BY DAVID HENCH

The Portland Press Herald

Paul Violette grew up in the working class town of Van Buren in northern Maine, and says that when he ran for the Legislature, he campaigned in homes with dirt floors.

Later, when he served as executive director of the Maine Turnpike Authority, Violette walked marble floors and slept on Egyptian cotton.

Violette jet-setted around the world from 2003 to 2010, spending weeks in the French Riviera and weekends on Martha’s Vineyard. He attended Quebec’s Winter Carnival, staying at the Chateau Frontenac and paid to have family and friends accompany him.

He dined at Le Grand Vefour in Paris, joining a list of patrons that includes Jean-Paul Sartre, Victor Hugo and Simone de Beauvoir, where the menu includes frog legs in sage sauce with garlic bread and marrow on a bed of tomatoes. The tab came to $1,000 euros — $1,300 dollars. He wracked up $4,350 in two nights at the Wheatleigh Hotel in Lenox, Mass.

He enjoyed spa treatments, casino outings and tailored tuxedos.

Motorists on Maine’s only toll highway paid for it all.

Now, Maine taxpayers will again be footing the bill, but this time for much more humble accommodations.

Violette was sentenced Friday to spend three and a half years in state prison for stealing more than $150,000. He is scheduled to report this coming Friday to the Maine Correctional Center in Windham, where he will be greeted at the door by a state corrections officer.

Dress is casual.

There is no spa.

When he arrives, Violette will turn over his clothing and belongings and be issued his new prison-made wardrobe: four pairs of jeans, four blue button-down poplin shirts, four gray sweatshirts, underwear, socks, a pair of canvas sneakers and a watch cap for when it gets cold.

He will be placed in the reception pod for classification until a bed opens in an appropriate housing unit. That can take anywhere from two weeks to two months.

The prison takes in 80 to 90 prisoners a month, the majority of them men.

“In that first 20 days to two months, he’s going to be in a high security building until we find a space for him,” said Scott Burnheimer, superintendent of the Maine Correctional Center in Windham. “They’re in their cells all but three hours a day in that area.”

After reviewing a prisoner’s crime, police reports, and their criminal record, they are assigned a risk status and a classification.

As a white collar criminal with no history of violence, Violette is a low security risk and will most likely be sent to the minimum security section of the Windham prison.

The minimum security prisons at Charleston and Bolduc, which have no fence and offer ample opportunity for working off the grounds and easier visiting arrangements, may be in Violette’s future but are only available to people with less than three years remaining on their sentence.

At the Maine Correctional Center, he will eventually find himself living in a 12 by 10 foot room with four steel bunks, plastic wrapped mattresses and three other men. Prisoners who exhibit good behavior are rewarded by being moved into a three-person room.

“They don’t get to pick who their roommates are,” Burnheimer said.

The minimum security wings are like a college dorm, with a shared bathroom at the end of the hall. The doors are left unlocked, though prisoners must be in their cells by 11 p.m. on weekdays, midnight on weekends.

There is a pool table and a communal television. Prisoners are allowed to bring their own television for their room, Burnheimer said. Over the air reception is impossible inside the steel and cement of the prison, so the prison provides Time Warner’s basic cable package.

Recreation time runs from 6:40 p.m. to 8:15 p.m. There are weights, an asphalt courtyard and a basketball hoop. In the summer, prisoners can play softball.

Prisoners get three square meals a day, but they are very square: 2,400 calories a day in a low-fat, low-sodium diet. The meals are on a five-week rotation

“Every day’s menu is reviewed for calories and nutrition, so they’re balanced,” Burnheimer said. He said the prison also tries to avoid sugary foods.

“We don’t serve cakes any more,” he said. “We serve a fruit as a desert.”

The prisoners have work opportunities.

The Maine Correctional Center offers jobs in the woodshop, garment, re-uphosltery and embroidery industries. There are also jobs in the kitchen, the laundry and other maintenance tasks in the prison.

A prisoner assigned to a job inside the prison can get seven days each month reduced from their sentence. Those near the end of their sentence, assigned to community-type jobs, can earn nine days off their sentence.

“Three and a half years is no vacation,” said Assistant Attorney General Leanne Robbin, who prosecuted the case. “It’s a significant period of time for a white collar offender to spend behind bars.”

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