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Anna Sorokin on “Inventing Anna” and Life After Rikers

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The release of “Inventing Anna,” a nine-part Netflix series created by Shonda Rhimes, has brought Anna Sorokin’s case back into the spotlight. Ms Sorokin, 31, lived for several years in the 2010s as Anna Delvey, a wealthy German heiress of her own invention, convincing members of Manhattan’s elite to fund her fine dining and travels.

Ms Sorokin was arrested in 2017 after defrauding banks and failing to pay hefty hotel bills in Manhattan. I covered his trial for The New York Times in 2019; she was convicted of eight counts and sentenced to four to 12 years in prison.

After going through five correctional facilities, Ms Sorokin was released in February 2021. Six weeks later she was arrested again by immigration authorities for overstaying her visa. She has spent the last year in ICE detention, where she is fighting deportation to Germany.

During several phone calls to the Orange County Correctional Facility in Goshen, NY, Ms Sorokin spoke about the Netflix show (for which she was a paid consultant), life in custody and the looming issue of remorse. The interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

In 2019, around the time of your trial, you said to me: “The thing is I’m not sorry” for the financial crimes you have been accused of. The quote has followed you everywhere ever since, and was even the first issue raised during your hearing before the parole board.

I told the parole board that I felt like I was taken out of context. And I said you came as a surprise, and my feelings from that trial were really fresh. I felt quite defiant. It was just a few days after my guilty verdict. I was still processing.

What would your answer be now?

I am sorry for the way my case is perceived. And I’m sorry that I resorted to these actions that people think I glorify now.

I’m sorry for the choices I made. Certainly, I don’t feel like the world would be a better place if people just tried to be more like me.

The Netflix series “Invent Anna“is about a very specific time in your life – your twenties. You are 31 now. Do you feel like you’ve changed?

I feel like I’ve changed so much just because I’ve been exposed to so many people and seen the journeys of others. Even though I thought I had traveled so well and lived in Europe, lived in the United States and lived in different countries, I was so sheltered. Having been in prison and having been through the criminal justice system, it just exposed me to a whole different type of person, and my problems before that just seem ridiculous.

If you could go back in time, would you come back and do things differently?

Looking back, I would have changed a lot of things, but that’s not how life works. So I base myself on my experiences and learn from them.

Netflix paid you $320,000 for your lifetime rights to the series and you consulted on the project. [A Netflix spokeswoman would not confirm the figure but wrote that the payments were made to an escrow account monitored by New York State’s Office of Victim Services.]

Yes, and that’s why, to refer to this Interview with the BBC where I was asked “Does crime pay?”, I honestly couldn’t say “no”, in my situation, because I was paid. For me, to say “no” would be to deny the obvious. I did not say that crime generally pays.

How was this money used?

I paid $198,000 – something for restitution, which I paid in full and immediately, and the rest for my legal fees.

Your social media presence also played a role in your continued detention. You did quite the hyperbolic statements there while you were away last year.

I have always seen my social networks as satire. It was never meant to be serious. Part of me telling my story and using my voice is to raise awareness about the absurd things inmates have to go through every day.

Julia Fox read a article you wrote for Business Insider and shared it on her Instagram story. She called you “my dear sister” and said that you were “killing her behind bars”. How do you know Julia?

We have mutual friends – she’s a city girl. We actually connected on Instagram when I was out, and we kinda DMed, and then she jumped on my Clubhouse, which was really random. I was answering people’s questions about my experience, and she made the forum so much better. She asked all the right questions. We have the same sense of humor. She was never judgmental and we’ve stayed in touch ever since.

She has a lot of interesting creative projects going on, and I feel like the media doesn’t do her justice when talking about her love life. We are currently working on a little something together.

Say it.

Very soon.

Let’s talk more about your ICE detention. You were released to serve your sentence, then re-arrested six weeks later for overstaying your visa.

ICE came to me three times, starting in December 2020, and the last time they just let me know: you are not of interest to us.

So I was in shock when I was arrested. I knew it was a possibility, but nothing had changed in my situation for six weeks. So it’s stunning. Why don’t I stop when I get out of prison? It’s not like I fell through the cracks. [A spokesperson for ICE would not comment on the specifics of Ms. Sorokin’s ICE detention.]

I don’t think it’s such a controversial or radical thought: that prison really is a waste of time and it’s not effective. Between my arrest and my release, the first officials who asked me about my crime were the parole board.

There are programs for drug addicts and sex offenders and programs for violent inmates. But there is absolutely nothing for financial crimes. I took a culinary arts program. That must say something about this system.

A lot of people inside ICE don’t speak English. You have spent some time trying to help non-English speakers without lawyers navigate the system, but it has been a struggle for you and for them.

It’s really hard to figure out what your options are. There’s no way to do your own research here. The books are from 20 years ago. I have yet to find any immigration cases that resemble mine.

I have a lawyer, but some people here don’t because you can’t be a burden on the government while defending your immigration case. You must either find a charity that will help you or represent yourself.

I haven’t heard of a single success story where someone was arrested and found a good immigration lawyer while incarcerated. The system is predatory: you are doomed.

What do you have with you in your cell?

My cell is pretty depressing. I have a whole bunch of legal papers. I have a lot of books, mostly books. And a trail mix for snacking. It’s as austere as it gets.

What are you reading right now?

I just released “Super Pumped” by Mike Isaac — that’s Uber’s story. [Mr. Isaac is a technology reporter for The Times.] So, I’m reading this for non-fiction, and for fiction, I’m reading “We need to talk about Kevin.”

I just read a whole book by Jonathan Franzen. I wouldn’t say I binge, but I read “The Corrections”, which I never could have finished outside, and I read “Purity” too. I haven’t read “Crossroads” – the new one – because the last time I asked it wasn’t available in softcover, and I can’t get hardcovers.

Do you have friends in Goshen?

There are people I’ve been friendly with, but they’ve all gone. I just do my thing and write. I have a lot to do and I’m just trying to manage my projects.

The Netflix show is a fictional version of a specific time in your life. Beyond the series, what would you like viewers to know about you?

There is certainly much more to my story that I would like to share. In this spirit, I am working on several projects. I’m working on a documentary project with Bunim Murray Productions in Los Angeles. I’m also working on a book about my time in prison and I’m also working on a podcast.

I’m not trying to encourage people to commit crimes. I’m just trying to shed some light on how I made the best of my situation, not trying to glorify it. This is what I create from this story.