With a sentence of 23 years for rape and sexual assault in New York, Harvey Weinstein, once a a member of Hollywood’s elite, finds himself at the bottom of the totem pole in the state’s prison system, looking up at killers, gang members, mafia guys, drug lords, kingpins, stick-up kids, armed robbers, white collar criminals, and drug users. VICE reached out to inmates across the U.S. to get their opinions on how Weinstein will likely fare. They all agreed he’d be taken advantage of in one way or another, even if they were surprised by the length of the sentence.
“Twenty three years of imprisonment was a surprise to the world,” said Andre, who is doing time in Maryland. “Most of the black and brown prisoners thought that Weinstein wasn’t going to receive such a harsh sentence for the simple reason that the double-standard in sentencing convicted criminals is real. But Weinstein has to prepare for life as a prisoner with a rape conviction. This label alone places him in a whole different light in prison. At the very bottom of prisons’ social fabric. He will be shunned and maybe harmed by most, or extorted by others.”
Jeremy, who is doing time in Maryland, pointed out that “things in Weinstein’s case will depend on what security level he’s placed in.”
“If he’s placed in a high-security institution [with inmates who are often more aggressive], he will have trouble. He’s a very wealthy man. People in the state will know exactly who he is, and not only will he be extorted, he will be abused,” Jeremy said. “The only real chance he will have is to pay for protection, and hope that the guys he pays will honor the contract.”
Sly, who’s incarcerated in Florida, agreed, saying, “I think Mr. Weinstein will be treated good if he goes to a medium-security in New York. But if he goes to one of those state penitentiaries like Attica, Clinton, Five Points, or Greenhaven, he will be treated very harshly. They’ll punish him, the prisoners will. Or the administration may just take it upon themselves and keep him in protection for his own good, because they won’t want to see anything happen to him.”
Pittsburgh Mike, who’s serving his sentence in Ohio, said, “I think that Harvey will be treated terribly by the other inmates, and he may do a majority of his bid in protective custody. But the correctional officers [COs] will treat him with privileges because most of them never ever been around people of that caliber that lived that quality of life.”
“The COs will cater to him and he will probably pay the mob guys or Aryans to protect him from the gangs, extortionists, bullies, and low lifes,” said Shawnie, who is doing time in Ohio. “But then again he has a sex case, and they are the ones who really get treated badly in prison.”
“The guy is in the acting business,” said Tito, who’s in prison in Florida. “Before the trial even got started, he got some props and started to use a walker to go in and out of the courtroom. He’s going to lean on that walker and play the ‘I am in poor health and near death’ card [in prison].” Others agreed that this “hospital move” would give him advantages in transit, housing, and employment inside. It might help keep him out of the general prison population.
Some inmates think he’ll be fine, even admired, and looked up to. But they agree that he will be paying in some way or another—in the form of the “soft extortion” that happens when certain inmates feel they can ask others for favors or gifts.
“I think Harvey will be fine because of his money and influence,” said Plex, who’s locked up in Florida. “Besides, the system has changed. Dudes don’t really stand on principle anymore [i.e. attack inmates for their alleged crimes], and even those that do can be swayed by who Harvey is. Both the inmates and guards will treat him like a star. [He’ll live like a] king.”
Tito pointed out that some inmates will tell you one thing but then do something totally different. What most likely will happen is that he’ll have a shitload of ass-kissers and “yes men” around him, thinking they’ll benefit from warming up to him.
“Money makes strange bedfellows, and it has a way of taking shit and molding it into a golden goose,” Tito said. “They will say, That’s my man, those chicks in the movie industry are a bunch of whores, they probably asked for it. That’s how they will justify their actions. This will apply to staff and inmates alike. I can assure you, staff and inmates are on the wire calling whoever it is on the other end telling them, Hey guess who’s here with me? No one is going to take his walker away, if anything, he’ll get a wheelchair and have someone pushing him around.”
Ralph, who’s doing time in Florida, predicted that Weinstein will be treated well, considering he’s probably going to a low-custody facility and will be surrounded by like-minded individuals. “Tough to predict the future,” Ralph said. “I think he’ll be treated like a celebrity and respected among many. I’m not too familiar with his case, but he may find people who sympathize with him. My overall opinion, though, is that he will be unhappy but comfortable and as safe as anyone else.”
*This piece was originally published on VICE.