Thursday, September 20, 2007

Upping The Ante In The Ford Case

Federal officials sent former Tennessee Senator John Ford an emphatic message yesterday, and they postmarked it Anthony, Texas.

That’s where one of the state’s former power brokers will serve his five and half year term for corruption, and while over the past 18 months, the federal government has sent him messages to cooperate, there’s not been one more telling than this one.

Generally, federal prison officials assign prisoners within their “home district,” which is within 500 miles of their residences. In Mr. Ford’s case, the feds not only didn’t do that, but they shipped him more than 1,000 miles away, and at a time when his lawyers need him to prepare for his upcoming trial in federal court in Nashville.

But the message was stronger than the simple mileage involved. There’s the strong indication that Mr. Ford will check into the low security prison at FCI La Tuna rather than the satellite prison camp. In the parlance of the kingdom, this means that he would serve his sentence “behind the fence.”

It’s the difference between night and day. People in the low security prison have their movements strictly choreographed, activities are limited and the view of the world is through a razor wire fence. Meanwhile, at the camp, there is no fence, prisoners largely create their own universe and movement is extremely loose.

But if that’s not enough, in sending Mr. Ford to Anthony, Texas, and ignoring dozens of prisons closer to home, federal prison officials sent him to one of the prisons in Texas with a reputation for hostility between Mexican and African-American gangs.

Based on his sentence, Mr. Ford will be in Texas for about four years and seven months before he’ll be released to a halfway house here, but if he’s willing to plead guilty to the Nashville charges and eliminate the need for the federal government to prepare for trial, we bet that he could suddenly find himself in a prison close to home, where he would have more stature as a former state legislator and where his family members and friends could visit him.

So far, Mr. Ford’s attitude hasn’t helped him in asking for a break from federal officials. With this prison assignment, federal officials definitely upped the ante.