June 6, 2010 -- According to former inmates at the North Carolina correctional facility where Bernie Madoff is serving a life sentence, the infamous swindler's ego is bigger than the "big house."
New York magazine has published new details about the 71-year-old's time in prison, based on interviews with current and ex-inmates at Butner correctional complex. That's where Madoff is in a medium security unit dubbed "Camp Fluffy" for its amenities.
One of the former inmates, K.C. White, who served three years for robbing a bank, spoke with ABC News. During Madoff's early days at Butner, White would take walks around a circular track with Madoff.
"I wouldn't say we were friends," White says. "We spoke on a few occasions."
On one of those occasions, Madoff agreed to pose for a sketch for White, who was known as the prison's artist-in-residence. White says Madoff requested that he not be portrayed with his prison garb on, but with a suit and tie. White acquiesced, and in return Madoff signed the portrait, a rare autograph that has been elusive to most inmates. And not for lack of demand.
"I communicated with a couple of dozen [inmates] via letter and phone and had extensive conversations with a half dozen and that's both inmates and recent releases," says New York magazine reporter Steve Fishman. "And their impression almost unanimously was that he landed like a rock star. He was a celebrity, he had groupies, he had people clamoring for his advice, and his autograph."
White says that Madoff reveled in the attention.
"He was caught up in the limelight, his 15 minutes of fame," White says. "He was lavishing his reputation."
In prison, Madoff is seen as a success story, and he garners respect from some of the other inmates. His billion-dollar Ponzi scheme afforded him the material luxuries that the drug dealers and thieves surrounding him could only dream of. Never mind that he got caught and is now serving a 150-year sentence.
"If I'd lived that well for 70 years, I wouldn't care that I ended up in prison," says one of the inmates.
White says the first time he met Madoff he was standing in the medical line. He overheard an inmate giving Madoff flack for bilking his victims of billions of dollars.
"He said, 'F*** my victims,' in reponse," according to White, who claims it's common knowledge among inmates that Madoff has shown no remorse.
White is not among the inmates that admire Madoff. Even bank robbers have standards.
"Well, you know, when you take money from elderly people and you take their whole life savings, you put yourself in that position," White says. "He's worse than a murderer."