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The Globe and Mail

Conrad Black won't be a free man when he's released

The visitor entrance to the minimum security Federal Correctional Institution in southwest of Miami, FL where Conrad Black is scheduled to be released Friday, is seen May 4, 2012.

Andrew Innerarity/Andrew Innerarity

The Florida prison that has housed former media baron Conrad Black for the past eight months – and the one he'll soon be freed from – isn't what you'd expect.

A main gate to the sprawling complex in greater Miami sits wide open. Inside, down a driveway and next to the staff parking lot, there's a running track and baseball field for the inmates, but only a handful of men in T-shirts are out for a jog on this muggy Thursday afternoon.

Across the street, passersby shop at a strip mall selling handbags, scooters and party supplies. A little farther down the road are a daycare and beauty salon and middle-class suburban neighbourhoods with big stucco houses and old-fashioned mailboxes by their curbs.

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The Federal Correctional Institution does have towering chain-link fences and barbed wire, but needless to say, Lord Black hasn't been biding his incarceration, which is expected to end Friday, in a place like Sing Sing or Attica.

Upon his release from prison, the former head of Hollinger International, convicted for fraud and obstruction of justice, won't quite be a free man. An immigration detainer has been placed on him, said Nestor Yglesias, a spokesman for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, which means Lord Black won't be leaving prison on his own.

He will be released into the custody of immigration enforcement officers and most likely driven to a detention centre. And because of his convictions, it's expected he'll be booked for deportation and face a 10-year ban on returning to the United States.

The exact timing of his release isn't known. Immigration and prison officials are revealing few details, citing privacy laws and security policies.

In a written response to questions from The Globe and Mail, Federal Correctional Institution Warden Rob Wilson said that inmates scheduled to be released on a weekend, as is the case with Lord Black, can be freed earlier. The release date for Lord Black, prisoner No. 18330-424, is Saturday.

Normally, inmates are not freed any earlier than 10 a.m., Mr. Wilson noted before adding: "The time is subject to change depending on the travel arrangements for an inmate. The travel arrangements for Mr. Black are not public information."

Lord Black had served the first part of his 42-month sentence in another, more remote, Florida prison. But after he exhausted his appeals and was ordered back behind bars last year to complete his sentence, Lord Black was sent to the Miami-area prison instead because two female prison workers at the Coleman Federal Correctional Complex contended they feared for their safety, he told reporters last fall.

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The women – a prison unit manager and an education specialist – had in affidavits suggested that Lord Black wasn't a model prisoner in Coleman, saying he asked for special treatment from staff and had inmates cook, clean and iron clothes for him "like servants." His lawyers refuted their claims.

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement was given 48-hours notice of Lord Black's release on Wednesday. Mr. Yglesias said he can't reveal to which immigration detention centre Lord Black will be taken.

It's believed Lord Black wants to return to Canada, even though he gave up his citizenship more than a decade ago to obtain a British peerage. The Canadian Department of Citizenship and Immigration has granted him a one-year temporary resident permit, valid until early May, 2013.

Lord Black and his wife, Barbara Amiel Black, own a house in Toronto's exclusive Bridle Path neighbourhood. He would have to live in Canada for at least a year and gain permanent resident status before he could be considered eligible to apply for citizenship.

Many of Lord Black's friends in Canada are eagerly awaiting his return, but it's not clear when that will be. He could be placed on a flight on the day of his release or his deportation could take several days, perhaps weeks. U.S. authorities may even choose to deport him to the United Kingdom, the country of his most recent – though expired – passport.

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