EX-CON'S ROAD TO FREEDOM
By LEONARD GREENE
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April 4, 2004 -- From jail to Yale.

That's how Harlem mother Elaine Bartlett describes her journey from convicted cocaine peddler in an upstate correctional facility to participant in a book-promotion tour with stops that include a forum with university students in New Haven.

The book about her, "Life on the Outside," chronicles everything in between -- going to jail for a first-time drug offense, her battle for clemency, her release from prison and struggle to readjust.

In 1983, Bartlett was a mother of four on welfare, earning money off the books in a beauty parlor that was still not enough to take care of her family.

When a dealer offered her a job carting cocaine for money, she jumped at the opportunity.

But the dealer was really a cop, and in 1984 she got a sentence of 20 years to life for her first offense. She was pardoned and released after 16 years.

"I'm not saying I didn't commit the crime and I didn't deserve to get punished," Bartlett said. "But it didn't take me 16 years to learn my lesson. My sentence was ridiculous. They railroaded me out of my life."

By the time she got out, all of her children were grown -- raised by their grandmother -- except her youngest daughter, Danae, 22, with whom she still struggles.

"She has a lot of anger, a lot of abandonment issues," Bartlett said. "She says who am I to come home and tell her what to do with her life now. It's ironic because in prison, what keeps you going is your family, but when you come home, you're a complete stranger."

The book, written by Village Voice staffer Jennifer Gonnerman, is a 356-page personalized tome against the Rockefeller drug laws, which have come under fire for their harsh sentencing guidelines.

Bartlett takes on a lot of causes and a lot of people, but her biggest target, ironically, is the same man who set her free.

"Gov. Pataki gave me clemency, and I appreciate that," Bartlett told The Post. "But that doesn't change the fact that they're playing with people's lives."

©2004 New York Post