I was surprised at some of the email I got over my prison Christmas story last week…
Including from guys I was in the joint with! Where was my name? they asked. Okay, I did leave out some interesting names and stories about the holidays, so…
On weekend nights, we dressed up like we were free and walked the yard at night. And holiday weekends were even bigger. Why? Because we were morons, but hope was always in the air.
So we’d put on our best pressed uniforms, do our hair up like we were going to the prom and shine our shoes (If you wore tennis shoes you cleaned them with a toothbrush, and no, not the one you brushed with).
Clean, tough, muscled up and ready to rock.
After the evening’s crappy meal, you and your best pal or two went outside and walked the track or the fence line area. Or maybe an indoor green space – each joint was different.
They move you around quite a bit, prison to prison. They’re supposed to try and keep you near family, but they don’t. I started in Terminal Island (Long Beach, Ca.) Then I was sent to a level 3/4, medium to upper security prison. Then to Lompoc a level 5, high security prison.
Finally, after much screaming and yelling about why was a seven year sentence, first time in prison guy at Lompoc, I got transferred to a level 2 in Safford, Arizona, on the border of the U.S. and Mexico. Level 2 meant lower security. And after about 18 months in, they sent me to camp, Boron, the Watergate camp in California.
I got in trouble there and was sent back to Terminal Island and finished at Lompoc in Level 1 – no walls, all dorms, decent. And finally to a halfway house in L.A. downtown – all that in 4 1/2 years. Nice tour.
Walking the yard was a big deal.
Who you walked it with, were you in top shape, what kinda stuff you wore and so on. You and your crew were always on the lookout for GIRLS. Of course there were none, except for the staff and it was very hard to get them.
I did land a teacher, but that’s another story.
One day we were walking and ran into a TV crew from ABC. A cute blonde wanted to interview Ivan Boesky and they had a pass to get in to set up for the interview. I told the 25 year-old reporter, "Hey, I’m president of toastmasters and the camp spokesperson."
I was kinda.
Boesky wouldn’t do the interview, so she set up a time to do a story about "camp life" in prison, on ME.
Wow, that was worth cleaning up for and it aired on the area ABC news a few weeks later. She had a crush on me, checked out my records and thought I was the greatest. She took my collect calls for about four months. We were gonna meet on my furlough in six months. I was out in about a year or so. We would date, move in together, get married, have a family. But after about 100 days she changed her mind, met a TV star and it was curtains for the King of Sting.
One guy I met and even took acting classes with was Seymour Cassel. He was the actor who played Robert Redford‘s driver in Indecent Proposal, the grey haired gentleman. Seymour was a major co star in the day, and even was in Coogan’s Bluff with Clint Eastwood – he played a smart-ass punk in the movie. He was in with John Cassavetes‘s and that crew and did tons of movies and TV before prison.
Cassel’s career fizzled and he started sending ounces of blow to pals in the mail, a federal crime. He got a couple years and was next to me at Terminal Island. Even his friend, actor
came to visit him in the big house. Cassel was a cool older guy. He got out before me and did a slew of movies, nice parts too. He made big money.
I ran into him at the screening of Indecent Proposal – my studio partner Dan York had taken me – and everyone was there, including Redford, Demi Moore and her husband Bruce Willis. Seymour was the co-star along with Woody Harrelson. I went up to congratulate Seymour and he said, "What the hell are you doing here?"
He’d been so kind and warm in prison, but now he was cold and kinda mean.
I told him I was at Universal now and he said, "For God’s sake don’t mention me to anyone here as a former inmate!" I kinda figured people knew, but oh well. I ran into him a few times more and he was better but we never hung out again.
Then there was Jerry Newton, the banker, He was Wayne Newton‘s brother. Wayne even flew into the camp area in a helicopter to visit Jerry. That was back when Wayne was having some money issues and they say Jerry took the fall for some bad loans and ones that were not supposed to happen. I met Jerry where he and I worked, on the outdoor crew, cracking rocks. He was a good guy though.
Maybe the most interesting man I met was Ron Semler. He owned Saddle Rock Ranch in Malibu. One of the richest men in prison. Ron and his brother Barry were in on some tax beef. Ron was maybe 10 years my senior, a nice looking guy, small and married to a Playboy Playmate. He owned a $100 million estate complete with a real Zoo (I kid you not) and garages with rare cars and wagons from films like "Gone With The Wind."
Ron and I became fast friends; we worked out together, ate together – we were pals. He even loaned me 25 G’s when I got out. He was in for nearly a year after I left. I went to his ranch to get the check, met his playmate wife, nice. He invited me to parties there a few times after he got out and it was a who’s who. His best pal was Noel Blanc of the cartoon voices family fame. He also was best pals with the Kirk Douglas family, who along with many other stars kept their horses at Saddle Rock Ranch.
I slowly paid off the loan – but I didn’t have the money in time – so that kinda killed out our friendship. I did pay it off finally, but he was just in too big a league for me when I got out. That changed eventually, but it took too long. Still Ron was a decent guy and he later partnered with Wolfgang Puck on his grocery pizza concept. I think that went south. Hey, but he helped me and I will always appreciate that of Ron.
There were others, and you do meet the most interesting people in prison. But it’s still not a great place to stay.