The colors are almost eerily similar. But no, former star New England Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez did not trade in his red, white and blue for the green and white of the rival New York Jets. The all-green jumpsuit he wears these days are strictly for prisoners awaiting trial at the Bristol County House of Correction.
“Every Sunday he went into a stadium where thousands of people cheered him and revered him,’’ County Sheriff Thomas M. Hodgson explains in a detailed expose with The Boston Globe. “In an instant he walks through our door, gets a new uniform, a longer number, and nobody’s cheering for him.”
Formerly No. 81, Hernandez is now officially Inmate No. 174594. His $40 million contract had bought him a $1.3 million, 7,100-square-foot mansion.
He is now allowed a maximum of $80 per week to be put into his commissary account as he whittles down the days alone in a 7-by-10-foot cell. Hodgson was able to provide the Globe with a real glimpse into the life Hernandez currently has in prison, and the picture is not pretty. Called Attila the Hun in some legal and political circles, Hodgson is quick to point that out.
“This is not the Ritz,” said Hodgson.
Hernandez spends 21 hours each day inside of his tiny cell. He is allowed no contact with any other prisoners, for fear of violence. Hodgson believes many other prisoners would try to elevate their status by attacking him. For Hernandez’s part, however, Hodgson reports the 23-year old has been a model inmate.
“He’s been nothing but perfect,” said Hodgson. “I met with him when he first came in to lay the rules out. I said, ‘Here’s the deal. You won’t be treated any better or worse or get any special privileges here. If you have any issues or problems, tell command.’ He was very polite and very respectful. He didn’t seem nervous, he seemed very comfortable.”
At 6 a.m. every day, Hernandez is woken up with breakfast consisting of, well, not much.
“He’ll get an egg — one egg, and a portion of grits,’’ said Hodgson. “He’d likely get a small muffin square and a choice between milk or juice. We actually serve Tang now to cut costs. But believe it or not, it actually has a higher nutritional value than orange juice and it’s cheaper.’’
Speaking of special treatment, Hernandez put in a request for extra protein in his diet, but it was denied. A recent lunch consisted of a cheese burrito, two slices of bread and rice. An example of a dinner is a beef burger, rice and beans, green beans, fruit, fortified juice, and water.
After breakfast he has an hour outside of his cell to stretch and make collect calls. He also gets an hour of visitation (but only those who have been pre-screened may go to see him; Hodgson did not comment on whether his fiance or former teammates have been to the correctional center) and one hour in what amounts to an exercise cage.
Hernandez does sit-ups, push-ups and knee-bends in an 8-by-12-foot, chain link fenced in pen for an hour each day. If he is thirsty once he gets back to his cell, he can drink the water straight out of his tiny metal faucet – which is directly attached to a tiny metal toilet.
He is allowed to read two books at a time, and Hodgson reports that Hernandez is currently on Mitch Albom’s Tuesday’s With Morrie.
Hernandez is currently awaiting trial for the first-degree murder of 27-year old semipro football player Odin Lloyd. No matter what comes of the trial, in all likelihood Hernandez’s reputation will be damaged beyond repair.
But the way Hodgson sees it, young people everywhere can learn from the hard tumble Hernandez has taken from a former state of grace.
“I actually see media coverage as an opportunity for something good to come out of a bad situation,’’ he said. “Young kids particularly get to see what life is like for someone who has celebrity status. This is probably one of the greatest advertisements as to why you don’t ever want to come to jail. He had everything going for him.”
Interestingly, there is an extended member of the so-called Patriots Family that is hoping to meet Hernandez personally and is not afraid to admit it. Drew Bledsoe starred under center for the Pats before an injury forced him to give way to Tom Brady. His father, Mac Bledsoe, is a Bristol County auxiliary sheriff.
Further, the elder Bledsoe has been presenting a “Parenting With Dignity” program in the prison for the last 15 years. Hernandez has a daughter that is not even one year old.
“I’m just never ready to convict somebody by what I read in the papers,” Bledsoe said in a telephone interview. “He is innocent until proven guilty.”
He’s right, of course. Right now, Hodgson is not being paid by the state to treat Hernandez like anything more than a prisoner, however. The ACLU has begun voicing displeasure over Hernandez’s treatment, and something may be done to upgrade his facilities.
Until then, however, the former NFL star waits patiently, reads, and tries to make what he can of his three hours of relative freedom a day.
If you have the time, you really should read the entire Boston Globe piece here. It is an incredibly sobering, but enlightening read on what life is like in an American prison.
[H/T: Big Lead Sports]