Shoe designer Steve Madden reveals what prison was really like
Steve Madden was 13 months into his 31-month prison sentence when his personal hell got even worse. It was 2003, and the shoe designer was serving time for stock fraud at the Eglin Federal Prison Camp in Florida.
Good behavior and six months in a drug and alcohol program earned him an eight-day license and reduced his sentence by 18 months. But money, the same thing that put him in jail, got in the way again.
“There was a boy named Belly,” Madden said in the post. He “cooked for me and helped me. but he did not have money to buy soap, detergent or little things. so my assistant sent him $500. You’re not allowed to do that, and someone ratted me out.”
Within seconds, Madden lost everything again. The warden held a mock “trial” for his crime, he said, with prison guards playing prosecutor and defense attorney. he lost the “case” and with it his license and reduced sentence. “It was the worst moment of my life,” he said. “they sent me to another prison that was more ‘prison-y’.”
madden writes about the experience in his new memoir, “the cobbler: how i disrupted an industry, fell from grace & came back stronger than ever” (books radio), on Tuesday.
“I woke up to the feeling of water lightly spraying my face,” he writes of his first day in a detention center on his way from Elgin to the much tougher Coleman Federal Correctional Complex. “It wasn’t water at all. it was urine.”
Known for his unabashed Long Island intensity, Madden’s book shows a more timid side to his personality and delves into the lowest points of his quaalude addiction, financial misdeeds, and prison time.
Born the youngest of three children, to an Irish Catholic father who ran a textile mill and a Jewish housewife mother, Madden felt his mixed heritage made him “an anomaly.” He struggled in high school, preferring his job at a shoe store in Cederhurst. But his budding obsession is derailed by a failed foray into college.
“[it is] where I first fell in love with quaaludes,” he writes of his time at the university of miami. “I learned an addict’s trick: take pills on an empty stomach so nothing interferes with the high. charging was all that mattered.”
after his father took him out of school, he went so crazy in new york that the management of his parents’ building kicked him out.
“I was out late every night and would come home high, stumbling and bumping into the hall furniture,” he writes.
He passed out in clubs, restaurants and even on top of women. once, he woke up naked in the hallway of her new apartment, walking down the hall for help with his manhood in hand.
Despite his teachers, Madden was, at least during the day, building a shoe empire. he teamed up with the owners of an old-school shoe factory in town and sold his designs to shops and department stores out of the trunk of his car. she also frequently stopped women on the street and bought them sneakers for inspiration.
“I promise I’m not a creep,” it read.
When, in the early ’90s, his high school friend Danny Porush offered to help him raise capital to grow his business, Madden jumped. His multimillion-dollar IPO with Stratton Oakmont, the brokerage Porush ran with Jordan Belfort, later known as the “Wolf of Wall Street,” made the designer rich overnight. he would eventually land him behind bars.
“jordan is unlike anyone i have ever met before or since,” madden writes. “He became one of the most influential people in my life…he was pumping and dumping [stocks] with them.”
When the feds began to run amok, he stayed in Belfort, allowing the wolf to use his company office and refusing to wear a bug or rat him out. Belfort ended up serving only 22 months because of his schemes, while Madden served 31 months.
He was able to get his business back after prison and remains the company’s head of creative and design. Like most fashion retailers, Madden has struggled during the Covid-19 pandemic, including, he said, Zoom meetings. They have locked him up in his apartment on 57th Street, where the divorcee spends time with his three children. Now that much of his business has shifted to online ordering, he said he is once again reinventing the creative side of his company for an audience that wants comfortable slippers and clogs while working from home.
and though he put it all in writing, madden admits he’s not entirely comfortable with his stories of excess for public consumption.
“I wish I hadn’t written it now,” Madden said, her own words sinking in as she’s recording the audiobook. “I really do. he is very naked. it’s all naked. at the time [I started writing], I just wanted to post it all. but now I’m in a different space with the pandemic and everything. Now, I’m like, ‘I don’t know if I want that out there.'”