Fugitive Soccer Mom
GLYNN WASHINGTON, HOST:
OK, so we all have secrets from our past. Past lives that we'd rather our kids never know anything about. And often we can keep these secrets our whole lives and take them to our grave, but sometimes, no matter how hard we try, our past comes back to find us out.
MARIE WALSH: My name is Marie Walsh. I'm in my 50s. For three decades, I stayed home with the children and chauffeured them to sports. And all that time I was harboring a secret. Something happened that I was living with all those years. It all sort of exploded on me. I knew that the past had caught up with me. I'm gardening, Monday, and I get a knock on the door and a man says that he's trimming the trees next door and would I come out and look at it. When I stepped out he flashed a badge and said are you Susan LeFevre? At first I said, no, I'm not. Then he pulled out my mug shot from when I was was 19. That moment I knew that my two worlds had collided. I had been arrested with a boy. We were at a restaurant, and I was waiting in the car. I didn't know why he didn't come out. He was supposed to get a pizza. And when I went into the restaurant, police surrounded me with guns and then found out that he had sold a small amount of hard narcotics to an undercover agent. And they arrested both of us. The drug war has started right around this time. There was an immense amount of pressure on me to plead guilty and take what was the plea deal, and I would get a year's probation. And on the way into the courtroom for the sentencing, the prosecutor met me at the door and he said don't mention that any promises have been made. It's all set up with the judge to give you a year's probation. So I went into the courtroom. I had never been in trouble before.
My first offense, I hadn't even done it. And the next thing I know the judge says you're very young, but I want to send a message to society and I'm giving you 10 to 20 years in prison. So next thing you know I'm on my way to one of the more notoriously bad prisons in the world. There was just a stench that I always remember. It was just a lot of rundown little buildings. It looked like a squatter's camp, feeling like it was at the end of the earth. From my cell, I remember looking out to a house way beyond the fence. And it was just a little house. But now I envied that they were on that other side of the fence with the house. And they could turn the lights on when they wanted, and they could walk out of the house. I'd been in the prison for six months. I didn't get any visits. And then finally one day they did call my name on visiting day. It was my grandfather. That's when he told me that no one was doing anything and that he felt I should escape and that he would help me. And I'd heard stories about girls getting caught on the fence. Was having to tell myself that I was capable of facing the people shooting at me from a guard tower, dogs that would chase me. I just said you know what? I can't be afraid anymore. I have to do what I have to do.
One morning then before the sun came up, I just bolted for the fence. And I climbed up and threw a jacket over the barb wire. Jumped to the other side. I remember hitting the ground. And then I started running. This was February, so there was no cover of foliage. Their helicopter came out and hovered overhead. So I hid by a tree for a moment and caught my breath. I just remember my heart was going to pop out, and I just thought I just got to keep going. I just can't stop. I still remember the sight of my grandfather's car at the end of the woods. And I jumped in the back seat, and he just hit the petal and took off. Grandfather took me back to his house. My parents were there, put couple hundred dollars in my hand. Felt like we'd probably never see each other again. I soon after that left. But not until I left the Michigan border when we were just zooming along the highway did I really feel like, wow. When I jumped that fence and left that, I really was leaving everything behind. You know, you have a few days of nothing but cornfields. You just think.
And I said to myself, I'm going to just pretend like everybody was in an accident. I made it in my head where Susan, this girl that couldn't cope with things, and my parents, who were very critical, they ceased to exist. I even acted out in my mind seeing caskets. I needed to just be a different person with a different name. So that's when I picked the name Marie. I first came to San Diego, and I just saw the ocean glittering and the sky real pastel and bright. And I just said I feel like I've arrived where I was supposed to arrive. Five years later, I met a guy and got engaged. I thought, well, I better tell him, when we decided we'd get married. He exploited the situation of having this control over me. I vowed then that there was nothing to be gained by telling anybody. By the time I met my husband, I said to myself it puts the person at risk. What can they do? And every once in a while I'd wake up in the dead of night and just go, oh, my God. This is my cross to bear. Thirty years later after they re-picked me up at my house, my daughter was there, and I was flanked down by two detectives. I just told her that this was something that happened long ago and we would take care of it, not to worry. And she started crying and hugging me just knowing what are these police coming to take my mother away. I asked them if I could call my husband. And I had to tell him that the police were there and they were going to take me to jail because I had escaped from prison.
I had been a wanted fugitive all this time. At my hearing in 2008, my family had all flied out. They wouldn't even let my family sit in the first row. I couldn't even hug my kids even though I hadn't seen them for months. That just broke my heart. I finally got on stand, and I turned to the judge and I told him the whole thing. After the hearing, then they were to decide. And that morning, the warden called me in at the prison and said that they had decided that I wouldn't get out.
And then a few hours later, I saw her again, and she said that they had a complete reversal. It was unanimous that I would be released. On the final release day, my husband flew out. I finally walked through the doors that day and left the prison in a very different way than I had years ago. I'm just really lucky. I am free. I escaped this terrible fate. My only real regret is that I didn't thank my grandfather more. I got to see what it could have been like and then I escaped it.
WASHINGTON: Thank you to Marie Walsh for that story. And here's the good part, Marie's story is even more complicated and exciting than we could fit into the radio. To hear more about her experience, check out the book "The Tale of Two Lives: The Susan LeFevre Fugitive Story." We'll have a link on our website snapjudgment.org. That piece was produced by Julia DeWitt. Now when SNAP JUDGMENT returns, someone's going to get knocked on the head, someone smells like team spirit and someone gets by on the kindness of strangers, when SNAP JUDGMENT "The Stranger" episode continues. Stay tuned.