, then how about forced solitaire with a 51-card deck?

Posted by sherrilee | June 30, 2009 8:54 AM

There's a story that FDR used to tell about New York Governor Al Smith. He was addressing the inmates of Sing Sing prison and, forgetting exactly where he was, he absent-mindedly started his speech by saying, "My fellow citizens..." The prisoners, having had their rights as citizens revoked started laughing at him. Smith caught his mistake, cleared his throat and started again, "My fellow convicts..." This brought more laughter and he finally started his speech a third time with, "Well, I'm glad to see so many of you could make it here today..." I always think of this when I hear about 'white collar crime.' It wasn't all that long ago that there wasn't the kind of discrepency we see today.

Posted by That Guy in the Hat | June 30, 2009 8:57 AM

I've read Pride and Prejudice and Zombies and loved it. Much too entertaining for him. I was laughing for much of the book. I do like the Bernstein Bears idea though. Perhaps Aesop's Fables? There are good morals in those tales as well :)

Posted by Alanna in MI | June 30, 2009 9:04 AM

I can think of some economics texts that rank among the worst punishment I ever had to endure, but Bernie might actually enjoy them. Organic chemistry works for me, though, especially with a quiz every morning.

Now let's assume that Bernie has a "roommate", a really big guy who has a guitar and can sing, a little. Bubba only knows a handful of songs, and he sings them over and over. What songs should we teach Bubba? My first vote goes to "Muskrat Love," followed by "The Eensy Weensy Spider."

Posted by Don in West St. Paul | June 30, 2009 9:07 AM

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