FIRST ON John Ford describes life behind bars

John Ford
John Ford
John Ford walks outside the federal courthouse in Memphis during his 2007 trial.
John Ford walks outside the federal courthouse in Memphis during his 2007 trial.

By Kontji Anthony - bio | email

MEMPHIS, TN (WMC-TV) - He was one of the most high-profile, high-powered politicians in the state of Tennessee.  But after 31 years as a senator, the Tennessee Waltz corruption sting put John Ford in prison on April 29, 2008.

16 days ago, the Feds moved Ford to the federal prison in Memphis to testify in an unrelated case.

Wednesday, for the first time since he went to prison, Action News 5 spoke to Ford about his life since that day.

Because the warden would not allow cameras inside the prison, we do not have video of Ford.  Instead, the following information was taken from notes Kontji Anthony kept while she spoke with him.  You can download her complete notes here.

The Setting

The Interview Room: Ford was interviewed in a tan painted room, approximately 6x6 feet.  In the room were two chairs and one round table.  No cameras were allowed.

Ford's Appearance: Ford was wearing a green jumpsuit with a white tee shirt, along with his signature glasses.  He walked in with the aid of a cane.  He is thinner than many will remember him.

Ford's Demeanor: Ford still has that glint in his eyes.  He was calm, and smiled often.  He commented that Kontji looked like his daughter, and asked why the prison wouldn't allow cameras inside.


1.  How are you doing?

"About as well as you can expect.  I don't love the place. Just abiding my time until the day comes."

2.  How is your heath?

Ford has lost six pounds since he arrived.  The food at the Memphis prison is "crappy."  He walks with a cane because he does not want to put pressure on his foot.  It was hurting.

3.  What is a typical day in prison?

(Yazoo City) Ford said he tries to get into a routine to pass the day.  At 7:00am he takes care of hygiene, gets coffee and food.  At 8:30 am he watches the news.  He watches CNN because he doesn't get the Memphis news in prison.  He reads USA Today and the Commercial Appeal. He does 200 to 300 pushups each day.  At night, he watches the news and reads books.  The book he most recently read is Al Gore's "An Inconvenient Truth."

(Memphis) In Memphis, he is in complete isolation.  He wakes up and waits for food.  His space is 8x10.  He has a double bunk bed, small shower, a commode, and a half table.

4.  Do you get visitors often?

(Yazoo City) Sisters, daughters, brothers, nieces, nephews, friends.  Told them its too far when he was in Texas.  Was easier in Yahoo City to get visitors because it's closer to Memphis.

(Memphis) His sisters, brother Edmund, and daughter have recently visited.

5.  How often do you talk to love ones?

By phone, he is allowed 300 minutes per month.  He talks to family weekly.  He has envelopes, and has to buy paper.  Pencils are difficult to write with because the lead always breaks or falls out.

6.  Who do you talk to most often?

His sister in New York, daughter in Virginia.  His sister Joyce visits most often.

7.  Why did you agree to talk to us?

Ford is not supposed to talk about his case on recommendation from his legal counsel.  He wants to know why he was brought to Memphis, where he is in isolation along with people who committed violent crimes.

8. What do you miss the most?

Ford misses everything - Family, friends, fruits and vegetables...places and activities are not as much on his mind.

9. Has prison changed you?

Ford says it hasn't made him any bettor or worse, but it has caused him to focus on what is important in life: family, friends, and his religion.  In prison, he said, you don't get caught up in worldly matters.  They aren't as important.  It is nice to have things, but its not important.  What you have today is gone tomorrow.  He spoke highly of his daughter.

10.  Have you found anything positive about this?

"What, being in prison?" Ford laughed.  "I can't find anything positive."

11.  What are the politics inside prison?

"If so, I don't know what kind," he said. "Just bad policy.  Always say they're going by the rules.  They never tell you what the rules are."

12.  Do you have any political pull, even though you're imprisoned?

"I don't even think about that.  Thinking about legal issues," he said.

13.  Would you want power back?

"No, I'm retired." he said.  Ford seemed adamant that you don't look back.

14.  Do you keep to yourself?  Do you have any special security measures?

There were no security measures in Yazoo City.  There are measures in place in Memphis because of the violent inmates here.

15.  Why are you in Memphis?

Ford said he is here to testify in a March 15th case.  He hasn't spoken to the U.S. Attorney, so he doesn't know why he is testifying.

16.  Did you do what the FBI said you did?

Ford had no comment.  He said any comment regarding any possible pending appeal would prejudice his case.

17.  Did you think you would be convicted?

No comment, but said it was a shock being indicted.

18.  Do you think ethics reform is needed in politics?

Ford believes ethics reform is needed everywhere, including with prosecutors and the U.S. Marshals office.  

19.  How do you feel about the media?

Ford believes the media serves its purpose - the 1st Amendment to the Constitution.  He would like to see more local news, because they raise interesting questions, and it keeps politicians in their purpose.

20.  Some say you were a target.  Do you feel that way?

Ford believes there is no question he was a target.  He would not say why he feels that way.

21.  Do you worry how your conviction impacts the Ford name?

Ford doesn't worry, because it will have no effect on other family members.  Most fair-minded people, he said, will take them for who they are.

22.  Despite the conviction, many call you an effective legislator.  How do you feel about your legislative record?  What legislation are you most happy about?

"Not here to toot my own horn," Ford quipped, saying he would rather not talk about what he is most proud of.

23.  Why do you think people call you a womanizer?

"I haven't heard anyone say that about me," he said.  Ford claims he says nice things to people because there's no reason to be mean.  When he gets out, he'll find a nice woman.

24.  Have you had any visits from women in your past?

Ford laughed that he wouldn't touch that question with a 20 foot pole, saying it would put him in more trouble than he is in now.  He said he was enjoying Kontji's visit with him.

25.  What do most people not know about your life?

People know everything, Ford said. Even things that are not true.  He cares about people.

26.  How did you feel when you heard your son Vincent Morgan was running for office in New York?

Ford said they are all very close.  He was pleased, and spoke of all his family members in many levels of office.  He is supportive of his son, Vincent Morgan.

27.  Is there anything you would like to add?

"I spent 30 years helping people in every category, every respect, from every walk of live.  I will continue to do that.  It is manifest in my family.  I believe we are here to serve others."

"I have nothing to hide, and I am extremely pleased with all of my children."

"I am more spiritual.  Your faith is the only thing you can depend on."  Ford said his faith tells him he will be OK.

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