Prisoner No. 55170-54 arrives at Alderson, W. Va.'s "Camp Cupcake" early this morning

By Stephen M. Silverman
Updated October 08, 2004 08:00 AM

Martha Stewart checked into the minimum-security women’s prison in Alderson, W. Va., about 5:55 a.m. Friday to begin her sentence for lying about a 2001 sale of ImClone Systems Inc. stock.

The celebrity homemaker, 63, had spent Thursday night at a private residence near the facility, say reports, and was driven inside prison gates Friday in a gray SUV.

In a message posted on her personal Web site, Martha Talks, Stewart wrote: “By the time you read this, I will have reported to a minimum-security prison in Alderson, West Virginia, to begin serving my five-month sentence.

“As I announced in September, although my lawyers remain very confident in the strength of my appeal and will continue to pursue it on my behalf, I have decided to serve my sentence now because I want to put this nightmare behind me as quickly as possible for the good of my family and my company.”

She ended by saying, “With your good wishes in my heart, I am looking forward to being back at work in March, and to many brighter days ahead.”

Stewart spent her final hours of freedom working. A spokeswoman for the domestic diva’s namesake company, Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia Inc., told CNN that she was working in the office Thursday and had been there all week, staying at her home in Westport, Conn. Stewart also reportedly spent time this past week with her 90-year-old mother, her daughter and her sisters.

Stewart, who vacationed in the Bahamas last weekend for “the nicest two days,” as she tells PEOPLE in the new issue, now faces the bleakest five months as one of Alderson’s 1,040 inmates.

Despite the nickname “Camp Cupcake,” the prison farm won’t be a picnic for prisoner No. 55170-54. “She’ll be strip-searched the first hour,” says peace activist Clare Hanrahan, 55, who did a six-month stint in Alderson in 2001. “Martha will be told to cough three times, stand up and turn around for a visual inspection. It’s very humiliating.”

Her prison regimen – 6 a.m. wake-up and 10 p.m. lights out, with strict supervision, assigned duties and starchy meals in between – “is weighing on her,” Stewart’s friend Charles Simonyi tells PEOPLE. “She is afraid about whether she can remain strong and continue to keep up her spirit.”

On Thursday, Stewart’s lawyers filed a seven-page letter with Manhattan federal Judge Miriam Goldman Cederbaum, who presided over Stewart’s case. Their letter argued that the prosecution deliberately withheld evidence that would have cleared Stewart, and accused federal officials of “misconduct” and “sabotage” regarding ink-lab tests that were allegedly used to “to secure her indictment and conviction.”

Interim Manhattan U.S. Attorney David Kelly declined to comment on the letter.