Jen Shah Shares Her Prison Experience

Former Bravo Real Housewife of Salt Lake City Jen Shah made headlines the past two years after being indicted for conspiracy to commit wire fraud and money laundering. Shah and her assistant, Stuart Smith, began a nationwide telemarketing scheme in 2021, in which elderly and vulnerable individuals were scammed out of thousands of dollars after being convinced to make sham investments and service purchases. “These victims were sold false promises of financial security, but instead, Shah and her co-conspirators defrauded them out of their savings and left them with nothing to show for it,” says U.S. Attorney Damien Williams in a statement last July. 

Throughout the criminal investigation, Shah flaunted her opulent lifestyle on Real Housewives of Salt Lake City and even made light of the charges in her season two tagline “The only thing I’m guilty of is being Shah-mazing” (a line that would later be referenced in court papers to indicate Shah did not take the charges seriously). Finally, in November of 2022, Shah was sentenced to six-and-a-half years in prison, with an additional five years of supervised release. Shah will also pay $6.6 million in restitution and forfeit 108 luxury items—both real and counterfeit.  

On February 17, Shah surrendered to the Federal Bureau of Prisons and began sharing her experience in an Instagram post. Offering a semblance of accountability for her actions, she writes: “While incarcerated, I will work to make amends and reconcile with the victims of my crime.” Shah will serve her 78-month sentence at minimum-security federal prison camp Bryan Prison in Texas–the same facility where former Theranos CEO Elizabeth Holmes is predicted to serve her 11-year sentence. 

Shah takes to the ‘Gram to share her prison experience

Bravo fans remember the dramatic moment when Shah was arrested on camera during season two of Salt Lake Housewives, a clip of the arrest was even included in the damn premier (possibly the best clickbait ever). Shah’s entire criminal journey has been well publicized, sensationalized and satirized. But as the 47-year-old reality star steps firmly out of the spotlight and into a jail cell, we’re left wondering “Is this the last we’ll hear from Jen Shah?” Don’t be silly. In showbiz, jail time is best served with a side opportunistic PR. 

Five days ago, Shah began journaling her incarceration for her 235K Instagram followers. Starting with the moment she surrendered, Shah writes “It felt surreal as we drove to Bryan FPC just minutes away from having to surrender. My worst fear was about to happen—having to say goodbye to my sweet husband and precious baby Omar.” Most of what she posts borders on self-pity more than self-awareness, but any person trading their $7.6 million dollar ski chalet for a bunk bed would be in a state of shock. Still, you can’t help but feel empathy for her family. Her husband and two sons are entangled in this mess all the same, and any way you look at it, it’s pretty heartbreaking to spend nearly 7 years apart from an incarcerated parent. 

Shah has only released two journal entries thus far, most conveying her struggle to acclimate and pain of leaving her family. It’s understandable but also a little difficult to read without judgment. In one post, she writes “I keep thinking this is insane, completely ridiculous. Why am I here? This feels like someone like me doesn’t belong here.” Although Shah isn’t void of accountability for her actions, writing “I am here because of my bad decisions. I am here because I did this to myself and there is no one to blame but me.” There’s not a lot of recognition for the countless victims she defrauded, some of whom might experience financial insecurity for the rest of their lives. But maybe that will come. 

A Look Inside Bryan Prison

Shah’s home for the next 6.5 years is a minimum-security prison, one that her lawyers requested during her sentencing in January. The some 500 female inmates, most of whom have committed white-collar crimes, share dormitory housing and structure their days around work and programs. Shah is far from the first high-profile inmate to serve time at Bryan, including former Enron employee Lea Fastow, January 6th rioter Jenna Ryan and former Texas Commissioner Sylvia Handy. While it seems likely Shah could rub shoulders with a few notable inmates, her early days at FPC Bryan have been spent with a prisoner known as ‘Special K.’ In her second journal entry, Shah writes that Special K has been kind enough to offer her food and remind her when her paperwork goes through to contact her family. “She is kind, and there are not many kind people in this place,” she writes. Move over Heather Gay, Shah has a new bestie on the inside. 

Shah can earn up to 54 days a year off her sentence for good behavior and could be released sometime in 2027 if she completes the prison’s Residential Drug Abuse Program. Until then, fans can check back on her insta profile where Jen attempts to pull heartstrings and navigate the microcosm of prison. And hey, maybe she’ll learn a new skill and make lifelong best friends. What was the plotline of Orange is the New Black again? 

Avrey Evans
Avrey Evans
Avrey Evans is the Digital and the Nightlife Editor of Salt Lake Magazine. She has been writing for city publications for six years and enjoys covering the faces and places of our salty city, especially when a boozy libation is concerned.

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