Authors: Stacey Lannert
Tags: #Biography & Autobiography, #Personal Memoirs
Disclaimer: Some names and identifying characteristics of some of the people mentioned in this book have been changed in an effort to minimize intrusions on or protect their privacy.
Copyright © 2011 by Libre Diem, LLC
All rights reserved.
Published in the United States by Crown Publishers, an imprint of the Crown Publishing Group, a division of Random House, Inc., New York.
CROWN and the Crown colophon are registered trademarks of Random House, Inc.
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data is available upon request.
Jacket design by David Tran
Jacket photograph by Deborah Feingold
To Matthew Blunt,
former governor of the state of Missouri,
for giving me a chance at redemption.
I would like to thank my attorneys,
Ellen Flottman and Mike Anderson,
for standing behind me and believing in me
even when I did not know how to believe in myself.
Without their unrelenting support and dedication,
I would not be free today.
WHERE THE EAGLE FLIES
Searching for a certain rare find,
a strength of heart and a peace of mind,
my guests all failed with desperate sighs
in trying to reach where the eagle flies
Living a life of mere existence,
meeting with failure and much resistance,
I found that hate laughs and love cries,
in searching for where the eagle flies
My journey has brought me to a strange place,
where all of my fears I am forced to face,
but here I have found in the cold winter skies
that within my soul is where the eagle flies
Behind these walls, the iron doors locked tight,
I close my eyes and enjoy the flight,
soaring above the mountain highs,
reaching to where the eagle flies
JONATHAN C. BOYER
January 6, 1992
second chance was never supposed to happen to me. I had a life sentence without the possibility of parole, yet in one magical stroke of a pen, the governor of Missouri, Matthew Blunt, ordered that the prison gates be opened for me. After eighteen years, I was allowed to be Stacey Ann Lannert instead of Offender #85704.
I’ll never completely shed the number, but I did start over. The real world was pure magic. On the outside, I saw miracles everywhere: birds clustered in trees, snowflakes sticking to my windshield, a crossing guard guiding children across the intersection. I saw my breath as it hit the cold air outside. I don’t get stunned easily, but seeing my reflection in a mirror did the trick.
Beginning at age eighteen, I spent a total of eighteen years locked up. At least the numbers are neat and tidy, because the rest was a mess. The trouble started in 1980 at age eight. In 1990, life as I knew it ended, for better and for worse. I had committed murder, ending the life of my sexually abusive father. My personal time warp had begun.
Under incarceration, a punishment I believe I deserved, I was sealed off in a world where hugs were not allowed, and the Internet had never been invented. I couldn’t imagine a phone with no cord that fit in a pocket. I lived in a universe where I wasn’t allowed to talk, walk, or pee without special rules and permission. My drab, worn-out clothes had to be approved. A gourmet meal was a can of Hormel beef chili, and I had to make sure I could afford to buy it. In the beginning of my sentence, my mind was too numb to cry and too shut off to care. I could check in and out of my emotions as if they were library books. To me, sadness and happiness were all the same. The jail of my own making—before and after I committed the crime—was as bleak as the one I was locked up in. My prison bars were ironclad, emotionally and physically.
Fast forward to February 2009. I was thirty-six, and the bars had been completely removed. I’d been shown an act of mercy and grace. I had been delivered from sin. I had sacrificed all of my adult life purely in hopes of this redemption.
If I am fit for forgiveness, I want to live a worthy life. I just have to figure out how to make my way in this world. Get a job. Buy a car. Figure out how to use a cell phone, not to mention how to text. When did ordering coffee get so complicated? And why would anyone want to eat raw fish with rice?
The first time I walked into a department store after my release, for example, I was so overwhelmed that I began to sweat. I usually like to sweat—I teach step class—just not while shopping. Fabrics came in more colors and patterns than an LSD trip. The signs and sales and people bumped into me in every aisle. I needed bras, but the store was the size of a football field.
I decided I would have to live, once again, without the basic items I needed.
During my eighteen years in prison, shopping was sparse. I submitted a short list to the prison staffers whenever I wanted shoes, shirts, Hormel chili, or whatever. I paid for my goods because all prisoners have jobs, albeit with ridiculously low wages. In a few days or months, I’d go to a window, and workers would shove my order back at me. It wasn’t even a store. The system was limited, and it sucked. But at least it was simple. I longed for more choices, and when I finally had them, I panicked.
I asked for help.
My mom volunteered to go shopping with me. It was a warm gesture, because we didn’t shop together when I was growing up. She was always at school, at work, or on the phone with a friend. As a preteen, I picked out my own hair spray and headbands. Eventually, I bought most of the groceries, too. I used to shop a lot then, so what was my problem? I was going to figure it out.
A fresh start.
We browsed the aisles in a big Walmart. After fifteen minutes, she saw me sweating again, and she took action. I needed only two bras, and there were about 250,000 to choose from. The garments came with adjustable straps I’d never seen before. Some didn’t have straps at all. They all promised miracles—perfect fits, lifts, pure comfort, flexibility, and control. Meanwhile, I didn’t even know my size. When I was in prison, I wore only sports bras. Every time I ordered regular ones, they never fit right. If I ordered a small sports bra—just about any kind—I’d be all set.
My mom saw my eyes spinning. In two minutes, she dashed around and brought back five choices for me. She held up the bras and asked me to choose one. I could breathe. I stopped sweating. Five bras were doable; 250,000 were a panic attack. I picked one I liked; it didn’t work. I went to the next option; it was not so good either. After three tries, we had a winner. Happiness was a bra that fit.
Then I glanced into the full-length mirror.
I froze. I stared. I had not seen my body since I was a teenager. We did not have full-length mirrors in the maximum-security state penitentiary. Primping wasn’t exactly a priority. In all that time, I hadn’t thought much about how I looked. Who was I going to impress? Prison guards, prisoners, or occasional visitors? Finally, at that moment, my looks mattered. I was thirty-six, and I wanted to see me.
Was that me?
How had some places gone soft when they used to be hard? My waist was squishier, and so were my thighs and breasts. Maybe if I’d seen my body even one time in the last decade, the difference wouldn’t have been so drastic. I wanted to cry, and I felt tears coming on in the back of my eyes. I stopped myself, though.
My mom was standing outside the dressing room. After a long silence, she peeked in to check on me. She read my face, and she was quiet for a few seconds. Then she said, “We all get older and go through changes.” As she closed the curtain again, she added, “Things sag.”
“I had no idea I’d get old in prison,” I said, only half-joking. My friends used to say that prison preserves a person—an inmate’s body doesn’t get abused by alcohol, drugs, late nights, and other people. My friends had been wrong.
I couldn’t get sad. I wouldn’t allow it; I was free. There was no denying that while my world stood still, my body had grown older. But my body had also grown up, and my mind had grown wise.
Even though I’ve always been five feet, two inches and athletic, my middle had taken on a touch of fat. As a certified fitness instructor, I knew I’d have to exercise five hours a day to get rid of it. If I were still incarcerated, I could find those hours—and more—to work out. But then I would not have a full-length mirror to admire my tummy. I knew which option was better. I would love my flab and French fries too—we weren’t allowed to have them in prison.
Most important, after so many years, I would love my mother. She’s the only parent I have.
Clemency had granted me a deep look at myself—in a mirror. I thought about my life’s journey. How did I get here? I wondered where God would lead me next. I planned to use all that I’d learned to make my world, and the world around me, a better place. If I was worthy of a second chance, I hoped I could fulfill that promise. Could I finally become the person I dreamed of being?
I was set free on January 16, 2009.
I was given a shot at redemption, and I didn’t intend to waste it. My life would have meaning; I would make sure of that.
I am living proof that anyone—even a convicted felon sentenced to life in prison without parole—can walk a spiritual journey. I am proof that people can change. I am proof that people can learn and love and keep on living. Even the most troubled person can transform her life, just as an artist can turn raw materials into an entirely new creation. A glassblower, through persistence, care, and skill, can convert a few shards of glass into a gleaming thing of beauty. Not a lightweight, fragile object, but a well-formed, solid work of art worth saving, collecting, and protecting.
We are all worth saving and protecting.