This week’s bound-to-be-a-blockbuster New York magazine cover story is the long-awaited profile of Bernie Madoff’s life in prison. Based solely on anecdotes, it doesn’t disappoint, illustrating a portrait of a semi-broken man, almost owning his evil deeds, but still defensive and angry. Though he’s somewhat of a celebrity behind bars — a twisted mentor for all types — he’s bullied and judged by fellow inmates in the North Carolina facility where he’s serving 150 years for orchestrating “the most devastating Ponzi scheme in history.” On that note, Madoff has some words for his victims.
According to the piece’s leading tale from behind bars:
But that evening an inmate badgered Madoff about the victims of his $65 billion scheme, and kept at it. According to K. C. White, a bank robber and prison artist who escorted a sick friend that evening, Madoff stopped smiling and got angry. “Fuck my victims,” he said, loud enough for other inmates to hear. “I carried them for twenty years, and now I’m doing 150 years.”
As this piece makes its media rounds, expect this to be sole takeaway, not unlike M.I.A. and her truffle fries. It’s shocking, to be sure, but there’s a larger, more nuanced narrative there that many will be willing to ignore in favor of fortifying their idea of Bernie Madoff, Hellish Villain, using a quote from an outburst.
At calmer moments, Madoff seems hardened, cold:
Pollard thought that taking advantage of old ladies was “kind of fucked up.”
“Well, that’s what I did,” Madoff said matter-of-factly.
But he reportedly flouts his confidence, enjoys his “groupies” and gives advice. Also on his side? “That he isn’t a rat–he’s tried to take all the blame for his Ponzi scheme–and isn’t a child molester counts in his favor.” All that equals points in prison. Getting naked before he got into the shower, though, got him laughed at.
The piece is teeming with the minutiae of Madoff’s daily life — include the price he pays for mac and cheese, Diet Coke and getting his laundry done — and paints him as something of a con man, even behind bars. The details about the prison culture swirling around Madoff are equally interesting, including an aside about the gay tribe of inmates. It’s well worth a read.
But as far as Madoff goes, it all come back to the victims of his crimes, as it well should. And that, forever moving forward, will be defined by one crass phrase:
Madoff posed for White, the prison artist, who’s black. Madoff even signed the sketch, breaking his rule, says White, who secretly wrote on Madoff’s collar: FUCK MY VICTIMS.
For anyone who thought New Yorkers’ ire for Bernie would fade, this profile, despite its humanizing moments, will fail to elicit sympathy. Public opinion will be the same as it’s been for most, only now, in addition to crimes that are unforgivable, there are words that are unforgettable.
Bernie Madoff, Free at Last [New York]