A look at what a future in prison holds for Ira Hatch
When Ira Hatch’s 30-year sentence came down last week, it set off a chain of events leading to a long, routine life in prison for the convicted swindler.
But that’s exactly the life that victim Bob Lowe wished for Hatch when he spoke to the court that day. The estate Lowe represented lost $1.14 million to Coastal Escrow and Lowe has personally racked up more than $500,000 in legal fees cleaning up the mess.
“I’m asking for 30 years without probation unless full restitution is made. And I’m asking that Hatch not be sent to a white-collar-crime prison,” Lowe said to Senior Judge James Midelis.
Lowe’s remarks sparked the question of where Hatch would end up, and if he would get any better treatment or privileges as a non-violent offender or as an elderly man at age 62.
Wearing an orange jumpsuit as he was no longer afforded the luxury of a tailored suit post-conviction, Hatch was carted off to his temporary lodgings at the Indian River County Jail. He is expected to soon be transported by Indian River Sheriff’s Office guards to the Central Florida Reception Center in Orlando, which is located just off the Beeline Highway, visible to travelers on their way to or from the airport.
The “Reception” center, a seeming misnomer for such a place, serves as the Florida Department of Corrections regional clearinghouse for convicted criminals. It is here that Hatch will stay for six weeks to two months until the prison system decides where to put him.
The center’s main wing currently houses 1,659 men and at last count it’s at about 88 percent capacity. Two adjacent east and south wings hold about another 800 inmates. For comparison, that’s nearly five times the current population at the Indian River County Jail.
Despite Hatch’s 31 months in jail, he will need to adjust to prison life.
“Everybody thinks of it like jail, but jails are very different from prison,” said Department of Corrections Spokesperson Gretl Plessinger. “In jail, inmates are generally in cells, but in prison he would be in general population, in an open-bay dormitory, a large environment with 100 beds. There is no individuality in prison. There is no privacy in prison.”
Hatch has been housed in a group cell, but with only a couple dozen other inmates. Due to the length of his sentence, he could live with violent offenders in Orlando. There is no special prison for white-collar criminals. They are sent all over the state and often moved several times during their stay. And there is also no special section of the state’s 56 prisons for white-collar criminals.
“He will be at a high classification level because of the length of his sentence,” Plessinger said. “Someone who is a white-collar criminal could be held in the same dormitory with a sex offender or a murderer.”
Assistant State Attorney Lev Evans said the time spent on classification of new inmates is standard.
“Everybody goes there for a few weeks. They give them a full medical workup, and they will for Ira especially due to his age because he’s considered elderly in the prison system, and figure out if he has any special needs due to health issues,” Evans said.
After undergoing a complete medical, psychological and behavioral evaluation, as well as a skills and academic test to see what his ability levels are, Hatch will be dispatched to his permanent home -- or at least his home for the next couple of decades.
“At the reception center he will learn the basics about prison life,” Plessinger said.
A day in the life at a Florida prison
Now convicted of one first-degree felony charge of racketeering and sentenced to 30 years in prison, Hatch will need to adapt to the pace and routine of life in prison. After being a man of means, driving a BMW, living in a riverfront home, owning a law firm and entertaining clients in lavish style, he will have to get used to a lot less.
His wardrobe will consist of a light-blue jumpsuit with a white stripe -- every single day. He will receive three meals per day with no choices of menu and, if there is something he happens to like on the tray, well, “they cannot go back for seconds,” Plessinger said.
“Life in prison is very routine and regimented,” Plessinger said. “But inmates are able to walk from place to place as long as they’re inside the facility. They are counted several times a day and at ‘count times’ they have to be in their bunks to be counted.”
Most Florida prisons are not air-conditioned. Hatch will not have access to cable television or the Internet. He will be able to make collect telephone calls up to 15 minutes in duration to designated people on his call list in the evenings. He will not be permitted to call anyone who was a victim of his crimes. Visitors, other than attorneys, are only allowed on the weekends.
The days are long and monotonous.
“They wake up between 5 or 6, depending on their job. So say, if his job is food service and he’s preparing breakfast, then they would wake up earlier,” Plessinger said.
After breakfast, inmates go to mandatory work detail. Jobs include grounds maintenance, laundry, food service or other menial tasks.
“Some of them are what we call a ‘house man,’ meaning that they clean and take out the trash,” she said.
Prisoners do not receive any funds or credits for their work, it is simply considered a part of their stay in the Florida corrections system.
Outside Hatch’s dormitory will be a “day room” with one community television that receives only local channels.
There is a law library where Hatch can help his new Public Defender research case law on which to base the appeal of his 30-year sentence.
“Usually when someone comes to prison, their case does not end,” Plessinger said.
The goal in the Florida prison system is not only to house and guard prisoners, but also to keep them occupied enough that they don’t cause trouble.
“We try to keep them busy, but the reality is that they have a lot of time on their hands,” Plessinger said.
Some prisons have a separate library containing books to read for pleasure. Some prisons offer a variety of classes and religious services. Each prison has a chaplain on staff.
“Most of our programming is based on volunteer groups, so the selection of classes varies from prison to prison depending on what volunteer groups are working in the facility in that area,” Plessinger said.
Inmates who test out at high levels of ability and who have the desire can become Inmate Teaching Assistants to help others learn how to read or to pass their GED exams.
At the end of the day, it’s back to the dormitory with up to 100 other convicted felons of various ilk.
“At 10 p.m. it’s lights out,” Plessinger said.
Should Hatch have a scuffle with another inmate or provoke a fight in his dormitory, he could be moved within the prison or even to another facility.
“It’s all about your behavior once you come to prison,” Plessinger said.
The Department of Corrections would not speculate on where Hatch would go once he leaved Orlando. Most of the prisons, she said, are in the north end of the state.
The majority of inmates are moved around during the course of their sentences, either for security reasons, to participate in a special program or to be closer to family, when requested.
Some have speculated that prison life will be very tough on Hatch and that he might perish while incarcerated. Should he become ill or live to be quite elderly, the prison system has a plan to handle that.
“We do have some elderly inmate dormitories, it would depend on his health or what his needs are,” Plessinger said.
Each prison has an infirmary and there is one prison hospital in Jacksonville. Other facilities have special dormitories or sections which house inmates who are struggling with chronic or terminal illnesses. There is even a form of hospice behind the walls of prison.
“We do have services and facilities available for inmates dealing with end-of-life issues,” Plessinger said.
By Florida Statute, Hatch must serve 85 percent of his sentence, or about 26 years. Taking into account credit for time served, he would be about 85 years old when he gets out.