Overcrowded, No Heat, Little Light: Inside SBF's Prison Digs

The former CEO who founded FTX, Sam Bankman-Fried, is probably not having a great time as he awaits his criminal trial in federal court.

AccessTimeIconSep 26, 2023 at 10:00 a.m. UTC

Former FTX CEO Sam Bankman-Fried has traded his palatial Bahamas bunker for a bunk bed as he transitions from luxe to lockup.

Bankman-Fried is staying at the Metropolitan Detention Center, Brooklyn, one of the nation's most notorious correctional facilities. Conditions at the jailhouse, where Bankman-Fried has resided for six weeks since losing his bail, are a far cry from the former billionaire's old Caribbean stomping grounds: The internet is slow, the living quarters dirty and the cafeteria offerings slim, his lawyers have argued.

You're reading The SBF Trial, a CoinDesk newsletter bringing you daily insights from inside the courtroom where Sam Bankman-Fried will try to stay out of prison. Want to receive it directly? Sign up here.

"[He’s] subsisting on bread and water… sometimes peanut butter," the defense told a federal judge last month.

Former residents of the famous facility and their lawyers, however, have said there's much more to tell about the notorious lockup. They’ve likened conditions at the jailhouse to those faced by "prisoners of war" and Hannibal Lecter in the horror movie "The Silence of the Lambs."

But what’s MDC really like on the inside? Here’s what we know about the infamous detention center:

MDC Brooklyn is a large prison complex encompassing two buildings and housing more than 1,600 male and female prisoners, many of whom still await trial. As a mixed-security facility, the MDC houses inmates with a variety of criminal histories, including terrorism, organized crime and drug smuggling, a report from the Bureau of Prisons shows. Current inmates include Juan Orlando Hernandez, a former president of Honduras who has pleaded not guilty to drug trafficking charges, and Guo Wengui, a Chinese businessman who has pleaded not guilty to fraud charges.

Others who have previously served short stints at the jailhouse include Epstein-accomplice Ghislaine Maxwell and pharma bro Martin Shkreli.

Regimented day-to-day life

Bankman-Fried likely has a rigid schedule at MDC.

Inmates wake up at 6 a.m., and must make their beds, mop the floor and tend to their trash, an orientation handbook from the facility shows. From there, inmates like Bankman-Fried might go to work around the facility, serving as prep cooks in the jail's kitchen, providing janitorial services throughout the complex or assisting at the facility's maintenance shop.

At 11 a.m., they eat lunch. Dinner is served at 4 p.m. Meals are supposed to consist of a meat such as turkey, a starch like rice and a vegetable or fruit, but prisoners are actually served cold cuts, sandwich bread, moldy pound cakes and other "unidentifiable food[s] from the kitchen," according to a petition on Change.org.

If Bankman-Fried, a vegan, doesn't like what's on offer at the cafeteria, he can use his $150 weekly commissary allowance to buy peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, worth $3.65 each. He can buy up to two of those per day, according to the complex's rules.

Shared dorms, no heat and no yards

In between meals and work, inmates are allowed breaks. However, there's no prison yard for recreational activities at MDC. Instead, Bankman-Fried will have to hang out with his fellow inmates in indoor community rooms, where they can play cards, talk and watch television.

Bankman-Fried can also take showers during his downtime in one of five separate, individual shower stalls, according to former inmates. Lines to use the showers are often long.

At the end of each day, Bankman-Fried may retire to a communal dorm with rows of bunk beds, according to former prisoners’ accounts. However, it's also possible he has been put in protective custody and has his own cell.

Either way, getting some shuteye may not be easy. Fluorescent lights keep the dorm, and other rooms across the jailhouse, semi-lit 24 hours a day, inmates’ writings show. In addition, inmates can often be heard shouting across cell blocks at all hours of the night, former prisoners have said.

Uncomfortable heat and cold is another potential issue Bankman-Fried may encounter during his stay at MDC Brooklyn. According to several local news reports, many parts of the MDC lack heating, and air conditioning units are sparse throughout much of the facility.

Edited by Jesse Hamilton.


Please note that our privacy policy, terms of use, cookies, and do not sell my personal information has been updated.

CoinDesk is an award-winning media outlet that covers the cryptocurrency industry. Its journalists abide by a strict set of editorial policies. In November 2023, CoinDesk was acquired by the Bullish group, owner of Bullish, a regulated, digital assets exchange. The Bullish group is majority-owned by Block.one; both companies have interests in a variety of blockchain and digital asset businesses and significant holdings of digital assets, including bitcoin. CoinDesk operates as an independent subsidiary with an editorial committee to protect journalistic independence. CoinDesk employees, including journalists, may receive options in the Bullish group as part of their compensation.

Elizabeth Napolitano

Elizabeth Napolitano was a news reporter at CoinDesk.