Former NYPD Commissioner Bernard Kerik Says ‘Prison Is Like Dying With Your Eyes Open’


kerikBernard Kerik’s unprecedented plunge from One Police Plaza to a jailhouse bed came with an unfamiliar feeling: Helplessness.

“Going to prison is like dying with your eyes open,” the disgraced ex-NYPD commissioner told the Daily News behind the walls of a Maryland federal prison.

“You watch your world pass before your very eyes, and no matter how good, bad, tragic or horrific … all you can do is watch from afar.”

It’s a cruel change for Inmate No. 84888-054, who once commanded 40,000 city cops and became a national hero after 9/11.

The 56-year-old once known as “America’s Cop” now leads a spartan life of daily exercise and reading.

His circle of friends is smaller, and doesn’t include former Mayor Rudy Giuliani – a formerly close pal. Kerik resigned from Giuliani Partners in December 2004, and by late 2007 – as his own presidential campaign was ramping up – the ex-mayor was saying he and Kerik hadn’t spoken recently.

Email, screened by prison officials, allows him to keep in touch with a limited number of relatives and friends.

“I sometimes have to drop someone from the list to put someone else on,” Kerik said. “Then the person I dropped will contact someone else and say, ‘What did I do that he kicked me off?'”

Kerik sat for his first interview since his February 2010 sentencing to four years in prison for tax fraud and lying while pursuing a job as head of federal Homeland Security.

He’s doing time inside the Federal Correctional Institution in Cumberland, Md., about a 5 1/2 -hour drive from New York City.

Kerik, already 25 months into his prison term, could walk out a free man in spring 2013. Until then, life changes little from day to day.

The burly ex-cop says he’s read more than 250 books while behind bars, and follows a fitness routine that includes 1,000 daily pushups.

He’s also written his third book, and teaches a weekly life skills class to fellow inmates.

The 300-inmate, minimum-security prison has no walls and few guards. Inmates, most convicted of white collar and nonviolent crimes, live in dormitory style rooms.

Kerik sat on a maroon plastic chair in the prison visitor’s room, an American flag quilt – made by inmates – hanging on the wall behind him.

The barrel-chested Kerik looked fit and trim in a green prison uniform. His head is shaved and his trademark bushy mustache gone, removed weeks before his sentencing.

“The first day I took it off, my daughters (Celine Christine, now 12, and Angela Amber, 9) jumped on the bed, saw my face and jumped back off,” Kerik said. “Now they don’t want me to grow it back.”

His wife, Hala Matli, and son from his second marriage, Newark cop Joseph Michael, visit as regularly as they can.

“It is not easy because this is not very close,” Kerik said of the Maryland facility.

Other visitors have included Geraldo Rivera and “60 Minutes” correspondent Byron Pitts.

The fifth-degree black belt is barred from any martial arts training while in prison.

He instead does calisthenics two to three times a day, and has shed 60 pounds. Kerik now weighs in at between 190 and 200 pounds.

There are no novels on Kerik’s voracious reading list, only biographies, histories and some self-help books. He has a particular interest in books involving events from his past, including the 9/11 terrorist attacks and the Iraq war.

Kerik has a night light that allows him to read in his bunk after the room lights go dark. He said he usually falls asleep around 1:30 a.m.

Kerik was commissioner in 2001-02 before President George W. Bush asked him to launch a police force in Iraq.

Invited by the warden to teach a life skills course, Kerik said he decided to come up with his own topics drawn from his reading and experience rather than use a prepared class.

He created a 10-week course that covers 42 points, many of them drawn from two books: “Heroes for My Daughter” and “Heroes for My Son,” both by Brad Metzler.

“I talk about fighting for what you believe in,” Kerik said. “I talk about the importance of loyalty, of being a friend, of staying connected to the outside and not making this your life.”

The author of “The Lost Son: A Life in Pursuit of Justice,” and “In The Line of Duty” declined to discuss the topic of the just completed book.

While Kerik hopes the book is published after his release, his only other post-prison plans include returning to his Franklin Lakes, N.J., home.

{NY Daily News/ Newscenter}


  1. The Code of Jewish Law has no provision for incarceration. Making the victim whole, through financial reeimbursement is the intention. Incerceration as a punishment is not endorsed, nor effective. Most real criminsls consider their time in jail as their “higher” education. For non-criminals, as Mr. Kerik emotes, jail time is “dead” time.

  2. The man is free to work out, read widely and email friends. He’s lost 60 pounds. He probably has never felt or looked better. He finished writing a book. How do I get into prison?