Former longtime inmates describe Cosby's new home at SCI Phoenix

"There's a fear that sets in because you don't know what's going to happen to you."

Cherri Gregg
September 26, 2018 - 3:40 pm
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SKIPPACK, Pa. (KYW Newsradio) — Bill Cosby has spent his first night at SCI Phoenix in Montgomery County, where he is expected to remain for his entire three- to 10-year sentence. 

The new, state-of-the-art facility opened only a couple months ago, but former longtime inmates of Pennsylvania's Department of Corrections say the realities inside the prison's walls left a lasting impact.

"The psychological effect — I couldn't begin to tell you," said Haywood "Red Dog" Fennell. "There's a fear that sets in because you don't know what's going to happen to you." 

The former juvenile lifer spent 50 years inside state correctional facilities before being released last year. He said Cosby's 12-by-9-foot prison cell and new institutional life will be a stark contrast to freedom and living in a mansion.

"You look and touch the concrete wall," described Fennell. "You sit on the stainless steel toilet. You lay on a mattress that's only 3 inches thick. You only get one blanket — and then fear will set in. This is life."

RELATED: Bill Cosby, now inmate NN7687, placed in single cell

On Tuesday, it was rumored that Cosby would do his time at SCI Laurel Highlands, a state prison in western Pennsylvania for infirm and elderly inmates. But on Wednesday morning, the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections issued a statement saying the commonwealth's new prison, SCI Phoenix in Skippack, will become Cosby's new home.

"At Laurel Highlands, somebody is always checking on you," said Fennell, who volunteered to work there as an aide years ago. "At Phoenix, you don't go anywhere unless somebody sends for you, so he might be sitting there for a long while."

Fennell also worked at SCI Phoenix while it was being constructed.

"It's very lonely, [Cosby's> new reality," he added, "and helpless."

The Department of Corrections said Cosby is being housed in a single cell near the infirmary.

"We are taking all of the necessary precautions to ensure Mr. Cosby's safety and general welfare in our institution," John Wetzel, corrections secretary, said in a statement. "The long term goal is for him to be placed in the general population to receive the programming required during his incarceration."

"You are going from being America's father to being an inmate," noted J. Jondhi Harrell, executive director of the Center for Returning Citizens. Harrell did 25 years in federal prison and believes inmates will likely give Cosby a level of respect on account of his age and celebrity.

"He's going to be accorded a level of respect and honor, far and above an ordinary person walking into the door," he said.

That doesn't mean he won't suffer some abuses, however, mainly verbal offenses or humiliation. 

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Editor's note: KYW Newsradio's Jim Melwert toured SCI Phoenix — as seen in the video above — where Cosby will live for the next three to 10 years, in October 2017, before the prison opened.