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Bruce Porter

A Long Way Down

from the New York Times Magazine

You could hear the corrections officer jingle his chain and turn his heavy Folger Adam key in the lock before the door swung open and Jay Jones came walking into the visiting room. It's a big space with a lot of chairs but no exterior windows, so Jones had no way of knowing the sun shone brightly outside and high-up clouds were drifting over the grassland west of Oklahoma City. Dressed in forest-green pants and shirt, with white socks and black shoes, he looked more like the guy who comes to fix your dishwasher than an inmate of a federal institution. This was the Transfer Center of the United States Bureau of Prisons, the transportation hub for thousands of state and federal convicts passing through each year on their way from one prison to another. Jones was part of the "cadre," or group of inmates who dish up the meals, cut the grass, and generally keep the facility running. I had last seen him six months before, on June 30, 2003, in an upscale subdivision south of Tulsa where he wished good-bye to his wife and his daughter and his son-in-law standing on the steps of their house. He had changed considerably since then. His ruddy face had acquired the proverbial jailhouse pallor; he was down about twenty pounds, owing to his distaste for prison food. And he wasn't as quick to smile as he had been the previous spring.

Jones, who is sixty-two, was starting a five-year sentence for conspiracy in what amounted to corporate fraud. His former company, Commercial Financial Services, or CFS, had occupied fifty-one floors of the Cityplex Towers on the outskirts of Tulsa, which vied with the Bank of Oklahoma headquarters as the tallest building in the city. Its business involved buying bad credit-card loans from commercial banks, like Chase, Citibank, and MBNA, then chasing down cardholders and getting them to pay the money they owed. The idea was to collect more money than CFS paid the banks for the debt. CFS also bundled the loans into securities and sold these as bonds to raise the cash to buy more accounts. The crime Jones pleaded guilty to involved devising a scheme to make it appear as if the company was doing a better job collecting on the bad loans than it actually was, which would encourage investors to keep buying the bonds. When the truth came out, bond sales evaporated, the company went bankrupt, its four-thousand-odd employees lost their jobs and bondholders were left with more than $1 billion in near-worthless paper.

At his sentencing, Jones stood before the judge in Federal District Court in Tulsa, looking solemn and contrite, and said that he was sorry for what he had done. He apologized to the investors, apologized to his former employees, to the members of his family and to any others whom he had harmed, "either emotionally or financially." And, for sure, there is no argument that Jones was sorry for getting caught. In private moments, however, he betrays a bitterness over his treatment by the government, the veiled conviction that his transgression wasn't serious enough to deserve prison. "I did what I did, and there's a certain punishment that goes along with that; whether I realized it at the moment or not is kind of immaterial," he said a few months before going to jail, speaking in the tight, hurried-up twang characteristic of rural Oklahoma. "I certainly knew it was nefarious, a little wormy, unethical, make no mistake about that. But criminal? Whether I thought that or not, I can't remember; but I was certainly willing to take the risk. Fraud? Honestly, the first time I ever looked at that squarely in the face, in that light, was when the government brought it up. Here, it seemed like I was being a good soldier, saving the company. But when I was talking to the government about that, they said, 'No, you did it because of greed.' They said, 'No, you continued the deception, the fraud, to be able to continue selling the securitizations.' "

What happened to Jones and CFS received little play outside Tulsa and the financial trade press, but this kind of story has certainly become a familiar narrative on the American business scene. Bright prospect starts off in career, works hard to build successful enterprise, then one day, as if contracting a moral virus, turns from solid corporate citizen into closet criminal. And the startling thing about it is that until that news photo showing him being led away by federal marshals, the telltale overcoat draped over his handcuffs, not even the people who counted themselves as his most intimate acquaintances would have suspected a thing. Some of these defendants, of course, are coldblooded criminals underneath-psychopaths with MBAs. "As a white-collar criminal-defense lawyer, you occasionally meet people who just spend their lives going from one fraud to another and essentially rip people off whenever they can and don't care how many people they hurt," says Benjamin Braf-man, a defense lawyer in Manhattan whose client list has ranged from doctors, lawyers, and corporate executives to Michael Jackson and associates of the Gambino crime family of Brooklyn. Other kinds of business-class fraudsters, he says, become so successful and powerful that they can't imagine that the laws applying to others are also meant for them. "I've met people in different professions who are simply stunned by the suggestions that they are subject to prosecution, that they could end up in jail and the government would have the temerity to take them on."

In most of the cases he has handled, though, neither of the characterizations apply: "It's my experience that the preponderance of individuals caught up in criminal investigations in the white-collar arena are not what people would call evil. They do not get up that morning and decide, Today I'm going to commit a crime. Most of these are normal people who end up just getting caught in something that spins out of control."

As a rule, he has noticed, the more unassailable a person's background, the harder it is for him to take the fall. The boiler-room shark, the Mafia interloper in the business world-they seem capable of accepting punishment as just a disagreeable cost of doing business. But, Brafman says, "when a person with an impeccable history, with no prior experience in the criminal-justice system, suddenly finds himself under investigation or under indictment, his world completely collapses around him. It's much worse than being told you have a terminal illness, because when you're told you have a terminal illness, everyone who loves you rallies around you, and all of your friends and family offer support and compassion and help because they recognize they might soon lose you. But if you're suddenly indicted, you're a pariah. You bring embarrassment and shame into your home and into your extended family. You lose your business; you lose your money; you have the possibility of going to prison. The life support you counted on for your entire existence begins to disappear. It's a terrible, terrible thing. I've seen middle-aged people in my office grow old in front of my eyes. And I don't think anyone ever recovers from the experience."

I met Jay Jones in late January 2003, several months before he had to report to prison, and that winter and into the spring we spent a lot of time talking and driving around rural Oklahoma in his 1975 powder blue Cadillac Deville. He liked the Deville for the wideexpanseitgavehimbehindthewheel,andwedroveinitto visit some of the mile-markers in his life-down to Shawnee, where he and his wife, Jennifer, began their marriage; to Musko-gee, where he had started up the company with his business partner, Bill Bartmann. The driving helped distract him from thinking about what lay ahead. Trying to be helpful, a friend had given him a handbook called Down Time:A Guide to Federal Incarceration,writ-ten by an ex-inmate who counsels white-collar defendants. It told about a $175 monthly spending limit at the commissary, the three hundred monthly phone minutes and the rules on visitation. But it said little to ease the anxieties that ranked uppermost in Jones's mind. He had seen the prison movies. Would the guards down there be nasty to him? What about the other inmates? Would he be safe?

One morning we headed up to Blackwell, in the wheat-growing area near the Kansas line, where Jones spent his boyhood and where he hadn't visited in several decades. A thick wet snow was falling, so you couldn't tell where prairie left off and sky began. Blackwell loomed in the distance by virtue of its grain elevators shooting up at the south end of town. Driving onto Main Street, Jones was taken by how many of the old brick-front stores had gone out of business or had been replaced by curio shops offering up relics of the town's past. No more Sears, no more JC Penney. "A single Wal-Mart can pretty much clean out half of one of these little towns," he said. Jones came from humble origins and started out in the workaday world while still in his teens. His father spent most of his adult life as a route man for Wilson foods, taking meat orders from small-town butchers. He died of a heart attack at age fifty-seven while fixing up the camper truck he planned to take on fishing trips during retirement. To earn extra money, the whole family would go out on weekends picking pecans at local orchards. Jones's younger brother, Joe, about half his size, climbed up to shake down the nuts so the others could scrabble for them on the ground. Unlike his straight-arrow brother, Jay admits to taking a few financial shortcuts as a boy-stealing change out of the newspaper racks on Main Street, charging a carton of cigarettes at the corner store supposedly for his mother, then selling them to his friends. "Jay was more the adventurous one, more willing to go the route, take the risk," said Joe, now a preacher who teaches physical education at a college in Lawton,

Oklahoma. "I was more 'One in the hand is worth two in the bush.' His was 'Let's shake the bush and see what comes out.' "

Their boyhood differences persisted into later life. "Our folks grew up in the Depression and raised both of us that the object of life was to find a big company, a stable environment, find something that is solid and stay with it," said Jay, whose cheerful, jokey personality tends to mask the real thoughts churning around in his head. "Joe pretty much has done that, and I did for a long time, too, worked for Wilson foods for thirteen years and had a pretty decent job. But I just came to the conclusion one day that people who did well financially were those who had their own business, and I figured if I was ever going to do anything, I'd better get on with it. And so I did, and it's been a roller coaster ever since."

After failing at several different ventures, Jones ran into Bart-mann, a lawyer who had moved to Oklahoma from Des Moines and had gone bankrupt selling oil pipes. Together they started CFS in 1986 and in the next decade made it into a huge financial success. In addition to his regular salary of $1 million-and that was tax free, since every April the company also covered whatever he owed the IRS-Jones took an annual distribution from company profits to the tune of several millions more. And since CFS was a partnership and Jones owned 20 percent of the company, on paper his net worth added up to between $500 million and $1 billion.

In those months before prison, when he wasn't sleeping well and his eyes would blink open at two or three in the morning, Jones would sometimes kill the time until dawn by taking a sorry inventory of the material riches in his life that were now lost. He would think about the $5 million, fourteen-thousand-square-foot dream house that he and his wife had started building south of Tulsa. As conceived, it had granite walls and huge gables, a main staircase inspired by the one in Tara from Gone with the Wind and two artificial ponds connected by a waterfall. To people driving past, it would have looked as if someone had managed to airlift in a full-blown chateau from one of the wine regions of France. It didn't look that way at the moment, to be sure. Right then it sat forlornly in a field of mud, its siding wrapped in tar paper and its windows open to the rain and the snow. Around it was a chain-link fence with a big padlock on the gate and a sign advising people that the U.S. government had a lien on the property.

He also thought about those trips in the company's $25 million, fifteen-passenger Gulfstream G-IV, which he ordered up for spur-of-the-moment vacations for his wife and two grown daughters and their husbands and two or three other couples as well. Fly to Paris and the Caribbean, to Bulls games in Chicago, front-row-center seats, put it all on the company tab as a business expense. Give all that money to the government, it would only waste it. Most frequently, he and Jennifer flew to Las Vegas, where they both gambled heavily. Jones's game of choice was craps, and he could easily drop $30,000 in a weekend. Her husband playing craps is a picture that Jennifer still keeps in her head; she loved the way he would try to make a point, bent out over the table, his fist shaking with the dice and a foot flailing loose in the air. "I find it hard to describe what it was like," Jones said about being so suddenly so rich. "It was the realization when you walked into a store, no matter what kind of store it was, not that you could just buy anything you wanted but that you could buy the whole store! It was a feeling, I don't know if 'power' is the right word. More, I'd say, 'awe.' "

Another thing feeding on his mind those nights was how he might have provided his life story with a more positive ending. Aside from the criminality involved, the downfall of CFS had its roots in the company's very success. In the late nineties it grew so fast-from fewer than two hundred employees in 1995 to twenty times that number just three years later-that it lost the personal touch on the telephone that had produced such a high rate of return. Back in the early days when he and Bartmann were calling debtors, they developed a patter that was "sweet as peaches," Jones recalled. "First you get into their minds, let them know you're there and you're not going away. Then you get into their hearts, create a friend: 'I'm here to help you, not hurt you, harass you. We don't want to see you suffer. I been there myself; I know how it feels.' Then, after you get into their minds and their hearts, you get into their pocketbooks."

The ability CFS developed to wheedle money out of former deadbeats had generated an A rating for the bonds it sold to investors. That meant more money so CFS could buy more loans. But with collections beginning to flag in early 1997, it needed the bond money even more, not only for new loans but also to pay the interest and principal on previous bond issues that could no longer be covered by loan collections. In essence, CFS embarked on a garden-variety Ponzi scheme, borrowing hundreds of millions from new investors to pay off old ones, hoping somehow that collections would pick up in time to cover the difference. As a stopgap measure, CFS started selling off some of its loans to a firm in Chicago to make it appear to investors that its collectors were still reaching their monthly goals. That September, however, the Chicago company announced that it would buy no more loans, and CFS suddenly faced disaster.

What happened next is the thing Jones now regards with deepest regret. Although he founded the company with Bartmann, his main task as vice president had been to devise the computer program that rated the collectability of the loans; once that was done, he largely stayed on the sidelines, came into work when he wanted, practiced his guitar in the office. He recalled: "Here I am, sitting out there, fat and happy. I've got millions in the bank and many more millions in the company, and a gazillion dollars as far as net worth, I mean cash, unencumbered. When I was worrying about the cost of the house we were planning, the accountants told me, 'You fool, you're worth so much money you don't have to worry!'

"So in late September of ninety-seven, somehow I became aware the Chicago company is not going to buy any loans this month. Bill had this amazing ability to convince you to do something before you-I have a hard time describing this-but he could in some manner plant a thought in your mind to make it your idea before he proposed the idea or even brought it up. He's a great thinker, and somehow I became aware we are not going to reach our goals in September, and if we don't, I thought at the time, in all probability it's going to destroy our bond rating. So I said, 'Hell, I got the money in the bank, I'll buy 'em.' And Bill says, 'You can't do that, you're an insider.' And I said, 'What if I find somebody to do it for me?' And he said, 'Maybe.' " (Bartmann's attorney did not return calls.)

That very day, Jones recalls, he phoned a lawyer friend down in Shawnee and got him to set up a straw corporation called Dimat, into which Jones fed money from his share of CFS profits so that the company could begin purchasing loans from CFS as a replacement for the firm in Chicago. The scheme provided camouflage for a year, to the tune of $63 million in bogus loan purchases. Then in October 1998, an anonymous letter arrived at Standard and Poor's, one of the rating firms that had been giving CFS bonds their A rating. The letter revealed that Dimat was really a sham corporation and that all its "purchases" of CFS loans were a ruse, paid for by money from CFS itself, to give investors a false picture of the company's financial health. Virtually instantly, the market for CFS bonds dried up; with no cash coming in, the company defaulted on payments to previous bondholders. Bankruptcy ensued, and by the following July, CFS was no more.

Needless to say, this was not the way Jones thought things would turn out. In his mind, the Dimat scheme was only a temporary arrangement, to give CFS managers time to get collections up to their previously high level. "The choice was certainly mine, whether I fully realized it or not at the time," Jones told me. "That first time, when it started, the company wasn't in that bad trouble. But as it got further, I should have recognized that if we'd quit after the first two times, if we did that, there would still have been no harm, no foul. We could have simply said, 'Guys, we've missed the projections here.' We could have said, 'We're going home, and you've got to figure out what to do.' I wouldn't have liked that, it wouldn't have been great for investors, but certainly there would have been no criminal activity."

A blizzard of investor suits rained down on Jones and Bartmann-as well as its white-shoe law firm, Mayer Brown and Platt in Chicago, which had advised CFS on how to sell bonds based on nothing but deadbeat debt, and also Chase Securities, which had vouched for and sold many of those bonds. The workings of the fraud, however, proved so complicated that it took the U.S. attorney's office in Tulsa three more years, until the end of 2002, to sort things out. At that point, Bartmann-who owned 80 percent of the company and insisted that he knew nothing about the Dimat scam, that it was Jones's idea alone-was indicted on fifty-eight counts, including conspiracy, bank fraud, mail fraud, wire fraud, and money laundering, all of which added up to a possible seven hundred years in prison. Jones, on the other hand, was allowed to plead guilty to a single count of conspiracy as part of his agreement to testify against Bartmann, whose trial was set for the fall of 2003.

In Jones's mind, it was Bartmann's fault anyway that the company had ended up selling more bonds than it had the capacity to pay off. A take-no-prisoners entrepreneur and a mesmerizing salesman, Bartmann harbored a streak of grandiosity remarkable even given the brash and bold style of Oklahoma's business world. On out-of-town trips, he traveled with an entourage of armed security men who talked in code words over Secret Service-style radiophones. And for one company outing, he chartered a fleet of Boeing 747s to fly some three thousand CFS employees and their spouses to Las Vegas for the weekend, gave them each $500 to spend at the tables, and then strode onstage for a pep rally at the Thomas and Mack arena dressed as Julius Caesar. "Instead of selling a bond issue for, say, $200 million, if we had sold it for $100 million, the company would still have prospered and grown, not as dynamically, but the collection goals would have been achievable," Jones said. "But 'Nooo, we can't do that.' Bartmann had bought and sold stuff his whole life, and if he could sell something for ten, you'd be a fool to take five. My former partner, if I had to describe him in three or four words, it would be, 'He always tended to take a bridge too far.' "

If Bartmann was the one who steered the company into choppy water, it was Jones who proposed breaking the law to get it out, an action the government insisted came out of pure avarice. When it comes to looking out for himself, Jones seems to allow a degree of moral wiggle. After he had to stop construction of his dream house, he bought a Gothic stone structure in South Tulsa for $750,000 in cash and then put it in his wife's name. Should any of those angry investors persist in coming after him for recompense after he gets out of prison, he also shielded himself by making Jennifer go through a divorce of convenience last spring and asked the judge to set alimony at $7,500 a month. If a court ruled that the alimony took precedence over Jones's enormous debts, the first $7,500 he might someday make each month could effectively be his.

His daughter Holly, thirty-six, a graduate of Oklahoma State University who for a while worked as a midlevel manager at CFS, says that she thinks there was also a psychological dimension to why her father did what he did, something deeper than avarice. "What he did was totally plausible to me," said Holly, who lives in Dallas with her husband and who gave birth to Jones's first granddaughter shortly after he went to prison. "I had seen some of the fights Dad and Bill had had. Dad ended up doing nothing. They excluded him from everything, future planning. He sat there and watched TV and played his guitar. As humble as he is, he's just like any other person who likes to think he's important. I can see my dad would do this for Bill by virtue of the fact that here was his chance to say: 'Hey, I'm doing something. I'm making a difference. I'm helping to save the company.' "

Maybe some of that's true. But Jones also admits that along with saving the company, he had this other idea of taking over those $63 million in CFS loans himself-the ones that he had bought surreptitiously through Dimat-and setting up a junior version of CFS in Nevada as his own company, handy to the gambling casinos.

He even formed a shell corporation for this purpose called Card Services of Nevada. "The plan was that I'd leave CFS, and it pretty much stayed as that throughout the whole period. Then one day that anonymous letter bubbles up."

Winter passed into spring, a lushly green period in eastern Oklahoma, and Jones was trying to keep himself busy. He bought a smoker, which he used for practice in barbecuing great slabs of meat, thinking that maybe he would open a rib-and-country-music place after he got out of prison. He also worked on a list of things he had long wanted to do but had never found the time for-seeing the Chicago Cubs play at Wrigley Field, taking a rafting trip down the Snake River in Idaho. Jennifer, meanwhile, often sat alone at home, not holding up so well. For one thing, she had acquired a bad case of paranoia, imagining that out of anger over her husband's coming testimony, Bartmann was devising ways to harm the Jones family. She feared that people hired by Bartmann were following her while she was out on shopping trips. Returning home, she was sure a Bartmann intruder had been in the house and had moved things around in the kitchen to frighten her. Her doctor put her on Klonopin and Paxil, and she took Ambien so she could sleep. She was also drinking more than her daughters thought was useful, and she began to see a psychotherapist. "I'm still feeling numb, so I can't tell sometimes if I have any feelings at all," she said. "Dr. Fer-raro says I need to make more concrete plans about what my life is going to be like after Jay's gone. He says, 'What I want you to do for us is to think of ways you're going to live.' But sometimes I just get to crying-like I missed an appointment with Dr. Ferraro because all I did that day was I didn't get out of bed, just spent the day crying."

Whatever its ups and downs, her married life ranked as a definite improvement over what she had been through as a child growing up in Shawnee. The family lived next door to the Sinclair filling station run by her father, who was a fearsome drinker and a womanizer and had wreaked havoc on the family, right until he committed suicide in his garage via carbon monoxide fumes. A brother she had been close to died in an automobile accident; her sister was murdered by her husband with a shotgun. At the end, her family had dwindled down to just her mother and her. "I went from my mother's house when I was eighteen to marry Jay Jones, and I have never been alone my whole life," she said that spring. "I don't want to live in this house by myself. It's just so big, and I'm terrified of being alone. There are so many places for people to hide."

Along with her fears of being alone, Jennifer nurses a deep and growing anger at her husband-not quite so much for how he wrecked their lives as for not telling her about his crime until the day after he made his plea bargain with the government and knew he was going to prison. "When this first unfolded for me, I didn't understand a lot about what happened, because I couldn't really understand what CFS did in the first place," said Jennifer, who talks in a little-girl voice that is sometimes hard to hear. The three of us sat in their family room. Forsythia bloomed all over their yard, and Miss Celie, their fluffy Maltese, pranced around the inch-thick white carpet in front of a giant TV set. "Really, I don't know what you did, Jay," she said, gazing at her husband across the room. "If I had to tell people what my husband did for a living, this is what I would say: he bought loans at a certain percentage and sold them for more. That's all I could tell you. And Jay did not tell me about what happened until the night before he had an appointment with his lawyer, who was going to tell me about it the next day. But somehow Jay blurted it out that night, that he was in trouble. He told me the details, but all I can remember taking from that is he did something wrong. I always told him, when he went with Bill Bartmann: 'You've got to tell me. I've got to be in on the decisions.' And he never told me, because if he had told me, if anything had been suggested that was improper, in any way, I would have said, 'No!' I really believe that's why I was always left out. Of everything. I know it was the reason."

After his case hit the front page of the Tulsa World,Jay more or less went directly to ground. He stopped attending services, for instance, at the Harvard Avenue Christian Church, a modern brick edifice where his younger daughter, Terri, taught preschool and where he usually sat front and center with his wife on Sundays, singing loud enough for everyone to distinguish his voice. "It's kind of like someone dies," he said. "What do you say? 'Sorry for your loss'? I just didn't want the people I would come into contact with to have to come up with some kind of statement like that."

His minister, the Rev. Stephen Wallace, was one of the few people the U.S. attorney allowed Jones to talk to about details of his plea bargain, and Jones went to see him right after he knew it was all going to be made public. "Mainly what I did was listen and ask, How can we be helpful to Jennifer and the daughters?" Wallace told me. The Jones family was also on the church's "telecare" list, which meant they would get called every now and then to see if they wanted a prayer said for them in absentia. Jones wasn't his first congregant to run afoul of the law by any means, but Wallace found this sort of counseling somewhat challenging. "How do you show mercy on the one hand-'You're a cared-for person; you're an important person in God's eyes; God sees us all as precious'-but at the same time say that what they did was wrong, it was hurtful to a lot of people? Sometimes people are willing to accept that kind of thing and sometimes not. They say, 'I didn't do anything,' and a lot of times you don't know what really did happen. But since Jay's consistently said, 'I messed up here,' it made it easier. We could move on to a message of forgiveness and grace and then repentance."

As the reporting date closed in, Jay and Jennifer began to peel away their early hopes that some kind of miracle would keep him from going away. On May 9 of last year, when the federal judge put his imprimatur on the sentencing deal, Jennifer relinquished her illusion that maybe he would get some sort of house-arrest arrangement. Quite to the contrary, she learned, unlike the state variety, federal sentences are served in full, with no possibility of parole.

The most Jones could hope for was a 15 percent reduction for good behavior, which meant the earliest he would be out was the end of September 2007. In a letter sent to his lawyer, Jones's doctor tried to get him special consideration, saying he was deeply concerned about what prison might do to his health. He had suffered two heart attacks, after all, in 1986 and 1998, the last around the time he learned of the anonymous letter to the rating agencies, and was taking three different medications for high blood pressure. Jones's lawyer, Robert Nigh, a former public defender who represented Timothy McVeigh in the unsuccessful appeal of his death sentence, recommended against sending the letter on to the Bureau of Prisons. Their likely response would be to assign Jones to a special medical facility out of state, which would make family visits difficult.

Neither was Jones getting any comfort from his prison handbook, which suggested that his agreement to testify for the government at the Bartmann trial in September would not exactly endear him to the other inmates. "The only-I guess 'disturbing' would be the right word-thing out of the whole book that I saw would be, and it's just something I'll have to deal with, I guess, is they don't like rats," he said early in June as we drove the Deville down to check out a barbecue place outside of Shawnee. "One thing the author seems to focus on is keep to yourself, mind your own business, leave everything alone and don't rat anyone out, which is understandable. But I guess I'll just have to risk that, and I could justify that by saying I guess I'd rather get the [expletive] beat out of me four or five times than I would spending another fifteen or twenty years in jail."

On Friday, June 27, with just three more days to go before prison, Jones announced that he would like to put on his special electric blue Porter Wagoner suit and his high-crown white cowboy hat-his Tom Mix hat, he calls it-and drive up to play country music that night in Chelsea, fifty miles north of Tulsa. Jones has played the guitar ever since he was a boy, mostly songs from the fifties and sixties dealing with loss, heartbreak and premature death of girlfriends and close relatives. His suit had been tailor-made by the famous Manuel of Nashville, sewn with thousands of sequins in a gambling motif, with cards and dice and dollar signs. It cost $10,000 and was in the style of the one Manuel had made for Wagoner to wear at Grand Ole Opry shows. He had worn it only three or four times since he bought it in 1997, which was obvious that night from the difficulty he had buckling his trousers.

Jones would play country music anywhere they allowed him to, but he particularly liked going up to Chelsea because hardly anyone knew him there. The gig was at the civic center near the Burlington Northern railroad tracks, where every Friday night thirty or forty farm couples, many in their seventies and eighties, gather for potluck supper and to push and pull one another around the dance floor. Jones usually plays backup rhythm, but this time he stepped up to the mike to employ his thin, reedy voice in service of a blue-grass song that started off "There's a cabin in the pines in the hills of Caroline/and a blue-eyed girl is waiting there for me." During a smoking break outside, he took some ribbing about how Porter Wagoner must be missing his suit by now, when the lead guitarist in the group, who hits more than seven feet in his boots and cowboy hat, slipped Jones a piece of paper with his name and address on it and said quietly, out of anyone's hearing, "You write me a letter, and I'll write ya' back."

June 30 started with a blinding rainstorm that for half an hour forced cars on the freeways encircling Tulsa to pull off to the side. Jennifer had taken two Ambiens the night before, but still didn't manage to sleep. Jones was awakened at 4:00 a.m. by the cat pouncing on his chest. The prison wanted him there by noon, and I volunteered to drive him the two hours down to Oklahoma City because friends had advised it would be too wrenching for the family to drop Jones off. Holly wasn't there because the doctor said that she was too close to her delivery date to travel up from Dallas. Jay's younger daughter Terri, twenty-nine, arrived with her husband, Jay Q., and a dozen Krispy Kreme doughnuts, while Jones attended to a list of last things to do. Yes, he fitted a fresh propane tank onto the cooker out on the deck. Yes, he canceled his cell phone, and he told Jennifer where to go in case of a tornado. Get down into that little closet in the basement, where she keeps Miss Celie's dog food, he says. The whole house can blow away, and that room will still be standing.

Terri started reading out of the prison manual. "Daddy, it says to take your eyeglasses and a lot of change for the vending machine."

"Sweetheart, they don't let you have money."

"Yes, they do, and you can take your wedding ring and-" Jennifer cut in to tell him not to forget his medicine.

"Mom, I don't know if you can take your medicine," Terri said. This made Jennifer start to cry.

"He has to take his medicine."

"No, he can take his eyeglasses, he can take his Bible or a religious medal and he can take his wedding ring, as long as it doesn't have any stones, and that's it."

As it neared 9 a.m., Jones wanted to get going, get it over with. He hates good-byes. "Jennifer, if it comes down to it, and you have a choice to make between taking the advice of some psychologist or your daughters, take your daughters' advice. They know you better."

Jennifer wasn't hearing much because she was sobbing uncontrollably. "Oh, Jay," she said. "You know, this is the first time I haven't had to pack for you when you're going somewhere."

They hugged for two or three minutes at the front door, and then Jones broke off and got in the car and waved.

Home for Jones now is an eight-foot-by-fourteen-foot room in F pod on the seventh floor of the Transfer Center, a newly constructed high-rise near the Will Rogers World Airport. It has orange brick walls and tall slit windows, eight inches wide, that from a distance look like the loopholes in a medieval castle. He sleeps in the top bunk and shares a toilet and writing desk with his cellmate, a fifty-six-year-old white-collar offender also from Tulsa. (Following the advice in his handbook, Jones doesn't want to say what crime he committed.) Like Jones, permanent members of the service cadre are doing time mostly for nonviolent offenses-parole violators on drug charges, counterfeiters, child pornographers-and no fighting is tolerated. The only major fight on Jones's pod so far occurred one morning when he was awakened by two inmates trading blows just outside his door, spattering blood all over the day-room floor. From what Jones heard, it was over a piece of chicken smuggled in from the kitchen. Both men were taken immediately to the special housing unit, or "hole," and shortly thereafter transferred to a higher-level institution.

For a time, Jones's job was in the prison library, where he photocopied pages for inmates' law cases and wheeled around the book cart. He regarded it as the highlight of his day, taken up otherwise by watching TV and playing endless rounds of bridge and pinochle with three of the older inmates. Recently, he was reassigned as an orderly on the "smoke deck," an outdoor area covered with razor wire where he picks up butts and wipes down tables. His family sends him books, but he never got much pleasure out of reading. "Weekends are the hardest because of the utter boredom," he says. "You don't work, but you get up at the same time because you can only sleep for so long, and then there's nothing to do."

His spirits rose considerably last August when the chaplain issued him an old guitar to practice with in his room so he could play along with the hymns during the Thursday and Sunday services. He lost the guitar, though, when he was transferred to the Tulsa County Jail for the Bartmann trial and it was given to someone else. Adding to his disappointment was the fact that unlike Jones, Bartmann ended up getting off without any punishment. The government put up fifty-three witnesses and spent thirty-eight trial days laying out its case, but besides what Jones had to say, its evidence was all circumstantial. After a week of deliberation, the jury decided that the U.S. attorney had not proved beyond a reasonable doubt that Bartmann knew anything about the Dimat scam. They voted to acquit.

Jones's testimony for the government was covered heavily in the Tulsa paper, which meant it got all over the prison. A few of the inmates now snub him in the cafeteria. But not many, he says. "The rat issue is one that doesn't bother me," he says. "There is a certain population, very small, maybe ten percent, that that would bother. But the people who have a problem with it are generally not the people I would care very much about anyway."

Jones's visits from family members-spread among Jennifer and his daughters and his brother Joe, they average one every weekend- also come with a certain amount of discomfort. Depending on the guard's mood of the day, Jones may or may not be required to strip naked after the visit and bend over in a duck squat so that anything secreted in his anal cavity would drop out onto the floor. The one plus side of prison is that he is now getting a full night's sleep, "better than I have for four years," he says. "After all, I've got no worries anymore. The only worries you have are the ones you create, and it's hard to create one in here. It's a very controlled, very organized environment. Anticipation of the unknown was a factor before, and now that that's been realized, there's nothing left. It is what it is, and you learn to live with it."

As for Jennifer, to the general surprise of her family, she seems to be doing just fine. "I've enjoyed myself, going to movies, out to dinner," she said last December, as Miss Celie still pranced about on the plush carpet. Outside there was a for-sale sign on the lawn, and Jennifer had been looking for a smaller place near Holly's in Dallas. "I wondered what it would be like, being without a man, but it's kind of fun," she said. "Do you know every strong relationship that I had with another woman Jay has always made fun of?" She now sees Dr. Ferraro only every other Thursday and misses no more appointments because she is in bed crying. "Right now we're going through my hate for my husband," she said. "I love him, but I get so mad at him-thinking what he did just boggles my mind sometimes. Dr. Ferraro suggested that when the time is right I write Jay a letter and tell him how I feel. Sometimes when I go see him, I want to tell him: 'Yes, it's hugs and kisses and love right here, but I can't tell you how I feel in front of the inmate population and the guards. Sometime we've got to discuss that.'

"This is a big and brand-new experience for me. I don't have as much animosity toward Bill as I did. When you get down to it, Jay has to accept responsibility for his actions, and he can't blame it on somebody else. He says, 'I'm sorry; I don't know why I did it.' He can say that all he wants, but I think he thinks everything is hunky-dory, which it isn't. You know I love him, and I'm not going to leave him. It's just that saying 'I'm sorry' sometimes is not enough."

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