Unless Felicity Huffman accepts the 4- to 10-month prison term recommended by the prosecutors, she faces a life sentence of scorn.
Wherever she goes, she will be a person of putrid privilege. She will have escaped punishment after paying $15,000 to give her daughter a dishonest edge at getting into college. And she will have done so at the expense of students who, in the words of the apology that accompanied her decision to plead guilty, “work hard every day to get into college, and to their parents who make tremendous sacrifices to support their children and do so honestly.”
Honest students and parents far, far outnumber the cheaters and she will be sure to encounter them at every turn. If she manages to stay out of prison, her apology will seem to have been just part of a successful effort to avoid consequences for her actions.
But if she does the four months, she will be somebody who did the time for her crime, however short that time may have been.
And everybody from People Magazine to CNN will no doubt be clamoring to interview her about the big lessons she learned in the big house. Just imagine her telling a talk show host about the moment she first found herself actually in a prison cell.
Witness what happened with Martha Stewart.
Back when Stewart was indicted for insider trading in 2003, she fell into instant disgrace, becoming a paragon not of taste, but of greed. Viacom dropped her show. Shares in her company fell. She was forced to step down as CEO.
Stewart was acquitted for insider trading, but found guilty of lying to federal investigators. She then went off to prison for five months and rehabbed herself.
Upon her release, Stewart was suddenly bigger than ever. She was interviewed by Matt Lauer and by Barbara Walters. Vanity Fair gushed, “Even before her first sip of coffee, Stewart is full of energy and shockingly forthright.” She appeared on the cover of Fortune with the headline:
Martha Stewart: From Prison to Prime Time: ‘I cannot be destroyed’
Stewart even lost 10 pounds behind bars with an exercise regimen that included doing crunches with a cellmate from Boston known as “Little Italy.”
The crafty ex-con now has a new deal with Aerosoles and a show with Snoop Dogg that prompted The New Yorker to suggest she is a “comedy genius.”
One person who understands the benefits that can come even with significant prison time for a celebrity is is radio shock jock Craig Carton, who was hit with 40 months last week for a scheme to pay off gambling debts with a multimillion-dollar scam involving concert tickets. He nonetheless reasoned aloud that he will come out and resume being “number one.”
“Going to prison, acknowledging what I’ve done wrong, taking full ownership of it… And being real about that, I think will have great credibility, especially with a male-dominated audience in New York,” he said on ESPN.
He went on, “I think we believe as a society in second chances. Things I’ll do publicly and privately I think you’ll buy into my changed ways.”
Huffman could accomplish much the same with as few as four months. She might not make the cover of Fortune, but she could get a big splash in People.
But if Huffman’s lawyers prevail and she gets off with no time, all that awaits her is scorn without parole.