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Prison easier on Keating

When Charles H. Keating Jr. stepped to freedom through the doors of Los Angeles County Jail on Thursday night, he told reporters, "Everyone in there was just fine." Indeed. During his monthlong imprisonment, the Phoenix businessman known for his lavish lifestyle was afforded a level of personal service and liberal treatment not given most other inmates, jail officials said Friday.

He was allowed four hours a day of exercise and leisure time _ much of which he spent on the phone _ compared to two hours a week usually given most prisoners. Keating's food was served in plates and bowls, compared to TV-dinner-like trays for others. And he ate ample portions of the servings.

At his disposal during leisure time were a color television, pay telephone, exercise bike, shower, books and magazines.

"Some inmates refer to it as the "country club,"' Commander Robert Pash, a county jail spokesman, said of the wing where Keating stayed.

Authorities described Keating as a cooperative prisoner who created no problems since entering jail Sept. 18. Keating was indicted on 42 counts of securities fraud in connection with Phoenix-based American Continental Corp. and its failed unit, Irvine, Calif.-based Lincoln Savings & Loan.

The 66-year-old former American Continental chairman, released Thursday night after a federal judge lowered his bail to $300,000 from $5-million, followed rules and got along with guards and inmates _ spending 33 quiet days in a highly isolated but relatively freer prison environment, authorities said.

"He was in high spirits considering the situation," said Dan Ordway, a deputy sheriff at the jail. "He was courteous, and he smiled occasionally."

Jail officials say Keating _ who refused requests for an interview _ was treated like about 60 other prisoners detained in a separate security section called the "7000 wing."

The wing is set aside for high-profile prisoners or others who might need protection from fellow inmates, Pash said.

"He was kept in a high-security area for high-risk people because of his notoriety," Pash said. "There is some freedom ..., but the area is needed because (otherwise) every time we move him outside the cell, he would have to be escorted by a guard. This minimizes the need for security escort. We make up for the restrictions on movement by letting them out into the freeway for longer periods.

"They're housed this way for a reason and for our convenience," Pash said.

There was nothing posh about the setting in the 7000 wing. Keating's 6-by-10-foot cell _ painted white _ contained a bunk with a mattress and blanket, toilet and sink. Prisoners in the general population are locked behind jail doors made of bars. Cells in the 7000 wing contain metal doors with a window and slots for food delivery.

Like other high-profile prisoners, Keating was not allowed to make trips to the facility's cafeteria or the jail store. Instead, food was brought to Keating's cell at 6 a.m., 12:30 p.m. and 5 p.m. daily. The main dinner courses included dishes such as spaghetti, turkey a la king, ham and chili. Salad, bread and dessert _ pastry, cookies or ice cream, for example _ were part of dinner.

The same fare was served to the general jail population, but those inmates _ about 6,500 people _ eat from trays, a faster way to serve a large group. Metal bowls, metal cups and paper plates were used in Keating's block.

"He ate well," Pash said.

Items from the jail store _ newspapers, candy, tobacco products and shaving items _ were wheeled to Keating's cell twice a week. Guards said Keating bought shaving items and newspapers.

As are other high-profile prisoners, Keating was allowed visitors daily between noon and 7 p.m. While inmates in the general population are restricted to about 20 minutes of visitation per day, the segregated group in the 7000 wing can get up to 90 minutes per visitor _ for up to five hours a day _ because they are fewer in number.

Keating saw visitors daily, mainly family members, guards said.

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