Want to know what Bernie Madoff faces in jail?
Jennifer Wilkov will tell you. Accused of being involved in a small real-estate scam, she spent four months in New York City's notoriously violent Rikers Island prison, even though she tells Marie Claire magazine this month that she's innocent.
Wilkov, a Brooklyn-based financial planner who had referred investors to a real-estate deal in California that turned out to be a fraud -- which she reported to authorities herself -- survived prison life by doing her homework beforehand. She hired self-defense experts and enlisted friends to shout obscenities and insults in her face, so she could practice reacting in a calm, controlled fashion. Then she cut off her hair so no one could yank it. The preparations paid off. When inevitable confrontations arose in jail -- such as a woman who wanted to rape her in the communal showers -- she knew what to do.
Not that it was easy. "I feel like I'm in a foreign country where I don't know the language or the rules, and no one wants to help," Wilkov tells Marie Claire, describing her first night at Rikers, surrounded by drug dealers and prostitutes. "Anything I say can be misinterpreted. I'm afraid to ask even the simplest questions."
Who knows where Madoff will end up cooling his heels. He's a busy man, and might not have time to read and absorb Wilkov's advice before he goes to the big house. But the rest of us can.
Abigail Pesta is an award-winning journalist who has lived and worked around the world. Currently she is the editor-at-large of Marie Claire magazine in New York. In Hong Kong, she was a news and features editor for The Wall Street Journal. In London, she ran an editing desk for Dow Jones Newswires. She has also worked at Glamour, where she launched Mariane Pearl's popular column about women who change the world. Abby writes short stories for her website, Fine Words Butter No Parsnips.