‘You Wake Up and Think, I’m in Prison:’ Ex-Con’s Wisdom to Hayes

Former Trader Tom Hayes
Former Trader Tom Hayes arrives for his trial at Southwark Crown Court in London, on Monday, Aug. 3. Photographer: Simon Dawson/Bloomberg

Don’t rush to make friends and don’t get into debt. That’s the advice of an ex-convict for Tom Hayes as he adjusts to life behind bars.

Hayes started a 14-year jail sentence this week after a jury found him guilty of conspiring to rig Libor, the interest-rate benchmark used to value more than $350 trillion of financial contracts.

Famous among peers for his ability to navigate financial markets, the former UBS Group AG and Citigroup Inc. trader was the first person to stand trial in the Libor scandal. Now he faces HM Prison Wandsworth, a Victorian fortress south of the Thames known for its poor conditions and violent residents.

“In prison, it’s not about making friends,” said Steve Dagworthy, an ex-convict and co-founder of Prison Consultants, a London-based agency that gives advice to prospective inmates. “It’s about not making enemies.”

Dagworthy set up the firm in 2013 after being convicted of fraud and realizing how little preparation there was for defendants facing prison time. Made up of former convicts and prison staff, the company works with defendants and their families to smooth the path from lock-up to release.

Hayes joins another recent financial crime casualty at Wandsworth. Magnus Peterson, founder of collapsed hedge fund Weavering Capital (UK) Ltd., is in the first of a 13-year stretch for fraud. And Navinder Singh Sarao, the British trader accused of contributing to the 2010 flash crash, is being held at Wandsworth as he fights extradition to the U.S.

No Control

Known as “Wanno,” the high-security prison is the largest in the U.K., with more than 1,600 inmates. According to a July report from HM Inspectorate of Prisons, “overcrowding and severe staff shortages” mean almost every service there is insufficient.

A third of its prisoners spend 23 hours a day in their cells.

“You wake up one morning and think ‘I’m in prison,’” said Dagworthy, who hasn’t advised Hayes. “And that’s when it hits you, and you suddenly realize that you are no longer in control of your life.”

While a new concept in the U.K., the U.S. has long had prison consultants, pioneered by Herbert Hoelter in the 1970s. Hoelter has worked with a number of high-profile individuals including Bernard Madoff, Martha Stewart and Mike Tyson through his agency, the National Center on Institutions & Alternatives.

Madoff, Tyson

Hoelter’s main advice for defendants facing prison is to “set some goals for yourself,” he said, to give a meaning to your life inside. He told Madoff, who is serving a 150-year sentence, to “spend the rest of your life trying to help somebody else in the system.”

For Hayes, the most important thing will be to establish a routine and to be careful about how he deals with other inmates.

Hayes is already at a disadvantage, Dagworthy contends, because he suffers from Asperger’s Syndrome. The former trader was diagnosed with the condition shortly before trial.

The nuances of prison interaction often escape those suffering from it, the consultant said, adding he has worked with other clients with the disorder.

Language Barrier

There’s also a new language to learn. Officers are called “screws” or “kangas” and tobacco is called “burn,” according to Dagworthy.

Since arriving at the prison on Monday night, Hayes will have had his possessions cataloged, fingerprints taken and been fitted out with a standard-form gray tracksuit and bedding. He’ll shortly be moved from the induction wing to a house block, where he’ll meet his cell mate, a man he’ll share an open toilet with every day.

From there, the monotony of prison life will begin: the sound of guards’ keys in the corridor at 6:30 a.m.; showers at 8:45 a.m.; dinner at 4:30 p.m.; lockdown by 8 p.m.

“You have to come to terms with the fact that you’re in this new world and you have to understand the rules of this new world,” said Dagworthy.

His advice? “Keep yourself to yourself.”

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