San Diego mom who escaped prison writes about ‘odyssey’

Marie Walsh was in her upscale San Diego home with her youngest daughter when officers arrived and sent her secret past crashing into the present. Not even her husband knew she'd escaped from a Michigan prison three decades earlier, changed her name and was a wanted fugitive.

The new life she'd built was uprooted that day in April 2008, when authorities acting on an anonymous tip arrested and handcuffed her at her home. But it was her three children, she said, who were most lost.

“They thought they knew the world and knew their lives, and then all of a sudden their lives kind of exploded,” Marie Walsh told The Associated Press during a phone interview Wednesday from her home in San Diego, where she lives with her husband of more than 20 years.

Now, after spending 13 more months in prison and finishing probation, Walsh is finally talking about her past, which she details in her new book, “A Tale of Two Lives.”

“It's about my odyssey through the system from a teenager who got on the wrong path,” Walsh said. “Escaped it for a while and built a life against the odds … and was snatched away from it at age 52.”

Walsh was Susan LeFevre when she scaled a barbed-wire fence at the Detroit House of Corrections in 1976. She still has a scar on her hand.

She was driven away by her grandfather – as search helicopters hovered nearby – and taken to his home in New Baltimore, Mich. Her mother gave her $300, she said her goodbyes to family members and caught a ride with a friend to the West Coast.

She'd served 14 months of a 10-year prison sentence for a heroin deal. Walsh, who maintains her innocence, said she agreed to plead guilty to a drug charge at age 19 because she was promised probation. She also feared going through a trial where a drug agent known for helping get convictions would testify.

Once in California, she used her middle name – Marie – and took the last name Day. She worked odd jobs, kept out of trouble and successfully stayed under the radar.

Then she fell in love. She decided to divulge her past to the man she planned to marry, but her fiancé used the information as leverage when they fought and threatened to turn her in. She broke off the engagement.

She eventually met and married Alan Walsh, a financial executive with a trash company, and the couple had three children, now ages 18, 23 and 25.

But she chose not to tell any of them about her past.

When she was arrested – revealing all her dark secrets without warning – “it was hard on them,” she said of her children. “It was harder than I thought.”

Her husband wasn't completely shocked because she had told him she “had a dark past” that involved drugs. He was most bothered by the swirling media attention.

“It was unsettling for him. We're both very private,” Walsh said.

She was returned to prison in Michigan, serving another 13 months, before earning a legal release in May 2009. The previous September, a judge placed her on probation for the escape and separately, the Michigan Parole Board voted to release her from prison on the drug sentence, saying she led a productive and crime-free life in California.

Walsh is now promoting her book, which she said she wrote in part to open readers' eyes to what she said is America's misguided war on drugs and the harsh treatment that she and her fellow inmates endured. Her interview with Oprah Winfrey is scheduled to air Thursday on “The Oprah Winfrey Show.”

But once that's done, Walsh said she hopes to slip back into the obscurity that was the hallmark of her existence for 30-plus years in California.

“I'm gonna do this for a short time, then I want to be left alone,” she said.

Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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