What the Klink Taught Kerik: The Jailhouse Interview

Darryl said he had “casual conversations” with Kerik on the premises. “Bernie had some very intense stories about 9/11, which I was interested to hear. It was a different point of view from what we heard from all the news agencies. He didn’t talk about why he was [in prison], nor was I interested in hearing it.”

As has been reported, with digital help from his supporters Kerik has tweeted and blogged from prison, though not lately, about various conservative talking points, such as Park 51, the so-called ground zero mosque.

He still has famous friends. His revolving list of visitors is extensive, though only 10 names at a time can be activated. Congressman Peter King has visited him, as has Geraldo Rivera. Mr. Giuliani has not been in touch for years, a matter of quiet pain for Kerik.

“There were rumors that Bernie was going to get the fabulous four together,” Darryl said. “Arnold, Bruce Willis and Sly Stallone were his drinking buddies and were all going to visit on the same day. It was a fun rumor to have go around and watch the staff go absolutely crazy.”

Sydney Schwartzbaum, who in his role as president of the Assistant Deputy Wardens Union in New York City often clashed with Kerik in the past, said that Kerik certainly “took a proactive role” in dealing with problematic inmates, but that in general he was “not condescending, not maniacal, not sadistic toward the inmates. If he was, I’d like to say that, you know, because I didn’t like the guy.”

Though in Mr. Schwartzbaum’s opinion, Kerik “had larceny in his heart,” he thinks he “should have gotten 27 months.” He didn’t explain this take on justice.

The psychologist Philip Zimbardo, who conducted the legendary Stanford Prison Experiment in the 1970s and in his book The Lucifer Effect examined the case of Chip Frederick, the former corrections officer-turned-Abu Ghraib abuser, said that for Kerik, it might be “very difficult to see himself as an inmate.” Mr. Zimbardo found Kerik’s case “not unlike Chip Frederick, only more so since Chip was comparatively low-level in that corrections system whereas Bernie was the Man in his system. Essentially, he’s in a very difficult position.”

In interviews, Kerik spoke with a discernible compassion for the other inmates, commenting quietly on their individual stories and struggles as they filed into the visiting room.

In an email, he wrote, “The men around me have been convicted of either a nonviolent drug offense or a white-collar crime. They have children and families. The system seems to demean and demoralize them, drains them financially, destroys their families and deteriorates their bond with their children. I never saw or understood this on the outside. Unless you’re completely heartless, you have to have some compassion for them, if not for their families and children.”

Aside from the boredom of prison life, missing his daughters, Celine, 11, and Angelina, 8, has been the worst of it, Kerik said. “There’s been nothing more painful for me than being taken away from my two little girls. For any man as close to their kids as I am, this is your greatest punishment.”

His wife and daughters visit him “at least once a month, sometimes twice,” he said. “It’s close to six hours each way, so it’s a rough ride for the kids.” They send him handwritten notes. He also speaks to them daily by phone or email. There is no Internet access at Cumberland, only an email system the inmates can use between 6 a.m. and 8:30 p.m., for 5 cents a minute. Like all inmates, Kerik is allowed up to 300 minutes a month on the phone.

No longer on kitchen duty, he’s been teaching what he calls a “life lessons” class for one hour every Tuesday evening, in which he tries to impart to his fellow inmates words of wisdom “based around my life experiences, good and bad, right and wrong, successes and failures.” After a recent class, Kerik said, a convicted drug dealer from Baltimore serving nine years came up to him and said, “If I had someone like you talk to me about this stuff on the outside, I’d never be in here.”

Some inmates wear earplugs to sleep at night. Kerik often reads or writes until midnight or 1 a.m. “I’ve read more since I’ve been here than I have in the past 20 years,” he said. The most memorable books for him have been The Last Lecture, by Randy Pausch; Night, by Elie Wiesel; George W. Bush’s Decision Points; and Barack Obama’s Dreams From My Father.

Comments

  1. Johanna1lover says:

    Great interview! Very interested article! Well done!