LARGO — Martin Kirby Watson once had a thriving St. Petersburg law practice and a bright future.
Now his future consists of 30 years in prison. His new career goal: Hoping to become a clerk in a prison law library.
Watson, who admitted stealing half a million dollars from clients, has lost his law license and his freedom. He agreed last week to a jailhouse interview, to discuss how a 49-year-old man known as a smart advocate, avid dinner conversationalist and devoted dad makes the transition from lawyer to inmate.
Now, it's a good day when his tray of jail food contains something chewable. Usually, he said, the meals are what inmates call "slop" — overcooked and mushy.
At nighttime, "you're pretty much up all night because of people making noise. It's just the way it is in here."
The wake-up call comes about 4 a.m., and breakfast comes soon after that. The TV usually blares with shows like Cops and Jerry Springer, which annoy him. He gets lunch and dinner. Through his family's generosity, he also gets commissary money that he spends on a nightly peanut butter and jelly sandwich.
Watson, who is divorced and has a teenage daughter, said he reads constantly. Recently he got through a 1,200-page tome on Emperor Hirohito and World War II. Last week, he was reading John Grisham's The Broker, which he said would take him about a day.
The worst part of jail life is "the loss of all freedom and freedom of choice. You almost have to ask people to do anything, which can be arbitrarily denied. There's no argument."
He has some hope for the future. In prison, he said, he might get the opportunity to take or teach some classes, maybe learn some languages.
"Some camps have more opportunities than others," he said. In inmates' slang, prisons are "camps."
The disbarred lawyer expects to help a lot of other inmates with their appeals because everyone in prison wants to keep that "ray of hope."
Watson was scheduled to go to trial in March 2009, but instead fled to Mexico. He was eventually caught and brought back to Pinellas County, where he pleaded guilty to grand theft.
At his sentencing, he apologized to his victims and said "my actions have betrayed the most sacred of trusts." And in last week's interview, he expressed "how deeply remorseful I am for it."
But what did he spend half a million dollars on?
"Overhead," he said.
Plus, "expenses and things." And a $30,000 Audi.
It's answers like these that make Francesca Beatty think Watson still hasn't come clean.
Her father was one of the people Watson stole from in his handling of an estate. She also doesn't believe Watson's claim that he stayed sober after getting substance abuse treatment in 2002.
"The only thing he is deeply remorseful about is the fact that he got caught, of that I am certain," she said.
Watson and his attorney, Lucas Fleming, can ask the judge to reconsider his sentence, a standard move that is not often granted. Otherwise, Watson said, his 30 years will essentially be a life sentence.