EX-CON'S ROAD TO FREEDOM
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."
"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