Volume 80, Number 35 | January 27 - February 2, 2011
West and East Village, Chelsea, Soho, Noho, Little Italy, Chinatown and Lower East Side, Since 1933
Lynne Stewart at a rally for her in Foley Square before her sentencing in October 2006.
Lynne Stewart tries to make best of Texas; Chow’s better
By Mary Reinholz
Lynne Stewart — the onetime Downtown radical civil rights lawyer, convicted of materially aiding international terrorism — began 2011 in a sprawling Fort Worth, Texas, prison complex called Carswell. It’s the only medical facility for women in the federal Bureau of Prisons and houses about 1,400 female inmates.
Stewart, 71, and her supporters had hoped she would be transferred to the federal lockup in Danbury, Connecticut, to be close to family and friends.
But her husband, Ralph Poynter, said B.O.P. “unilaterally and bureaucratically” disregarded their pleas and flew Stewart to Carswell last month. She had been detained since November 2009 at the Metropolitan Correctional Center in Lower Manhattan after a panel of Second Circuit judges from the U.S. Court of Appeals upheld her 2005 conviction, revoked Stewart’s bail and ordered her to begin serving jail time immediately.
The appellate panel also ordered U.S. District Judge John G. Koeltl, who had presided at Stewart’s nine-month trial, to reconsider the 28-month sentence he imposed on her in 2006, calling it too light. During an emotional hearing at Foley Square last August, Koeltl sharply increased her sentence to 10 years for helping the imprisoned Omar Abdel-Rahman, a.k.a. “The Blind Sheik,” communicate with his militant Islamic followers in Egypt through press releases. In resentencing her, Koeltl claimed Stewart had shown a “lack of remorse.”
Stewart’s allies feared she would die in prison sooner rather than later, given her poor health (she’s a cancer survivor) and the generally bad food and lack of exercise at many jailhouses in the U.S. Poynter, however, who visited his wife over New Year’s weekend, said Carswell is a “mixed bag.” He said conditions there are an improvement over M.C.C., “where she slept on a steel bunk. She now has a real mattress,” he noted.
He added, “She’s in a hospital room on the first floor and it’s across from a lake. She gets one telephone call a day. She’s been in worse places...and she’s not going to let this get her down” while her case is on appeal.
Stewart, in a recent “letter” posted on her Web site, described her prison room as having “four bunks” amid two tiers of similar rooms with an “atrium in the middle with tv sets and tables and chairs.” She estimated there about 500 inmates in her unit. “Lots are doing long bits, victims of drugs (meth etc) and boyfriends,” she wrote. “We wear army style (khaki) pants with pockets tee shirts and dress shirts long sleeved and short sleeved. When one of the women heard that I hadn’t ironed in 40 years, they offered to do the shirts for me. (This is typical of the help I get — escorted to meals and every other protection, explanations, supplies, etc.)”
She noted that one drawback is “not having a bathroom in the room — have to go about 75 yards at all hours of the day and night — clean though.”
Before her imprisonment, Stewart was derided in some press accounts for being chubby and un-chic in her courtroom appearances. Poynter said she has “lost weight” behind bars and tries to eat only one meal a day at Carswell because of the difficulty she has walking up several flights of stairs to a dining hall in a separate building. In her letter, Stewart noted the jailhouse grub at Carswell is far better than the eats at M.C.C.
“Food is vastly improved,” she wrote in late December. “Just had Sunday Brunch real scrambled eggs, PORK sausage, Baked or home fried potatoes, Butter (sweet whipped M’ God!!) Grapefruit juice Toast, orange. I will probably regain the weight I lost at MCC! Weighing against that is the fact that to eat we need to walk to another building (about as far as from my house to the F Train) Also included is 3 flights of stairs up and down. May try to get an elevator pass and try NOT to use it.”
She would also welcome “commissary money” to pay for the phone and e-mail and for other items and foods that the prison doesn’t supply, like “pens!” Stewart concluded her letter on an exceptionally upbeat note, stating that at Carswell she enjoys views of “gorgeous sunrises and sunsets. The place is very open and outdoors there are pecan trees and birds galore.... The full moon last night gladdened my heart as I realized it was shining on all of you I hold dear.”
Stewart’s mailing address is Lynne Stewart, Federal Medical Center, Carswell, 53504 -- 054, Unit 2N, P.O. Box 27137, Fort Worth, Texas 76127.