Residents of this small community are adjusting to having celebrity homemaker Martha Stewart as their neighbor in the federal prison camp outside town, where the maven of good taste says “everyone is nice.”
“Things have calmed down,” said Shirley Nichols in the mayor’s office. “The only difference now is fans are calling to get her address.”
Curiosity-seekers still arrive in the town of 1,000 people in the Appalachian hills of southeastern West Virginia, about 270 miles southwest of Washington, to see where Stewart will spend the next five months for lying about a stock sale.
“With Martha here and the fall season, it is easy for people to say “Let’s take a drive there,”’ said Patti Grafton, owner of Wolf Creek Gallery.
The 63-year-old Stewart slipped into the Alderson Federal Prison Camp, the nation’s oldest prison for women, on Oct. 8. She is expected to remain until March 6. During her first two weeks, Stewart is undergoing an indoctrination period to learn about the camp and its way of life for about 1,000 inmates.
In a message posted Friday on her Web site, she said she is adjusting well to the prison and described it as “like an old-fashioned college campus — without the freedom, of course.”
“The camp is fine; it is pretty much what I anticipated,” she wrote. “The best news — everyone is nice — both the officials and my fellow inmates. I have adjusted and am very busy.”
“Your goodwill and best wishes will get me through this next chapter in my life,” she added.
The minimum-security facility covers 105 acres of rolling countryside along the Greenbrier River, about 115 miles from the state’s capital, Charleston.
It opened in 1927 and inmates have included singer Billie Holiday, World War II figures Tokyo Rose and Axis Sally, and would-be presidential assassins Squeaky Fromme and Sara Jane Moore.
Newcomers like Stewart are assigned to “cottages,” four-wing buildings with 125 bunks per wing, that also house women undergoing drug treatment and inmates with health problems or disabilities.
In an accommodation to her age, Stewart was assigned to a lower bunk. After her orientation period, she could be moved to the 500-bed dormitory. Her personal items must fit inside a footlocker. Inmates must wear prison-issued khaki trousers and green shirts.
Guests are allowed during visiting hours on weekends, and Stewart’s daughter, Alexis Stewart, reportedly was here for her mother’s first weekend. Townspeople say there are rumors that Alexis Stewart is shopping for a place to stay in the area to be close to her mother, possibly a 70-acre farm a few miles from town or a house on the grounds of The Greenbrier, a luxurious mountain resort at Lewisburg.
Families visiting the prison this past weekend declined to talk about Stewart.
But the inmates had been anticipating her arrival, said Neta Roush, a retired psychologist who works with inmates who volunteer for civic projects in the town.
“They were pleased and felt she would be welcomed,” Roush said.
During her stay, Roush said, Stewart will be required to get up at 5 a.m. and work from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Stewart probably won’t be given a job assignment until after her indoctrination period.
“They will be lucky to have her in the kitchen,” said 24-year-old Alderson resident Nathan Sams, who describes himself as a devoted Stewart fan. “Even with prison-quality stuff, she will make a five-star presidential meal out of it.”