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PLN associate editor Alex Friedmann quoted in article re TN prisons

Tennessean, Oct. 14, 2006.
PLN associate editor Alex Friedmann quoted in article re TN prisons - Tennessean 2006

March begins time in Weststate prison

10 years of trials, family upheavals lead to final stop

Staff Writer

Published: Saturday, 10/14/06

It's a far cry from his former 5,000-square-foot dream house in Forest Hills, but it's Perry March's new home.

Prison officials Friday moved the former Nashville lawyer from a temporary correctional facility in west Nashville to a penitentiary in the far northwest corner of the state.

The Lake County prison is one of the tougher prisons in Tennessee, said one former inmate who spent time there.

"It's known for being one of the more serious, hard-core violent facilities," said Alex Friedman, a Nashville man who spent time at the prison for armed robbery and attempted murder. "It has a lot of gang members."

An advocate who works with prisoners' families agreed.

"It's been known for gangs for quite some years," said Alice Arceneux, executive director of Reconciliation Ministries, a Nashville-based organization that provides services for family members of Tennessee prisoners.

March was sentenced to 56 years in prison for killing his wife, plotting the deaths of her parents and stealing from his former Nashville law firm.

The prison, including the 8-foot-by-10-foot cell with one commode, one sink and one roommate, will be a sharp contrast to the life March used to live.

Ten years ago March, 45, was an up-and-coming lawyer living in his wife's meticulously designed country French home. But his wife, Janet March, disappeared in August 1996 and he left town for Chicago after police named him a suspect in her disappearance. Her body has never been found.

The house at 3 Blackberry Road and surrounding four acres sold for more than $726,000 in 1997.

In 1999, March moved from Chicago to the waterside resort town of Ajijic, Mexico, where he remarried. He lived there until August 2005, when he was deported from that country to the U.S. and arrested for the murder of his former wife.

With Reelfoot Lake just miles outside the walls of the Tiptonville, Tenn., prison, March finds himself once again living near water. But recreation won't include the world-class hunting and fishing that draw outdoorsmen from all over to that part of the state.

Breakfast begins at 6:30 a.m., followed by job, school and recreation, according to a prison schedule released by state officials.

March doesn't have an in-custody job yet, a prison official said in an e-mail. If the graduate of Vanderbilt University Law School wants to be a legal assistant, he'll have to wait for an opening. His legal skills, however, could be sought after by many of the other inmates.

March is among 15 percent of inmates at the facility who committed a murder, according to prison records. But killing your wife isn't one of the crimes frowned upon by inmates, such as child rape, so March should not be in immediate danger of attack by fellow prisoners, Friedman said.

"The basic rules for staying safe is you have nothing to do with drugs, you don't get into debt, you follow the unspoken rules of the facility, you don't snitch," said Friedman, who is now associate editor of the Seattle-based Prison Legal News magazine.

The prison on average houses about 2,300 male inmates a day.

March is classified as a medium-security prisoner.

Contrary to popular belief, prison is going to be much better than both jail and the state prisoner classification center he's been housed in since a judge imposed his sentence last month.

"You get to go outside a lot more," Friedman said. "The food is generally an enormous improvement."

Jails are typically dark and boring places that don't allow for as much recreation or self-improvement classes.

"So it lets you pretty much get on with your life," Friedman said. "It's simply going to be a life within prison."

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