A look at what a future in prison holds for Ira Hatch

INDIAN RIVER COUNTY — When Ira Hatch’s 30-year sentence came down last week, it set off a chain of events leading to a long, routine life in prison for the convicted swindler.

But that’s exactly the life that victim Bob Lowe wished for Hatch when he spoke to the court that day. The estate Lowe represented lost $1.14 million to Coastal Escrow and Lowe has personally racked up more than $500,000 in legal fees cleaning up the mess. “I’m asking for 30 years without probation unless full restitution is made. And I’m asking that Hatch not be sent to a white-collar-crime prison,” Lowe said to Senior Judge James Midelis.

Lowe’s remarks sparked the question of where Hatch would end up, and if he would get any better treatment or privileges as a non-violent offender or as an elderly man at age 62.

Hatch is expected to soon be transported by Indian River Sheriff’s Office guards to the Central Florida Reception Center in Orlando, which is located just off the Beeline Highway, visible to travelers on their way to or from the airport.

The “Reception” center serves as the Florida Department of Corrections regional clearinghouse for convicted criminals.

It is here that Hatch will stay for six weeks to two months until the prison system decides where to put him.

The center’s main wing currently houses 1,659 men and at last count it’s at about 88 percent capacity. Two adjacent east and south wings hold about another 800 inmates.

For comparison, that’s nearly five times the current population at the Indian River County Jail.

Despite Hatch’s 31 months in jail, he will need to adjust to prison life.

“Everybody thinks of it like jail, but jails are very different from prison,” said Department of Corrections Spokesperson Gretl Plessinger. “In jail, inmates are generally in cells, but in prison he would be in general population, in an open-bay dormitory, a large environment with 100 beds. There is no individuality in prison. There is no privacy in prison.”

There is no special prison for white-collar criminals.

“He will be at a high classification level because of the length of his sentence,” Plessinger said. “Someone who is a white-collar criminal could be held in the same dormitory with a sex offender or a murderer.”

Assistant State Attorney Lev Evans said the time spent on classification of new inmates is standard.

“Everybody goes there for a few weeks. They give them a full medical workup, and they will for Ira especially due to his age because he’s considered elderly in the prison system, and figure out if he has any special needs due to health issues,” Evans said.

“At the reception center he will learn the basics about prison life,” Plessinger said.

Now convicted of one first-degree felony charge of racketeering and sentenced to 30 years in prison, Hatch will need to adapt to the pace and routine of life in prison.

After being a man of means, driving a BMW, living in a riverfront home, owning a law firm and entertaining clients in lavish style, he will have to get used to a lot less.

His wardrobe will consist of a light blue jumpsuit with a white stripe — every single day.

Hatch will not have access to cable television or the Internet. He will be able to make collect telephone calls up to 15 minutes in duration to designated people on his call list in the evenings.

He will not be permitted to call anyone who was a victim of his crimes.  Visitors, other than attorneys, are only allowed on the weekends.

The days are long and monotonous.

“They wake up between 5 or 6, depending on their job. So say, if his job is food service and he’s preparing breakfast, then they would wake up earlier,” Plessinger said.

After breakfast, inmates go to mandatory work detail. Jobs include grounds maintenance, laundry, food service or other menial tasks.

Prisoners do not receive any funds or credits for their work, it is simply considered a part of their stay in the Florida corrections system.

Outside Hatch’s dormitory will be a “day room” with one community television that receives only local channels.

There is a law library where Hatch can help his new Public Defender research case law on which to base the appeal of his 30-year sentence.

Inmates who test out at high levels of ability and who have the desire can become Inmate Teaching Assistants to help others learn how to read or to pass their GED exams.

“At 10 p.m. it’s lights out,” Plessinger said.

Should Hatch have a scuffle with another inmate or provoke a fight in his dormitory, he could be moved within the prison or even to another facility.

“It’s all about your behavior once you come to prison,” Plessinger said.

The Department of Corrections would not speculate on where Hatch would go once he leaved Orlando.

Most of the prisons, she said, are in the north end of the state. The majority of inmates are moved around during the course of their sentences, either for security reasons, to participate in a special program or to be closer to family, when requested.

Some have speculated that prison life will be very tough on Hatch and that he might perish while incarcerated.

If he were to become ill or live to be quite elderly, the prison system has a plan to handle that.

“We do have some elderly inmate dormitories, it would depend on his health or what his needs are,” Plessinger said.

By Florida Statute, Hatch must serve 85 percent of his sentence, or about 26 years. Taking into account credit for time served, he would be about 85 years old when he gets out.

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