Convicted felon and former state Sen. Dianne Wilkerson is feeling “great,” working out, watching sports on TV and making friends while locked up inside a federal prison where there are no bars and no cells, she wrote in an exclusive letter to the Herald.
“I exercise regularly and my blood pressure hasn’t been this good in five years,” Wilkerson wrote from the Danbury, Conn., low-security women’s federal prison, where she is serving a 3-and-half year-sentence for taking $23,500 in bribes. “I feel great, though the food isn’t the healthiest.”
In the letter — her first comments to the media about prison life since she began her sentence in March — Wilkerson describes an easier-than-expected life.
“This place is nothing much as I imagined,” she penned in a four-page letter written Aug. 24 to a Herald reporter. “Some may be upset to learn that there are no bars here anywhere, or locks on the doors. There are no cells, no armed guards and there are many times when there isn’t even a corrections officer in the building.”
Wilkerson served 16 years in the state Senate representing Roxbury, the South End and Jamaica Plain. Her career collapsed after she was caught on camera stuffing a cash bribe into her bra during an FBI sting in 2007.
In prison, she passes time working two jobs, reading, writing and helping out with laundry, construction, yard work, cooking and cleaning, she said. She goes to church every Sunday, reveling in the gospel choir. And, she added, she thinks about life after she gets out.
“I’m spending lots of time on my plan on what I’m going to do when I go home,” she said.
Her son, Cornell Mills, who visited her yesterday with his children, said prison life for his mother is not what he expected, calling it a “relaxed, campground setting.” He said his mom teaches a GED class and a parenting class. “It’s a lot better than what I had envisioned,” Mills told the Herald yesterday.
He said his mom is a “strong woman.”
“Right now, she’s dealing with this adversity, but it’s nothing that will break her. She has some big plans in store,” he said.
In Wilkerson’s letter, she wrote her biggest fear heading into prison was missing her family. She said she is “blessed” that they visit often.
Wilkerson said her transition was made easier by her fellow inmates, saying they were “incredibly kind to me from the moment I walked in the door.” She said they keep her busy behind the prison walls.
“We clean, we cook, we do maintenance, plumbing, construction, yard work, laundry. I am doing everything I can to stay busy which really isn’t very hard to do. I work two jobs, exercise regularly, read and write,” she said.
Her favorite place is the rec room, where she spends free time watching sports, calling herself a “sports fanatic.”
Although she is far removed from Boston, she still thinks about her former constituents, offering advice in the letter to black Bostonians saying they have “the potential and opportunity to really change Boston.”
Mills encouraged supporters to write his mother or visit www.stickwithdianne.com. “That’s the kind of things that keep you going, you got to have support from people from the outside,” he said.
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In her own words...
The following are excerpts from a four-page letter that former state Sen. Dianne Wilkerson wrote to Herald reporter Colneth Smiley Jr. from a federal prison in Danbury, Conn., where she is serving a sentence on a bribery conviction. The letter is dated Aug. 24.
“This place is nothing much as I imagined and the transition has been a smooth one thanks to the other inmates. They were incredibly kind to me from the moment I walked in the door. Some may be upset to learn that there are no bars here anywhere, or locks on the doors. There are no cells, no armed guards and there are many times when there isn’t even a corrections officer in the building. We take care of it pretty much. We clean, we cook, we do maintenance, plumbing, construction, yard work, laundry. I am doing everything I can to stay busy which really isn’t very hard to do. I work 2 jobs, exercise regularly, read and write.”
“Luckily, there is a rec room where I spend most of my other time watching sports. I was very concerned about that given I am pretty much a sports fanatic.”
“My biggest fear was missing my family and church. I am blessed because they visit regularly and we do have church every Sunday and there is a choir. They’re good so I still get to hear my gospel.”
“I exercise regularly and my blood pressure hasn’t been this good in 5 years. I feel great through the food isn’t the healthiest, it’s better than you’d think. The health care is pretty bad so I’m just praying I don’t get very sick here and depend on the Bureau of Prisons to make me well. If anyone asks, tell them I’m doing very well.”
© Copyright by the Boston Herald and Herald Media.
Published Sunday, September 4, 2011.