With closing arguments in the Michael Jackson trial completed and the case in the hands of 12 jurors, music fans worldwide are pondering the once-unthinkable image of the singer wearing the denim pants, long-sleeved blue shirt and workboots mandatory for inmates in the California Department of Corrections.
What, exactly, will happen to Michael Jackson if the jury returns with a guilty verdict? According to California Department of Corrections officials interviewed by MTV News, Jackson would likely be handcuffed and driven to the Santa Barbara County Jail in the company of deputies from the county sheriff's department. Jackson would remain there while awaiting sentencing by Superior Court Judge Rodney Melville.
Ultimately, the 46-year-old superstar could find himself housed in the secure Protective Housing Unit (PHU) at Corcoran State Prison — California's most secure facility — which holds such infamous murderers as Charles Manson and Robert Kennedy's assassin, Sirhan Sirhan. But first, he would be sent to a reception center.
"If Mr. Jackson is convicted," said Margot Bach, spokesperson for the California Department of Corrections, "he, like any other inmate, would go first to one of the state's 11 reception centers, most likely in the Central Valley of California" (Santa Barbara County's new commitments are customarily sent to Wasco State Prison). There, he would be strip-searched, photographed and have a DNA sample taken.
Bach said that Jackson could spend anywhere from six to eight weeks isolated from the reception center's general population while authorities weighed such case factors as his age, criminal history and specific crimes. He would be dressed in the reception center's mandatory orange jumpsuit and be assigned a correctional counselor who would recommend the prison facility best suited to Jackson's needs. He could remain at the reception center for up to 45 days.
"Given what we've discussed with people in the classification-services unit," Bach said, "if Mr. Jackson is convicted on 10 counts of California Penal Code 288 (a) — lewd and lascivious conduct with a child under 14 — he would receive a sentence of close to 20 years." She added that the 1994 changes in California sentencing statute — commonly known as the "three strikes law" — make it mandatory for an individual convicted of a sex crime to serve 85 percent of his sentence.
It's likely that Jackson would be classified a "high-notoriety" inmate, meaning that his fame and wealth would make him a target for extortion by other inmates. Moreover, prison officials say that those guilty of child-molestation are generally considered to be at the greatest risk of violent attack by other inmates. Thus, it is unlikely that Jackson would have a cellmate, and Bach said the most probable destination for him would be the Protective Housing Unit at Corcoran, where Manson and Sirhan have lived in isolation for years.
Life for Jackson in Corcoran's 24-unit PHU would be one of near-solitary confinement, according to Terry Thornton, a public-information officer at the California Department of Corrections' Office of Communications. He would rise at 6 a.m. every day and live alone in an 8-by-10-foot cell with a metal toilet, writing desk, and a concrete bed with a thin mattress. Inmates are allowed trips to the law library and a minimum one-hour daily exercise period, but such excursions are always accompanied only by staff; inmates occasionally interact with other prisoners in the exercise yard, so it is possible that Jackson could meet Manson or Sirhan.
Inmates are allowed to shower at least three times per week; more, if they are assigned a job that causes them to get dirty (and yes, Jackson could be assigned to one of Corcoran's inmate-employment positions).
Unlike typical prison settings, where fellow inmates prepare the food, the convicts in Corcoran's PHU have their meals prepared only by staff. They receive three meals a day; breakfast is eaten in the inmate's cell, while a "sack lunch" can be eaten in the prison yard, if the inmate desires.
Visitation is on Saturday and Sunday, and visitors must have prior approval from prison officials. Anyone can write to inmates in the PHU, and if they desire to visit in person, the inmate can apply to add their names to his or her approved visitation list.
Inmates are allowed to attend religious services, including Roman Catholic, Protestant, Jewish, Muslim and Native American.
Jackson would have very limited access to luxury items. If he has money in his inmate trust account, he could order a small TV set and certain appliances through the approved mail-order supplier. No recording devices are allowed.
And what about Jackson's unusual grooming regimen? He would be assigned a light-blue chambray, denim pants, a denim jacket, white boxer shorts, white T-shirts and gray sweats. Inmates are expressly forbidden to alter their appearance, so no wigs, weaves, hairpieces or hair dye is allowed, barring medical necessity. Facial hair is also forbidden, and Jackson's hair could be no more than three inches in length.
But somewhat surprisingly, Bach explained, the regulations are not as strict on the issue of makeup, which is not considered contraband.
"Female inmates are allowed to wear a certain amount of makeup," she said. "And we do have male inmates who are transvestites — not that Mr. Jackson is a transvestite — and they are allowed to wear a certain amount of makeup as well. Men who choose to do it can do it."
The widely rumored issue of Jackson's nose being in part a prosthetic attachment, owing to the effects of repeated cosmetic surgeries, is a bit of a gray area for the California Department of Corrections. Bach said that inmates who come into the prison system already undergoing medical treatment — whether for chronic asthma, heart disease or a sex-change operation — are allowed to continue receiving such treatment.
"But you cannot have any sort of cosmetic surgery while incarcerated," Bach said.
MTV News will have live coverage from Santa Maria on-air, online and in Overdrive when a verdict is handed down.
For full coverage of the Michael Jackson case, see "Michael Jackson Accused."