Fellow Inmate Details Bernie Madoff's Time Behind Bars

Madoff_Illo - THR - H 2018
Illustration by: Hye Jin Chung

Fights with another prisoner, "horrible" novels and "watching rap videos": One insider's account of how Manhattan's biggest fraudster passes his days behind bars.

Ralph Griffith, 66, is a writer who spent much of his adult life in federal prisons for bank robbery — the past seven years in the same unit as Bernie Madoff, the 79-year-old New York financier serving 150 years for running a $65 billion Ponzi scheme.

Griffith, now based in Colorado, kept a detailed record of his time in North Carolina's Federal Medical Center, Butner — a special health-needs facility — and self-published his memoir, Monkey House, last year. (About 250 copies have been sold on Amazon, with buyers receiving a section of The New York Times or Wall Street Journal with Madoff's mailing label; Griffith smuggled out hundreds upon his release on Feb. 1, 2017.) "Bernie probably got there in 2009," says Griffith. "I arrived in August of 2010. We both were there because of heart conditions."

The two first met in the prison library, where Griffith worked and Madoff borrowed "financial books [and] the most horrible novels, like Little Lord Fauntleroy," he says. The tight-lipped Madoff eventually warmed to Griffith, with whom he could hold a conversation. "We sat down and had a long talk about his son committing suicide," recalls Griffith. "He said, 'I have no idea why he did that.' That was his exact quote."

According to Griffith, Madoff seemed to enjoy "special celebrity" status, free to wander the halls beyond the allotted 15 minutes daily. He claims Madoff selected his cellmate, "Bulldog," a Mexican drug runner from Texas. "He wasn't that intellectual," notes Griffith. "Bernie didn't want anyone trying to pick his brain. That gets old after a while."

Griffith writes in his book that Madoff passed the time "watching rap videos" with a group of African-American inmates and resented sharing a bathroom with transgender prisoners: "With four or five queens in front of two little sinks, it was tough for Bernie to brush his teeth." Griffith says Madoff's nemesis was Israeli spy Jonathan Pollard (released in 2015).

"You'd think they'd have gotten along," offers Griffith, but it seemed to him that "Bernie thought Pollard was a whiny son of a bitch," and "Pollard thought Bernie was evil personified." Griffith also claimed the two once got into a physical altercation. Reached by THR, Madoff declined to comment, as did a lawyer for Pollard.

This story first appeared in the April 12 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.