Prison Camp Awaits Theranos Founder Elizabeth Holmes

From a Wall Street Journal story by Christopher Weaver and Meghan Bobrowsky headlined “Inmates Await Theranos Founder Elizabeth Holmes: ‘I Want to Be Her Friend'”:

Theranos founder Elizabeth Holmes could find some bad blood awaiting her at the Bryan, Texas, prison camp where she is expected to begin her roughly 11-year sentence on Tuesday..

A copy of the bestselling book “Bad Blood,” which documents Theranos’s rise and fall, was spotted in Federal Prison Camp Bryan’s library, an inmate who was released in March recalled.

The book—plus a steady stream of prison gossip—has helped heighten anticipation for Holmes’s arrival at the facility, where a judge has recommended she serve her time, current and former inmates said.

“Some people are like ‘I want to be her friend,’” said Tasha Wade, a current inmate who was convicted last year of defrauding a former boss to take vacations and pay for cosmetic and dental procedures. “But other people are like, ‘I can’t believe that’s all she got for taking all that money,’” Wade said.

Inmates also said some guards took a special interest in higher-profile inmates. One, for instance, recalled a corrections officer joking with colleagues that she looked forward to ordering Holmes to scrub pans.

Holmes, 39 years old and the mother of two children, must report to the Federal Bureau of Prisons by 2 p.m. on May 30, a judge ordered. The Bryan camp is a minimum security, all-female facility located about 100 miles northwest of Houston. It houses up to about 720 inmates convicted mostly of white-collar crimes, low-level drug offenses and for harboring immigrants who were in the country illegally, according to BOP and current and former inmates.

U.S. District Judge Edward Davila, who oversaw Holmes’s federal trial for criminal fraud, recommended she serve her time at the Bryan camp to facilitate family visitation. Holmes grew up in Houston, where her father once worked as an Enron executive.

A BOP spokesman said the agency wouldn’t comment on inmates’ designated facilities until they are in custody. The agency could still place her elsewhere. The spokesman said “Bad Blood” had been checked out of the Bryan library and not returned.

There are 655 inmates at the facility, he said, meaning it is at around 90% of its planned capacity.

A jury convicted Holmes of misrepresenting her startup’s technology and business performance to Theranos investors. She was subsequently sentenced to serve 135 months in prison and pay $452 million in restitution to her financiers such as the family of former Education Secretary Betsy DeVos and Rupert Murdoch, executive chairman of News Corp, parent company of the Journal. A judge acknowledged Holmes has few assets and the funds are unlikely to be recovered. Holmes’s lawyers didn’t respond to requests for comment.

Theranos began to unravel after a 2015 report in the Journal showed its technology produced unreliable results and the company often used standard lab equipment to process tests, falling short of Holmes’s claims that her firm’s proprietary machine could do a vast range of tests on tiny blood samples. The then-Journal reporter who wrote the story, John Carreyrou, went on to author “Bad Blood.”

To get a sense of the particulars of life at the Bryan prison camp, the Journal interviewed current and former inmates who have done time in the facility.

Most inmates who self-surrender, as Holmes is expected to do, arrive at Bryan’s main gate in private vehicles. From there, they are searched in a reception area, and escorted to the laundry room to receive their short-sleeved khaki uniforms.

The prison’s tradition is that new inmates do a 90-day stint in the kitchen, the inmates said, noting that there are exceptions. The job pays 12 cents an hour and is considered one of the prison’s most grueling, said Lynn Espejo, a former inmate from Arkansas who was convicted of defrauding a physician’s office where she worked. Espejo, who now works in advocacy on behalf of other inmates, maintains her innocence.

Other inmates work as groundskeepers, clerks or as telemarketers in a call center operated by BOP’s commercial arm, Unicor. But those who have been convicted of crimes such as wire fraud, like Holmes, are barred from the Unicor job, inmates said. A prize posting is in the commissary, where clerks get first dibs on items such as hot giardiniera ($2.80), crochet needles ($5.50 for five) and MP3 players ($88.40).

A small cadre of inmates also train black and yellow Labrador puppies for work as service dogs. The dogs live in kennels in their trainers’ rooms, inmates said.

Holmes once unsuccessfully sought to train her husky Balto, who she told associates was part wolf, as a search-and-rescue dog through a California volunteer program, former Theranos staffers said. Balto was later killed by a mountain lion, the father of Holmes’s children, Billy Evans, said in a letter to the court ahead of her sentencing.

Evans, their 22-month-old son and infant daughter would be able to visit Holmes every weekend—visiting hours are limited to weekends and holidays—the inmates said. The Bryan camp’s visiting room has a play area for children, and families can gather in an outdoor area near the facility’s entrance.

BOP policies say children under 10 can sit on their parents’ laps at Bryan, and women who breast-feed may do so in visitation areas, but any milk they pump between visits will be discarded. Photographers sometimes take family pictures in front of backdrops painted by other inmates—for instance, roses for Mother’s Day, inmates recalled.

Such visits can take a toll on mothers when they watch their children leave, said inmate Simone Swenson, who did time at Bryan for an adoption fraud conviction that she maintains was wrongful.

“Girls come back to the dorm, they’re crying, it is very hard,” said Swenson, who opted not to have her own child visit in-person during her seven-month stay.

Holmes would be one of the facility’s longer-term residents. The BOP spokesman said the average current inmate was serving a sentence of about 14 months. Many federal inmates are released early, thanks to rewards for good conduct and participation in other prison programs.

Among the prison’s limited amenities are outdoor televisions in a recreation pavilion and a jogging track. An inmate-run hair salon that has been closed since the pandemic is expected to be reopened soon, inmates said.

Swenson suggested that Holmes, who dropped out of Stanford in her sophomore year to launch Theranos, could also pass time by working toward her college degree. Blinn College, a public junior college, offers certificate programs in business management and accounting at the Bryan camp, its course catalog says.

Other inmates rely on their relatively free access to the digital world to educate themselves. Wade, the current inmate, said she has been reading books on artificial intelligence and learning how to use ChatGPT.

“I decided I wanted to learn something new while I was in here to keep my brain stimulated, so I’m having my family send me books,” Wade said.

Inmates also use their powers of invention to supplement the chow hall’s dreary offerings. Espejo, the former inmate, described making cheesecakes by mixing pudding packs and coffee creamer with lemon juice and crushing crackers to mold a crust in a plastic container. “Then you ice it down in your mop bucket,” she said.

Holmes, who lunched on green drinks, according to confidantes from her Theranos days, could stick to a vegetarian diet in part by cooking for herself using commissary ingredients, inmates said. In the dining hall, vegetables and a “no flesh” protein option are also served with every meal, they said.

Inmates in the facility live in rooms with two sets of bunk beds and no doors. The beds are metal framed with mattresses about as thick as the width of a hand, the inmates said.

The compound opens at 6 a.m., and inmates are allowed to leave their housing units, they said. They have to return to their dormitory several times a day to be counted—at 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.—and be in for the night by 8 p.m.

“They really control a lot of your day,” Wade said during a series of 10-minute interviews conducted over multiple hours because of prison protocols.

To use the phone, inmates must verify their identity to a voice-recognition program by stating “United States of America,” inmates said. Because the program could be glitchy, inmates would sometimes find themselves chanting the phrase in order to make a connection.

While boredom was a constant threat, violence at the hands of other prisoners or guards was rare, inmates said. Most fights were small, short-lived scuffles involving slapping and hair-pulling over disputes about girlfriends and commissary items, they said.

Such conflicts can mostly be avoided by keeping one’s head down and walking away, they said.

Inmates reported feeling safe, a prison auditor noted in 2021. The auditor wrote that the prison had one substantiated report of an inmate sexually assaulting another prisoner in the prior year, and no reports of staff-on-inmate abuse. One guard was convicted of having sex with an inmate in 2016.

While Holmes has attracted attention from some white-collar inmates, she is far from the most notorious among the broader prison population, the inmates told the Journal.

Jen Shah, a reality-TV star from “Real Housewives of Salt Lake City,” is serving a 5½-year prison sentence at the facility after pleading guilty for her role in a nationwide telemarketing scheme targeting elderly people.

Through her husband, she declined an interview with the Journal. He said she didn’t want to be quoted in an article that could also feature other current inmates. She has written multiple journal entries about her life so far in prison and published them online.

In one, she writes, “There are not that many kind people in this place.”

Other recent high-profile former inmates include Michelle Janavs, heiress to the Hot Pocket fortune, who was caught up in the Varsity Blues college-admission scandal, and Jenna Ryan, who participated in the 2021 Capitol riot. Both have been released after sentences of five months and 60 days, respectively.

An attorney for Janavs didn’t respond to requests for comment. Ryan said she was stuck in Covid quarantine for her entire sentence and “didn’t really get the true experience.”

“The girls are sweet, some of the guards were nice, some were mean,” Ryan said. “It is like a `Survivor’ episode; you have to make alliances, you have to play your cards right.”

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