Uneasy rider: Vince takes a road trip

Posted: November 04, 2011

VINCE FUMO didn't just rage against prosecutors in emails released by the feds last week. The fallen power broker also opened a window on the treatment of prisoners who are bused from one location to another, what inmates refer to as "diesel therapy."

In emails sent last month to his fiancée, Carolyn Zinni, and obtained by the Daily News, Fumo described his trip from Ashland, Ky., where he has been jailed since August 2009, to Philadelphia "in shackles and chains."

Fumo arrived here by bus Wednesday after a two-week-long bus-and-plane trip from Ashland for his resentencing in federal court next Wednesday.

The emails show another side of the Fumo narrative. The former state senator displays a gallows humor to describe the grueling journey, telling Zinni about some "new skills" he learned.

"For example, I can now walk with leg irons with the best of them and I can even do it up and down stairs! :-)," he wrote in an email last month.

Fumo also described how he had learned to eat a sandwich while handcuffed with the cuffs chained to his waist.

"One of the tricks is to take a deep breath, which frees up some chain, and then also to get the square side of one of the cuffs slipped into the link through which it runs - that gives you almost an extra inch - then bend your head down and eat the sandwich!:-)," he wrote.

Fumo said that it was cold on the bus and that he used a sandwich bag to stay warm.

"[Y]ou are only dressed in a paper jumpsuit, you learn to take the paper bag that your sandwich comes in and stuff it into some of the openings to cut off the cold air! :-)," he wrote.

He said that he also had learned how to use the toilet while manacled, but only to urinate. Anything else, he said, "was only for the real pros!"

He said that it was important for him to "keep [his] humor up or they will win," presumably meaning the government.

When Fumo arrived here, he was put in a special housing unit (SHU), which is commonly referred to as the "Shoe" and is essentially solitary confinement in the federal prison system.

Fumo's attorney, Dennis Cogan, said that authorities had told him that Fumo was in the SHU because he was a "security risk" due to the publicity surrounding him.

Those familiar with the transport of federal prisoners decry it. David Rudovsky, a lawyer and longtime advocate of prisoners' rights, described the restraints as "harsh and often painful," but said that he was unaware of any lawsuits challenging the policy.

Bureau of Prisons spokesman Ed Ross said that whenever inmates are transported together, they are secured with a waist chain, and hand and leg restraints, "because inmates of all security levels" travel together.

Fumo has been vilified anew since the feds released a cache of emails on Oct. 18 in which he raged at the government and the jury that convicted him of 137 corruption counts. He called his conviction a "travesty of justice."

Cogan said that Fumo, who is 68 and suffers from heart disease, depression and other maladies, was venting in the emails.

Cogan also said that the "shackles and chains" are a metaphor for what life behind bars is really like.

"It's shameful we treat people like this," Cogan said. "This is not somebody who's a terrorist. I honestly believe if the public understood what happens to prisoners, they would have a different view of prison. It's not Club Fed."

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