For the last three years, actor Jussie Smollett has been the martyring star of a long drawn-out, legal circus.
But last Friday morning, the 39-year-old woke up as inmate #20220310140, one of 6,000 convicts and suspects in the Cook County Jail, serving the first day of a 150-day sentence for lying to police.
Smollett – once a darling of the music and TV world for his success on the show Empire – was sentenced to 150 days in jail.
The star was convicted last year of five, felony counts of disorderly conduct for lying to police repeatedly in January and February 2019, when he claimed he was the victim of a race hate attack.
Judge James Linn yesterday granted Smollett ‘day for day’ eligibility which means if he behaves himself behind bars, he will likely be released within 75 days – just over two months.
Because of the low-level, non-violent nature of Smollett’s crimes, he will not serve his time in a state prison.
He is being housed instead for the two-and-a-half months in the Cook County Jail, a stone’s throw from the court and one of the biggest jail complexes in the country.
He is currently being held in Division Eight – which is favorably reserved for inmates with injuries or illness. It remains unclear if he will serve the duration of his sentence there, or if he will be moved after undergoing health checks.
An exterior view of Cook County Jail, where Smollett has begun his 150-day sentence. He will likely be let out after 75 days, if he behaves, and is currently being held in Division 8 – the medical unit. The prison has 6,000 inmates who are either serving sentences of under two years, or are awaiting trial
Division 8 is what is known as a Residential Treatment Unit. It is a two-wing facility and made headlines recently for a COVID outbreak which killed three inmates.
Cook County Jail mostly houses suspects who are awaiting trial or convicts awaiting sentencing so there is a variety of violent and non-violent suspects and convicts in the population.
Those whose sentences there have been given considerably light ones of two years or less.
Several sections of the jail have enormous dormitories where hundreds of men sleep in bunk beds lined up, row to row. There are individualized cell blocks, for more violent or at-risk offenders.
During a New York Times visit to the jail for a 2017 feature on how it had been upgraded, one inmate repeatedly stabbed two others.
An aerial view of the enormous Cook County Jail complex where more than 6,000 inmates are spread across more than a dozen units, awaiting sentencing or trial dates or serving sentences
The worst of the jail: A solitary confinement cell in the Cook County Jail. Jussie is not likely to be placed in one of these cells
Inside the prison, there are cramped dorm rooms where hundreds of non-violent offenders sleep side by side in bunk beds. Smollett was convicted of five, non-violent felonies. It is unclear if he will have to sleep in a dorm, or if he’ll be put in a cell
A cell block in another portion of the jail. The locked cells are reserved for more violent offenders
These are the cells in Division 8- the medical unit where Smollett is currently being held
In this Sept. 29, 2011 file photo, inmates at the Cook County Jail in Chicago wait to be processed for release. Jussie will have to spend at least half of his 150 day sentence
In this Sept. 29, 2011 file photo, inmates at the Cook County Jail in Chicago, line up to be processed for release
The star was convicted in December of five counts of felony four disorderly conduct – the lowest level of felony in Illinois.
Facing a maximum sentence of three years, his attorneys yesterday begged for a non-custodial sentence and enlisted Hollywood heavyweights Samuel L. Jackson and Alfre Woodard to plead their case.
It wasn’t enough to persuade Judge James Linn against imposing jail time.
After patiently listening to Smollett’s attorneys blame the jury, the media and the prosecutors for his conviction, Linn imposed a 150-day sentence and blasted Smollett’s ‘astounding hypocrisy’.
The actor has claimed throughout that he is the victim of a racist and homophobic campaign by the Chicago Police Department and prosecutor’s office.
He blamed former Chicago Police Chief Eddie Johnson – who is black – for going after him, and his brother yesterday fumed at assistant special prosecutor Samuel Mendenhall – who is also black – that they didn’t need a ‘lecture in racism’.
In 2018, a violent brawl erupted in the mess hall where dozens of inmates started viciously fighting at the bottom of the stairs
A plea for help is written on a window of the maximum security unit of the Cook County Jail in Chicago, Illinois, USA, 10 April 2020. In January 2022, more than 800 inmates and staff tested positive for COVID
The COVID-19 quarantine tier with single cells at Division 11 of the Cook County Jail in Chicago on May 20, 2020
Smollett is currently being held in Division 8, the medical unit. It’s unclear if he will be allowed to stay there
As he was led away in handcuffs, Smollett tore off his COVID-mask and screamed that if anything happened to him in custody it was at someone else’s hand.
He and his supporters say he is being unfairly punished because of his celebrity and that anyone else would have spared jail for the crimes he was convicted of.
He still maintains that he was telling the truth when he claimed to have been beaten up by two white Trump supporters in January 2019.