From Albany to Prison: Ex-Lawmakers on Life Behind Bars


He learned about small satisfactions, like when eight of the students in the G.E.D. class he teaches every afternoon recently passed their test. They call him “Professor.”

Professor Espada takes pride in teaching nearly illiterate men to read, in counseling younger inmates, and in helping others work through their cases in the library.

Senator Espada sits here unchastened, boasting of the “political revolution” he once led — same as Bernie Sanders, he said. Senator Espada is the one planning to tear down a bad system from the inside out. The one insisting he was framed.

‘I Didn’t Steal the Money’

If they have one thing in common, these Albany alumni, it is this: They refuse to be expunged from the rolls of the innocent.

“It doesn’t weigh on me that there’s this opinion of me, because it’s not true,” said William F. Boyland Jr., a Democrat who represented Brownsville in the Assembly. He is serving a 14-year sentence at the Federal Correctional Institution in Loretto, Pa., a five-hour drive out to the western part of the state, after being convicted of bribery in 2014.

It is a recurring theme.

“I don’t have that thing where I’m a criminal, so I’m smiling,” said Mr. González, who spent much of a four-hour interview at his Bronx apartment outlining, in baroque detail, all the ways he said he had been railroaded by prosecutors, the judge and even his own lawyer. (Before he left prison, he said, his fellow inmates told him, “You’re safer here with the homies. The billionaires will put out a contract on you. They don’t like you, ’cause you tell it like it is.”)

“I did not steal money from Soundview or from anybody,” said Mr. Espada, referring to the health care network he ran. He had not received a fair trial, he said; he would have continued to contest the charges had he not run out of resources and the will to subject his family to what he described as further pain.

“Maybe I didn’t spend the money right, but I didn’t steal the money,” said Ms. Huntley, who suggested that she had been the victim of a conspiracy orchestrated by old enemies in Albany. Besides, she added, as if this would mitigate things, the actions in question had occurred before she entered the Senate.

In a more reflective moment, Ms. Huntley said she could not bring herself to move on.

“Some people say, let it go,” she said. “I don’t know how to let stuff go. I don’t want to die being known as, what’s the word all the newspapers used? ‘Disgraced senator.’”

She said she wanted to be treated “just as a person. Just use my name. I’m not saying you’ve got to make me sound like I’m great. You all call me disgraced, but in my mind, I’m not disgraced.”

In this season of high-profile corruption cases, few phrases have dominated discourse in the State Capitol like ethics reform. Yet Mr. Boyland, Mr. Espada, Mr. González and Ms. Huntley had little to say on the subject. If anything, they suggested, they and their colleagues had been punished simply for doing things the Albany way.

“I wouldn’t say they were crooks. Everybody does all that,” Mr. González said of Mr. Skelos and Mr. Silver. “It’s, ‘I help you, you help me.’ So what is that? Politics.”

Mr. Boyland was asked if he would endorse any of the reforms his former colleagues have discussed this session, including closing a campaign-finance loophole and banning outside income for legislators.

Photo

Former New York lawmakers Pedro Espada Jr., William Boyland Jr. and Larry Seabrook have spent time in federal prisons.

Credit
From left: Robert Stolarik for The New York Times; Ozier Muhammad, via The New York Times; Hiroko Masuike, via The New York Times

He smiled.

“I can’t endorse anything now,” he said.

On ‘This Side of the Table’

A day begins at Federal Correctional Institution in Loretto. A former monastery on a hilltop, it would resemble a high school campus were it not for the rings of concertina wire that surround it.

Mr. Boyland is awake at 6:30 to meditate before going to work on the facilities team. (Mr. González, too, was initially assigned a job assisting a plumber, but, by his own account, was deemed more of a burden than a help.) Mr. Boyland runs around the track. He lifts weights. Without the constant nag of his cellphone, without the late, indulgent Albany dinners, he is, he said, the healthiest and most focused he has ever been.

To other inmates, he introduces himself as Will. But he lives with men from New York, even some familiar with his old district. There is a Boyland Street in Brownsville, named for his uncle, who once held the same Assembly seat.

“You the same guy?” the inmates ask.

Amid the chaos of this year’s presidential campaign, Mr. Boyland said, he is in demand as a political analyst. “All. The. Time,” he said, flashing a smile.

Some of the queries have a more local bent: “What’s going on with Cuomo and de Blasio?” he has been asked, referring to Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and Mayor Bill de Blasio of New York, combatants in a never-ending intrastate quarrel. “They’re both Democrats, so what’s the beef about?”

He passes the rest of the day with religious services, Bible study, work on his legal appeal and reading. He is taking classes in Spanish (because of the Spanish-speaking constituents in his old district), small-business skills (just in case) and crocheting (hats, mostly).

He has almost finished James Redfield’s “The Celestine Prophecy,” which he described as a science-fiction novel about the spiritual journey of a wrongly imprisoned man. He said he could relate.

From afar, he tries to raise his 13-year-old son, who is back in Brooklyn. He was the hardest thing to leave behind.

Albany, he does not miss. It was serving his constituents, he said, that he loved.

“I wasn’t used to being on this side of the table,” he said, indicating the round visitors’ room table where he sat across from a reporter. “I was the one visiting to bring help. I’m usually on that side of the table.”

They watch the evening news and read the New York City papers, eavesdropping on a world that has tried to delete them from its memory.

Even so, what lies beyond the prison walls has begun to seem abstract — fuzzy around the edges.

When Mr. Espada was in solitary confinement at Schuylkill, he was allowed one hour a day to go outside, shackled and cuffed. He always went, no matter the weather.

“An opportunity to experience daylight, sunlight, rain hitting your head — it’s as basic as that,” he said, his voice softening. “I said to myself, I would never complain about the elements again, because I loved it when the rain hit my head, when it was cold.”

Then the man who was once the third-most powerful in New York State gathered himself, pivoting back to the pitch. He was the better for surviving this, he said. Not that it was about him; it was about those far less fortunate than him, who would carry this scarlet letter the rest of their lives. He had promised them he would fight for them, for reform, and he would.

He would never give up. There was a reason they still called him the Senator.

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