JOLIET, Ill. (MCT) — With a 38-year sentence at age 59, Drew Peterson most likely will spend the rest of his life in prison.
The former Bolingbrook police officer acknowledged as much in a tearful, rage-filled monologue before his sentencing Thursday. Barring a successful appeal, Peterson will not be eligible for release until he’s 93. But he estimated he would not make it that long because he has developed high cholesterol and has been twice diagnosed with skin cancer since his incarceration at the Will County Jail.
“I’m not looking for any sympathy, but anything you sentence me to, you’re sentencing me to the Department of Corrections to die,” Peterson told the court in a raised voice choked with emotion.
Peterson’s new life will stand in stark contrast to the one he knew as a police sergeant, when he busied himself by riding motorcycles, flying airplanes and chasing younger women. But it won’t be that different from the nearly four years he has spent in jail after being charged with killing his third wife, Kathleen Savio.
Peterson was transferred to the Stateville Correctional Center on Friday morning, less than 24 hours after receiving his sentence. He stayed there only a few hours before being sent to his new home at the Pontiac prison. He is in the maximum-security facility, which has a protective custody unit. The assignment was based on factors such as his conviction, length of sentence, program needs, and medical and mental health requirements, per Illinois Department of Correction protocol.
Officials have not said whether he has a cellmate or if he will be in solitary confinement as he had been during his jail stay.
As part of his daily routine there, he will remain in his cell for most of the day, though he will be allowed out for meals and showers. Most inmates also get about five hours of recreation time outside per week, Illinois Department of Corrections spokeswoman Stacey Solano said.
Peterson already seemed to be envisioning a dreary existence.
“I don’t do well in incarceration,” he said during his 40-minute courtroom soliloquy. “Due to the bad food and lack of exercise (in jail), I have high blood pressure, high cholesterol, borderline diabetes, a variety of skin issues, and I’ve had two bouts with skin cancer.”
Prisoners can earn work privileges and be assigned menial jobs in the kitchen, laundry room or other areas of the detention center. The shifts, which are not daily, are at least four hours long, Solano said.
Though the Will County Jail has a similar jobs program, Peterson did not participate in it because he was kept separate from the rest of the jail population.
The sheriff’s department, which oversees the facility, kept him segregated there amid concerns that his high-profile case and law-enforcement background could make him a target of inmates looking to build tough-guy reputations.
As such, Peterson had been kept in the jail’s medical unit since his May 2009 arrest. He spent most of his time in his cell, which was 8 feet wide by 5 feet deep. He was given an hour or two in an adjacent day room each day, but that’s about it.
His attorney Joseph Lopez, however, said he does not believe such measures need to be taken in state prison. Though high-profile inmates often attract unwanted attention — Jeffrey Dahmer, for example, was slain in 1994 while serving multiple life terms — Lopez thinks Peterson can protect himself.
“He’s got a black belt in karate. He knows how to defend himself,” Lopez said. “He’s a gregarious type of guy. I’m sure the inmates will love him once they get to know him.”
Peterson did not seem as convinced on Thursday.
“Originally, I had some cute and funny things to end with,” he said, “but in closing now it’s time to sentence an innocent man to a life of hardship and abuse (in) prison, and I don’t deserve this.”
Illinois Department of Corrections officials would not say what safety precautions would be taken in their facilities, but Solano said such issues are considered during an inmate’s initial evaluation.
“IDOC will continue to ensure proper placement of all offenders as the health, safety and security of inmates and staff remain the department’s top priority,” she said.
Peterson will be allowed visits in prison, with some facilities allowing up to five per month. He had similar privileges in jail, but few people had actually come to see him. A visitor’s list released shortly before his murder trial included his brother, sister and a small number of friends. Only two of his six children — his sons Thomas and Kris with Savio — went to see him in jail.
His older son, Stephen, who is raising his father’s two youngest children, had not visited in the three years leading up to the trial. However, the two communicate frequently via collect phone calls from the jail. Illinois prisoners also have regular telephone contact — as long as it’s collect — with people on their approved contacts list, Solano said.
Peterson’s attorneys informed him after court Thursday that he could be transferred to Stateville as early as Friday. Despite his rage-filled monologue in court, he seemed to take the prison transfer in stride.
“He’s ready for it,” Lopez said. “He says he wants a change of scenery.”
And that’s just fine with Savio’s family.
“I think he should have gotten 60 (years) myself,” her brother Henry Savio Jr. said. “But he is going to spend the rest of his life in jail so I’m OK with it. He deserves to die there.”