Actor Wesley Snipes began serving a three-year sentence at a federal prison in Pennsylvania on Thursday for failure to file income tax returns. Snipes, 48, arrived shortly before noon at the Federal Correctional Institution McKean in the tiny northwestern Pennsylvania town of Lewis Run, federal prisons spokesman Ed Ross said. He had been ordered to surrender by noon.
The minimum security prison camp is worlds away from the harsh prison fortresses depicted in the Snipes’ films “Undisputed” and “Brooklyn’s Finest.” The minimum-security camp doesn’t have fences around its perimeter.
The 300 nonviolent inmates live in barracks that feature two-man rooms, daily showers and double-feature movie showings Friday through Sunday. Alas, no NC-17, R or X ratings allowed, which knocks out much of Snipes’ action-heavy repertoire.
The most jarring aspect of the celebrity’s stay might be the five daily head counts, three during the overnight hours. And Snipes, who earned a reported $13 million for the “Blade: Trinity” sequel, will have to adjust to earning just pennies an hour handling kitchen, laundry or other campus chores. He can spend just $290 a month at the prison commissary.
Snipes has appeared in dozens of studio films, from “White Men Can’t Jump” and “Demolition Man” in the early 1990s to the blockbuster Blade trilogy.
None of which will score him any points at McKean, officials insist.
“We recognize that he is high profile, but we treat all our inmates the same,” spokeswoman Shirley White told The Associated Press last week.
According to U.S. prosecutors, the actor failed to file any tax returns for at least a decade, and owed $2.7 million in taxes on $13.8 million in income from 1999 to 2001 alone.
Snipes, a dues-paying member of a tax-protest group that challenges the government’s right to collect taxes, described himself at his 2008 sentencing as a naive truth-seeker.
“I am an idealistic, naive, passionate, truth-seeking, spiritually motivated artist, unschooled in the science of law and finance,” said Snipes, who had pursued theater and dance from an early age, attending the vaunted High School for the Performing Arts in New York City.
Tuesday night, he told CNN’s “Larry King Live” that he was not nervous about reporting to prison.
Star of the “Blade” trilogy, Snipes was convicted in 2008 on three misdemeanor counts of willful failure to file income tax returns.
On Wednesday, he made a last-minute request for a new trial, but on Thursday a judge in Florida rejected the emergency motion. Snipes had argued said that a judge erred by not allowing defense attorneys to interview jurors about misconduct allegations, but U.S. District Judge William Terrell Hodges said the motion merely re-argues issues that have already been decided.
At McKean, he can pursue his spirituality at weekly meetings of nearly any religious group imaginable, from Wiccans to Jehovah’s Witnesses to Spanish-speaking Evangelical Catholics.
The martial-arts enthusiast can get his exercise playing sand volleyball or indoor basketball, or work out on an elliptical machine or stair climber. And he can tap into his fun side through badminton, bocci or bridge.
Should he pull a muscle in a pickup game, the infirmary copay is just $2.
But it’s not all fun and games.
The daily wake-up call is at 6:35 a.m. The mundane jobs run seven hours a day. There’s little fashion flair to the prison-issued khakis. And contact in the visitors room is limited to “a kiss,” according to the prison handbook.
Snipes has tried to delay his arrival while he takes his appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court. But the trial judge said he had gotten a fair trial.
Hodges saw in Snipes “a history of contempt” for U.S. tax laws, the judge said at sentencing.
Never mind that the actor, changing course, had delivered $5 million in checks to the IRS that day. Hodges imposed consecutive one-year terms for the three misdemeanor convictions.
“Someday, every fighter loses,” says the prison boxer Monroe Hutchens, played by Snipes, in 2002’s “Undisputed.” “In the end, everybody gets beaten. The most you can hope for is that you stay on top a while.”