Hey Lance! Take It From Me: Prison’s a Bitch.

You’re going to prison, buddy, so you might as well get used to it. Mansfield Frazier tells Lance Armstrong to take his advice on how to get it over with as quickly as possible.

Riccardo S. Savi/Gatty

You had to know this was coming.

Lance Armstrong may have thought his little Tour de Oprah would set him on the road to redemption (and, more important, to reinstatement in the world of competitive racing), but there were so many inconsistencies and omissions in his “admissions” that he’d have to be delusional not to know that the feds weren’t done with him.

It’s true the federal prosecutor in Los Angeles dropped the case against him a year ago, but Armstrong’s weaselly faux-contrite confession last month no doubt aggravated the hell out of other prosecutors, who are now following up with an investigation into possible witness tampering, obstruction, and intimidation.

So what’s the bottom line? I’ve spent plenty of time in the joint, and I’ll tell you this: Lance Armstrong’s path to redemption is going to pass through a federal prison. The only question is how long it takes him to realize this.

When Armstrong sat there across from Oprah and said he didn’t dope his blood after 2005, in spite of the solid evidence that he continued the practice until at least 2009, he essentially sealed his fate. He had to know the evidence was out there, but since it didn’t fit the story he’s been telling all of us (not to mention himself) for so many years, he simply ignored it.

See, Lance may think he’s special, but the truth is that a good number of the men I served time with in federal prison engaged in the exact same behavior: revising their history in order to exculpate themselves, to somehow excuse or mitigate their crimes.

One guy, Keith Embry, was a tax protester, one of those folks who maintain they are right and the law is wrong on taxes because not enough states ratified the 16th Amendment. While federal prisons are full of such delusional dudes, Embry became a legend on the compound because when he went in front of the parole board, he took with him such a huge stack of documents that he needed a hand truck to cart them all. He then proceeded to instruct the members of the board on how they, too, could avoid paying their federal income taxes. Seriously.

Then there was Bill Robinson, a former Chicago cop who was doing a 30-year bid for robbing and killing drug dealers. Robinson convinced himself the parole board was going to believe that he was actually an avenging angel, dedicated to keeping his neighborhood free of those dastardly dealers. He forgot the part about selling the drugs he stole.

For a long time I thought I was the only person in prison who was actually guilty of anything.

Armstrong’s problem, like Embry’s and Robinson’s, is that he’s been lying so ferociously for so long (and, up until now, getting away with it), that he might not know what the truth is anymore. When you’re living in a world of your own making, a house of cards built out of your own manipulative lies—well, reality can be a bitch.

But while I’m not sure Armstrong is capable of understanding the gravity of his situation, even after his lawyer explains it to him, he certainly wouldn’t be the first dude to think he’s bulletproof. So a lot will depend on his ability to mentally shift gears as fast as he was able to do on those expensive bicycles he rode.

It’s almost a Zen-like quality: you have to give over complete control of your future—and most likely your body, at least for a time—to someone else. In prison, when the guards are going to cuff you, they will say, “Don’t buck.” It means: “Don’t resist, don’t fight against us, because you’re not going to win.”

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If Armstrong is sharp, he won’t buck. He’ll have his lawyer step to the feds and negotiate with them to find a low-level felony he can cop to, and then negotiate a guilty plea to “all known and unknown crimes.” In this way, prosecutors can’t keep coming back at him every time they roll over another rock in his life and something ugly crawls out from under it.

Yes, this might mean admitting to whatever the feds want to charge him with, but really, what difference does it make? It’s like being a little bit pregnant—either you’re a felon or you’re not.

Hell, I once told a Secret Service agent that I’d admit to starting the Great Chicago Fire of 1906 as long as my sentence wasn’t going to be more than 18 months.

Once he’s gotten that done, Armstrong can check into a Club Fed, get out of the media glare, and do his punk-assed six months, knowing that when he gets out he won’t be facing any additional criminal charges.

And while he’s in the joint, he might at least try to learn how to cry: the American public likes tears, even fake ones.