Transitioning to a new world H. Beatty Chadwick joins the 21st century.

Posted: July 18, 2009

Back on the street after a record-setting 14-year jail sentence for contempt, H. Beatty Chadwick is learning that he needs a quick update on the 21st century.

Like, what's with those cell phones everyone has plugged to their ears? What's with the Internet? And does he get a PC or a Mac?

As Chadwick, 73, rejoins the "land of the living," he's discovering all the things that must be done in what has become a "complicated society."

In an interview, he also launched into an unprompted critique of the 1,800-inmate Delaware County jail. The former Main Line corporate lawyer was jailed by a Delaware County Court judge in April 1995 for failing to turn over $2.5 million in alimony to his ex-wife, Barbara "Bobbie" Applegate. The couple were married for 15 years.

Chadwick contended that he lost the money in a bad overseas investment. The judge believed Chadwick had hidden the money from his ex-wife and ordered him jailed until he produced the millions. Court-ordered investigations conducted since he went to jail have turned up no money.

Petitions for release over the years were denied by numerous judges, who believed he had the money. Last week, President Judge Joseph P. Cronin Jr. ruled that keeping Chadwick in jail had lost "coercive effect," even though he thought Chadwick "had the ability to comply."

Standing outside a Lancaster Avenue cafe in Wayne this week, Chadwick looked at a street he no longer recognized. The traffic, he said, is worse. He wondered what had happened to a small grocer he once frequented.

Chadwick has e-mail and Internet service to set up - neither was in wide use when he went to jail - and is busy with mundane tasks: retrieving belongings from storage, getting the electricity turned on in his Wilmington apartment . . . and changing all his subscriptions to a new address.

Chadwick was an avid reader in jail, devouring the Wall Street Journal and the Economist, among others.

He was one of about 150 inmates who held a job at the prison. His first position, assigned a few years after he arrived, was as the assistant to the official who classified prisoners upon entry as minimum, medium, or maximum security.

For the last six years, Chadwick worked in the prison library, where he helped inmates with letter-writing and tutored for GED exams. He also volunteered legal advice.

Chadwick said he was "shocked" how poorly educated some inmates were.

"Writing was one of the hardest things," said Chadwick. "The idea of writing really flummoxes a lot of people." Some inmates he encountered dropped out of school in the sixth grade and could only read on a second-grade level. Others did not know their multiplication tables.

"One thing I missed in jail was not being able to cook," said Chadwick, who read Bon Appetit while imprisoned. His first meal on the outside was a veggie taco from Ruby Tuesday. Next up was a roasted chicken at home.

Cable TV?

"I haven't tried [getting] that yet," said Chadwick, who in jail got by with rabbit ears and a handful of channels. Back in 1995, a good system had about 50 channels. Pay-per-view was not commonly used.

Chadwick says he was lucky that his son, William, who lives in King of Prussia, is helping with the transition and providing transportation.

"If I didn't have him, I'd be in great difficulty," he said. The two grew closer while he was in prison.

Chadwick says he has seen other inmates who have had a difficult transition to post-prison life.

When first released, prisoners without support from family or friends are dumped on a Chester street corner with "nary a penny" and must fend for themselves, inmates told him.

"They do nothing about trying to get people jobs, housing, or even their next meal," Chadwick said.

At one point, Chadwick said, the prison dropped former inmates at a mall, but this was halted after mall managers complained that the former inmates were stealing from stores, he said.

For most of Chadwick's tenure, the county's George W. Hill Correctional Facility was run by the GEO Group. Community Education Centers of New Jersey took over the contract in January.

Bill Palatucci, a spokesman for Community Education Centers, said policies, including release procedures and the maximum jail population, are set by the county.

"We are simply acting as their agent," Palatucci said.

Superintendent John A. Reilly Jr. did not return a call for comment. Linda Cartisano, County Council chair, did not return calls.

Over the years, Chadwick had a number of cellmates. He said one man, unable to raise $500 bail, spent six months waiting to plead guilty to drug possession.

He said the prison was often overcrowded, with three prisoners sometimes housed in cells meant for two. He never had more than one cellmate, he said.

Chadwick's plans are still up in the air. He is reconnecting with friends and finding out that others have died.

He insisted that the money really doesn't exist. He has not heard from Applegate in 15 years, he said.

Chadwick said he will live on Social Security until he finds a job - possibly as a teacher or lawyer.

Contact staff writer Mari A. Schaefer at 610-892-9149 or mschaefer@phillynews.com.

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