updated 10/27/2011 11:15:23 AM ET 2011-10-27T15:15:23

Disgraced financier Bernie Madoff has told an interviewer he has terrible remorse and horrible nightmares over his epic fraud, but also said he feels happier in prison than he's felt in 20 years.

Barbara Walters told ABC's "Good Morning America" on Thursday that she interviewed Madoff for two hours at the prison in Butner, N.C., where he's serving a 150-year sentence. No cameras were allowed in the prison.

Walters said Madoff told her he thought about suicide before being sent to prison. But since he's been there, he no longer thinks about it.

His comments come ahead of his wife's appearance Sunday's episode of CBS' "60 Minutes." Ruth Madoff said in excerpts that they tried to kill themselves after he admitted stealing billions of dollars in the largest Ponzi scheme in history.

Walters quoted Madoff as saying: "I feel safer here (in prison) than outside. I have people to talk to, no decisions to make. I know I will die in prison. I lived the last 20 years of my life in fear. Now, I have no fear because I'm no longer in control."

She also said he told her he understands why his one-time clients hate him, and that the average person thinks he "robbed widows and orphans." But he also told her, "I made wealthy people wealthier."

Ruth Madoff's appearance on "60 Minutes" will be her first interview since her husband's December 2008 arrest. She says they had been receiving hate mail and "terrible phone calls" and were distraught.

"I don't know whose idea it was, but we decided to kill ourselves because it was so horrendous what was happening," she says in the interview, according to excerpts released by CBS.

She says it was Christmas Eve, which added to their depression, and she decided: "I just can't go on anymore."

She says the couple took "a bunch of pills" including the insomnia prescription medication Ambien, but they both woke up the next day. She says the decision was "very impulsive" and she's glad they didn't die.

The couple's son Andrew Madoff also will talk about his experience.

Another son, Mark Madoff, hanged himself by a dog leash last year on the anniversary of his father's arrest. Like his parents, he had swallowed a batch of sleeping pills in a failed suicide attempt 14 months earlier, according to his widow's new book, "The End of Normal: A Wife's Anguish, A Widow's New Life."

Bernie Madoff was arrested on Dec. 11, 2008, the morning after his sons notified authorities through an attorney that he had confessed to them that his investment business was a multibillion-dollar Ponzi scheme. He admitted cheating thousands of investors. He pleaded guilty to fraud charges.

Madoff, who's in his 70s, ran his scheme for at least two decades, using his investment advisory service to cheat individuals, charities, celebrities and institutional investors.

An investigation found Madoff never made any investments, instead using the money from new investors to pay returns to existing clients — and to finance a lavish lifestyle for his family. Losses have been estimated at around $20 billion, making it the biggest investment fraud in U.S. history.

Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Video: Two Madoff victims living on pensions, Social Security

  1. Transcript of: Two Madoff victims living on pensions, Social Security

    BRIAN WILLIAMS, anchor: And speaking of disconnects, the man who got filthy rich in a Ponzi scheme at the expense of so many people and so many charities is back in the news tonight, his family is as well, and many of the people who suffered so much are outraged that the Madoffs are now once again getting so much attention. The story from NBC 's Ron Allen .

    RON ALLEN reporting: Retirees Judith Welling and Dewitt Baker now live on pensions and social security . Gone is $2 1/2 million invested with Bernie Madoff .

    Ms. JUDITH WELLING: We are rather, at this point though, resentful of the Madoff family looking for sympathy.

    Mr. DEWITT BAKER: Oh, God.

    ALLEN: When Madoff faced a judge almost three years ago for orchestrating an estimated $80 billion Ponzi scheme , and charities alone lost a billion dollars, his victims gathered at the courthouse, their outrage clear.

    Unidentified Man: I think the only thing he's sorry about is that he got caught.

    ALLEN: And now many feel victimized again as the Madoffs do television interviews talking about their own tough times while launching books with their side of the story.

    Ms. RUTH MADOFF: We took pills and woke up the next day.

    ALLEN: Madoff 's estranged wife Ruth talking about how the couple tried to commit suicide, and Bernie Madoff in a jailhouse interview.

    Ms. BARBARA WALTERS: And so he is happier there than he was on the outside.

    ALLEN: And Mrs. Madoff tells her story live on the "Today" show Monday.

    Mr. RICHARD FRIEDMAN (Madoff Victim): I don't think anything the Madoffs say, ever, you can really believe in because they've been proven liars.

    Ms. CYNTHIA FRIEDMAN (Madoff Victim): It just makes me ill. It really does.

    ALLEN: Richard and Cynthia Friedman say they're still trying to figure out how much they lost while putting off retirement. And today reaction to the Madoff interviews has been spiking on Internet news websites and social media , with more Madoff victims venting. "Did they try to smother themselves in a big bag of money," writes a woman in California who says she lost millions. Welling and Baker say they've received a small amount of compensation money, but they're in the minority. Most victims can only hope the Madoffs ' books raise more money that somehow find its way to them. Ron Allen , NBC News, New York.

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