Captive Audience

updated 03/06/1995 at 01:00 AM EST

originally published 03/06/1995 01:00AM

DEAR (MR./MS.) FELON: Greetings. You have just been selected by a judge to join more than 1 million guests of the federal, state and county penal systems. Here are some reminders to make your stay as pleasant as possible: You may bring with you up to two (2) athletic supporters; you may not bring with you more than one (1) religious medal; you may kiss and embrace visitors (within the bounds of good taste); you may not try to date a corrections officer.

These are but a few of the helpful hints offered by author Jimmy Tayoun in his 63-page Going to Prison?—a feel-good, self-help book for about-to-be inmates. Tayoun, who turns 65 this week, knows whereof he writes. A Runyonesque former Philadelphia Daily News sportswriter, lobbyist, state legislator and longtime Philadelphia city councilman, he composed Going to Prison? during a recent 33-month stretch in the federal prison in Minersville, Pa., after pleading guilty to charges including bribery and tax evasion.

Tayoun's book is tailored for first-time offenders like himself who never dreamed of doing time. "When I was in prison, guys were coming in shell-shocked," says Tayoun, who was freed on probation in September. "It's like they were told they just contracted terminal cancer and are about to die in 3 hours." The response to Going to Prison?—which has sold 4,000 copies in 16 months—has prompted the author to launch a new career as a kind of presentence guidance counselor.

"I haven't figured out how to make money on it yet," admits Tayoun, living again in his South Philly row house with Dolores, 59, his wife of 37 years and mother of his six grown children. Still, a little cash flow couldn't hurt: Tayoun, whose plea bargain agreement prevents him from lobbying and holding public office, owes $180,000 in back taxes.

For now, he greets patrons of his family's Lebanese restaurant and, from his home office, dispenses to clients his book's correctional wisdom on fashion ("a plain sweat suit—they may let you keep it"), safety ("Mind your own business"), health ("Forget your need for an organ transplant") and, of course, romance ("Use the celibate life to develop your long-neglected spiritual side").

So there it is, (Mr./Ms.) Felon. Have a nice day.

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