Bill Cosby's first days prison: Meatballs and near total isolation
Bill Cosby spent his first day in a Pennsylvania state prison much as he will spend many days to come: mostly alone.
He slept alone on Tuesday night on a cot bolted to the floor of a cell he shares with no one. When his door was unlocked on Wednesday morning, Cosby stepped into a TV room that was empty except for his guards. Several cells identical to his own lined the walls in this section of State Correctional Institution Phoenix, and every one of them was vacant.
Cosby ate breakfast, lunch and dinner by himself. He walked the yard without company. Four times that day – at precisely 6.10am, 12.30, 4.30 and 9pm before lights out – a guard walked the unit to count the prisoners, and the count was always one.
This quasi-isolation won't last forever – maybe only a week or two. It's mostly a coincidence that Cosby was assigned to a brand-new prison that is still just barely half full. Administrators decided out of caution to isolate him from the other prisoners until they can figure out what to do with one of the most famous sex offenders in the country for the duration of his three-to-10 year sentence.
"It's basically his own space," said Amy Worden, press secretary for the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections. "He's a high-profile inmate … and obviously, safety is the paramount issue inside a prison."
State corrections secretary John Wetzel said in a statement that integrating Cosby into the prison's general population – about 3,600 inmates, once Phoenix is at capacity – was the "long-term goal". But exactly how long "long-term" is remains to be seen.
O.J. Simpson, another celebrity-turned-felon, doesn't think it can be done. "They're going to have to put him in protective custody," he told TMZ after Cosby's sentencing.
"The problem is the nature of the crime," Simpson said. "Rapists are frowned upon in prison."
For the immediate future, at least, Cosby seems less in danger from violence than from loneliness and boredom.
A single friend sat with him in court on Tuesday afternoon, when a judge pronounced his sentence for drugging and assaulting a woman in 2004. No family members were present.
"Flanked by armed sheriff's deputies, he disappeared through an arched doorway, bound for a holding cell – Cosby's first stop in a journey that will take him to a state prison where he'll be confined to a tiny cell that could have fit into the corner of a room in any of his mansions," Manuel Roig-Franzia wrote in The Washington Post.
Cosby was driven through a rainstorm and arrived that evening at SCI Phoenix: a 66-hectare compound of maximum security cell blocks, separated from the community by a mile and a half of razor wire and electronic fencing. The state began building the prison in the early 2010s – around the same time that Cosby's career began disintegrating under dozens of women's accusations that he had assaulted them.
Guards walked Cosby into the prison's central building some time after 6pm on Tuesday. He posed for his mug shot, traded what was left of his court outfit for a prison uniform and boots, and became inmate NN7687.
He was then taken to the vacant cell unit, where he set up the toiletries and sheets that were his only provisions, and sat down to a dinner of porcupine meatballs, under the supervision of a guard at the monitoring desk.
After dinner, at 9pm Cosby stood outside his cell for the first of many regulated head counts. A guard shone a flashlight into his cell some time in the middle of the night to make sure the unit's lone prisoner was still there.
Bill Cosby’s mug shot from Montgomery County Correctional Facility, where he is currently being held in quasi-isolation.
"He still has to do it," Worden said. "It's part of the prison ritual."
The full SCI Phoenix ritual is a mammoth daily schedule broken down into five-minute increments. Breakfast in the cafeteria at 7am. Vocational classes at 8am. Chapel at 8.20am. Cease movement at 12.25pm. Head count at half past the hour, then off to work for those with jobs in the laundry or the shoe factory.
But Cosby is a special case, and for the first week or so, at least, his ritual is a spartan thing.
He eats, sleeps and recreates in his empty corner of the prison, served the same thing as the general population prisoners who congregate in cafeterias sprawled across the campus. Wednesday's lunch menu was macaroni and cheese. Thursday's includes strawberry gelatin for dessert.
"He didn't have Jell-O," Worden said, aware that Cosby famously starred in ads for the jelly brand before his disgrace. "The word 'Jell-O' may appear on the menu, but it is not a Jell-O brand product."
Cosby can take no classes and no job, yet. He is allowed no visitors except his lawyers and religious mentors, if he has any. He cannot mingle. He can watch TV alone in the empty common room when he's not locked in his cell. He can walk alone in the small yard outside his unit for up to four hours each day.
CNN reported that Cosby phoned his wife on Wednesday morning, though Worden could not confirm it.
This quasi-isolation will continue until Cosby completes the standard battery of psychological and medical exams for new inmates and sex offenders – a process called "classification" that normally takes about 10 days, though Worden said that estimate can range widely, and it's unclear how Cosby's combination of celebrity and medical issues will affect the process.
Once he is classified, he will presumably be allowed to visit with his family, and purchase a TV and tablet for his cell, and perhaps look for classes or work to pass the days. If things go well, he may even get a roommate; almost all the cells at Phoenix are double bunks.
So far, Worden said, Cosby has adjusted well to his new life. "Good spirits," is the term that state officials use.
That said, Cosby's publicist told the New York Times that "no one disclosed to us that they were taking him to that facility". His lawyers tried and failed to convince a judge to let him live under house arrest while he appeals his sentence. And the Associated Press reported that Cosby has hopes of being transferred to a lower-security prison on the other side of Pittsburgh that caters to geriatric inmates.
Worden, however, said there are no plans to move him out of SCI Phoenix.
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