DETROIT (AP) – Marie Walsh says she was in prison for a drug crime she didn’t commit, facing regular taunts and threats from inmates and guards, when her grandfather came to visit her and told her she had to get out.
Her subsequent escape from a Michigan prison and the comfortable life she built afterward – raising three children with a husband who didn’t know she was a fugitive until officers arrived at their upscale Southern California home three decades later – are recounted in her new book, “A Tale of Two Lives.”
Walsh had served 14 months of a 10-year prison sentence for a heroin deal when she fled in 1976. Her new life on the West Coast was uprooted in April 2008, when federal marshals handcuffed her.
The book is “about my odyssey through the system from a teenager who got on the wrong path,” Walsh told The Associated Press in a phone interview from her home in San Diego, where she lives with her husband of more than 20 years. “Escaped it for a while and built a life against the odds … and was snatched away from it.”
Walsh is talking about her past after spending 13 more months in prison and finishing probation. Her book recounts her time in prison and lying to the people she loved most.
Walsh was known as Susan LeFevre when she says her grandfather showed up at the Detroit House of Corrections and told her, “Susan, you need to get out of here.”
She wrote that she thought: “What planet am I on? Had I really just heard my grandfather tell me to escape from prison?”
To break free, she scaled a 20-foot, barbed-wire fence at the prison known as DeHoCo. Once on the other side, she began running.
“If they shot at me, I wanted them to kill me. I was not going back,” Walsh wrote.
Her grandfather was waiting for her in his Cutlass. With a search helicopter hovering nearby, they headed to his home in New Baltimore, Mich. Her mother gave her a few hundred dollars, she said her goodbyes to family members and caught a ride with friends to the West Coast.
“Somewhere between the cornfields of the Midwest and the western Rockies, Susan ceased to exist,” she wrote.
Once in California, she used her middle name – Marie – and took the last name Day. She worked odd jobs, kept out of trouble and tried to stay under the radar.
“I was no longer a party girl struggling through college classes. I was a fugitive from the law. … I had no illusions. I was an outlaw. Yet that jump over the prison fence was a leap toward new possibilities,” she wrote.
She eventually met and married Alan Walsh, a financial executive with a trash company, and the couple had three children, now ages 18, 23 and 25. But she chose not to tell any of them about her past – even when her mother died.
In the book, Walsh describes going with her husband to her parents’ home in Saginaw, Mich., to say their goodbyes just before her mother’s 2004 death. She told her husband they wouldn’t be going to the funeral.
Walsh recalled him asking her: “What kind of person doesn’t go to her own mother’s funeral?”
She wrote that she thought at the time: “The kind of person who has never told you the secret of her past.”
She also recounts in the book how the past came crashing into the present. She wrote that a federal marshal called her, pretending to be a landscaper and telling her he’d accidentally cut a palm frond that fell onto one her plants. When she went outside, he pulled out a badge and asked if she was Susan LeFevre.
“I am Marie Walsh,” Walsh told him, according to the book. Then he showed Walsh her mugshot from the 1970s.
Walsh called her husband and was escorted to a car where she was handcuffed.
Walsh said he wasn’t completely shocked because she had told him she “had a dark past” that involved drugs. It was her three children, she said, who were most lost.
“They thought they knew the world and knew their lives, and then all of a sudden their lives kind of exploded,” Walsh told the AP.
Walsh said she wrote her book in part to open readers’ eyes to what she calls America’s misguided war on drugs and the harsh treatment that she and her fellow inmates endured. An interview on “The Oprah Winfrey Show” was scheduled to air Thursday.
Once she’s done promoting the book, Walsh said she hopes to slip back into her life as it was – minus the need to hide her past.
“For the most part, I am doing well in my transition to a normal life,” she wrote. “My friends remark that I seem unchanged. … Then when I least expect it, there are moments that I feel a deep sense of loss or sadness.”
(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)