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.
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.]
While Stewart is trying to do that, she will have to abide by the government's tough rules. Federal Judge Miriam Goldman Cedarbaum has ordered that Stewart be allowed out of her house 48 hours a week for work, religious observance, or healthcare. She will have to ask permission to travel anywhere. A probation officer must be able to reach her within 15 minutes, day or night.
Stewart will join about 16,500 other federal inmates in home confinement. That number is likely to rise because of the recent decision by the Supreme Court that parts of the federal sentencing guidelines should be overturned, says Herb Hoelter, a director and cofounder of the National Center on Institutions and Alternatives in Baltimore. "Now with the guidelines only advisory, there are a lot of requests from defense attorneys to go back to old-style sentences that include community custody," says Mr. Hoelter, who was also Stewart's sentencing consultant.
Within 72 hours of being released from Alderson, Stewart will meet with her community custody officer (parole is no longer a part of the federal vernacular). It is at this meeting that Stewart will be equipped with an ankle bracelet. "It looks like a small pager, but it's loose enough to get socks under it," says David Novak of David Novak Consulting in Salt Lake City.
At the same time, technicians will install base stations around her home that will transmit Stewart's whereabouts to a monitoring station. "It looks like an old cassette machine," says Mr. Novak. "If the electronic tether is broken, it must match up with authorized moves. If it is broken for any reason not authorized, there is an investigation."
Defense lawyers say that the first reaction of someone leaving prison for home confinement is ecstasy. There are long hot showers or baths. There are no limits to visitors. Stewart will have her beloved pets to play with. However, "after a short period of time you become stir-crazy," says Michael DeMarco, a white-collar defense lawyer with Kirkpatrick & Lockhart Nicholson Graham in Boston.
In fact, Mr. DeMarco once represented a wealthy Boston businessman. DeMarco was successful at negotiating weekends for the individual at his Cape Cod home. "It was a psychological factor, to be confined to one place for six months," says the former state prosecutor.
But sympathy from federal officers is rare, say other defense lawyers. "They are not particularly sympathetic to purported claims of hardship," says Jeffrey Stone, a defense lawyer with McDermott Will & Emery in Chicago.
Not true, says Maria Rodrigues McBride, chief of the federal probation office for the District of Connecticut. "There is a lot of sympathy on the part of the officers. In fact, we have to watch out for officers who are too sympathetic because they're not getting the people released to change."
But she says one thing remains true no matter what: Whoever Stewart's probation officer is will be barred from enjoying another Martha moment: "They can't accept any brownies, cookies, or any food whatsoever," she says.