Robert Downey Jr. says his 1999 prison sentence was “the worst thing that happened to me”.
The Iron Man star opened up about his time in a California state prison on a Monday delivery of the Armchair Expert podcast. While talking to friend and podcast co-host Dax Shepard about his father’s death, his “third act” and his new Max show Downey’s dream carshe started about his year in prison in the late ’90s.
While speaking about his own denial of his substance abuse problems, Downey recalled being “over-convicted by an angry judge” and sent to North Kern State Prison in Delano, California. Described by the actor as a “reception center where they decide where you go”, he called it “perhaps the most dangerous place I’ve ever been in my life” because, he says, prisoners of different security levels are kept together.
“You could just feel the evil in the air, and that wasn’t a problem at all because it was like you were just in a really bad neighborhood. There was no opportunity. There were only threats,” he recalls.
While here, he says he was “whirled” at one point, provoking “chuckles and jeers” after entering a shower with his underwear on backwards. He was then transferred to the California Substance Abuse Treatment Facility and State Prison. From here, he said, it took him two weeks to get used to the reality of why he was there.
“We are programmed to adapt in a short period of time to things that are seemingly impossible,” he said. “And to me, there are certainly worse things that could have happened than being sent to an asylum. We can only go by what we know though, and I’d imagine if I had to guess, that was the worst thing that happened to me.
While inside, he said the general tone was that “as long as you have a willingness to do harm, you’re unlikely to be targeted.”
“It’s really about what the difference is between pretending to be willing to do harm and actually being willing to do harm,” he continued.
In 1999, Downey Jr. initially sentenced to three years in the California Substance Abuse Treatment Facility and State Prison after missing several court-ordered drug tests related to a 1996 cocaine possession charge. He would ultimately serve just one year, having been convicted in 2000 was released early on condition that he be released on bail.
On the podcast, Downey said the closest he could get was “being sent to a distant planet where there’s no way home until the planets align.”