Life on the outside for very famous ex-con
It looks just like a Martha Stewart moment: a charming farmhouse, guarded by a classic New England stone fence. The wind is blowing the snow off elegant trees lining the drive. There is a greenhouse to grow herbs and a corral to practice a canter or trot.Skip to next paragraph
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As early as Friday, it will indeed be a Martha moment: She will leave West Virginia's Alderson Federal Prison Camp, sometimes known as Camp Cupcake, and return to her home not far from the village of Katonah for five months of home confinement.
She will wear an ankle bracelet that will keep the feds informed if she tries to slip out for tea with Ralph Lauren, a nearby resident. Known for her independence, she will spend the next two years reporting monthly to a federal probation officer who will decide whether it's appropriate for her to attend a party in the Hamptons, taste the salt air of Maine, or enjoy the hydrangeas in Westport, Conn. - all places where she has large houses. But for the time being, trips to luxury resorts like Cabo San Lucas are out: The government will keep her passport in a safe.
Her next five months will give Americans an education about the criminal justice system at a time when there are a record 4.8 million Americans (1.6 percent of the population) who must report to a federal or state supervisory official. The postprison population is continuing to grow, reflecting the rising prison population.
While studies have found that most people in high-crime areas know somebody who has been to jail, Ms. Stewart's case has generated enormous interest among a wide group of people.
"She might be one of the highest-profile people who has ever been to jail," says Todd Clear, a professor of criminal justice at John Jay College in New York.
She would also be one of the richest to serve time - and she's actually watched her wealth rise. During her five months of incarceration for lying to federal officials during an investigation of stock shenanigans, the stock in her own company, Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia, has tripled in value. Her net worth is now $1 billion.
Unlike most people just out of prison, Stewart won't have to pound the pavement looking for a job. Even before her release, NBC announced it will air a daily Martha show, plus appearances twice a month on the "Today" show. At the same time, she will be filming a new version of "The Apprentice," where she will give people the ax in her own inimitable style.
"Her TV shows will go towards rehabilitating her image," says Gary McDaniel, an industry analyst at Standard & Poor's, a Wall Street research firm.
This is not to say she won't have her hands full. Since 2002, advertising revenue for her publishing empire is down 79 percent. At the same time, Kmart has inked a former Donna Karan designer to produce a more contemporary line of housewares that may compete with Stewart's brand at the chain. "This will be a big challenge for her," predicts Mr. McDaniel, who thinks Stewart will turn her company around next year. [Editor's note: The original version mistakenly identified the designer with whom Kmart signed a deal.]