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The Arrest
On the morning of November 8, 1983, Elaine Bartlett and her boyfriend Nathan Brooks left her apartment in a Harlem housing project and rode the train to Albany. Crammed down the front of Elaine’s pants was a package of cocaine. Her friend George Deets had told her that if she brought the drugs to Albany, she would earn $2500. At the time, she was 26 years old and had four young children.

George met Elaine and Nathan at the train station, then took them to the Monte Mario Motel. Within a few hours, Elaine and Nathan were both in the custody of the state police, posing for mug shots at the police barracks. They were under arrest for selling four ounces of cocaine. (Click here to see the investigation and arrest reports.)

The Trial

Elaine and Nathan were taken to the Albany County Jail, then indicted by a grand jury. In January 1984, they went on trial together and were each convicted of an A-1 felony. Under New York State’s Rockefeller drug laws, the judge was required to give them at least 15-years-to-life.

Neither Elaine nor Nathan knew much about the Rockefeller drug laws, but Elaine tried to plead her own case at their sentencing. (Click here to read her words.) When she finished, the judge gave her 20-years-to-life. He gave Nathan 25-to-life.

Life on the Inside
On March 5, 1984, Elaine arrived at Bedford Hills, the state’s only maximum-security prison for women. (Read her receiving blotter.) Over the next years, she was regularly evaluated by the prison’s counselors, who were required to fill out “assessment summaries” measuring her “custodial adjustment” and “program involvement.”

The only way Elaine could get out of prison early was to get clemency. She applied and was invited to appear before the parole board in December 1999. Two board members interviewed her and also reviewed her “inmate status report.”

Governor George Pataki granted Elaine’s request for clemency two days before Christmas in 1999. She was released from Bedford Hills on January 26, 2000. By then, she had been a prisoner for more than sixteen years.

Life on the Outside
Once she left prison, Elaine was not completely free. To get out of prison, she’d had to sign a “Certificate of Release to Parole Supervision.” Now she had to follow all of the rules listed on this form, or else risk returning to prison once again.