Life, With Nothing To Lose
By Elizabeth Dinan
Portsmouth Herald, Sunday, February 20, 2005
[The following article is courtesy of The Portsmouth Herald and Seacoast Online.]
was among a series of pictures she
reportedly gave to her teenage lover,
Billy Flynn. [AP file photo]
Pamela Smart granted permission for this interview, urging the Herald to arrive as a visitor to avoid the prison's lengthy process for admitting media. No paper or pen was allowed and the interview was written from memory.
Pam Smart is seated at table number 13 in the visitor's area of New York's Bedford Hills Correctional Facility. She's wearing coral lipstick, purple nail polish and her blonde hair curled inward along her face - a departure from her trademark ringlets.
Here, during a 2½ hour conversation, one of the world's most infamous inmates describes being hopeless, remorseful, victimized, medicated, adapted to prison and sometimes suicidal. She talks about regrets, how Hollywood and the media have portrayed her, Victoria's Secret shipments and prison food, in addition to her sexuality and legacy.
Outside, miles of silver razor wire coil around the maximum security women's prison, while inside, the visitor's area is decorated with paper Valentine's Day decorations - the kind one would find in a grammar school - still taped to prison walls on Feb. 17.
Since filing for commutation of her life-without-parole sentence for orchestrating the 1991 murder of her husband, Gregg, Smart's voluminous incoming mail has swelled to include renewed interest from a list of media outlets, all looking for fresh interviews with the woman dubbed "The Ice Princess." Smart says that includes "Primetime Live's" Diane Sawyer, who arrived at the prison by black limousine and bearing flowers in her own effort to get Smart.
Meanwhile, Smart's lawyers are urging her to talk publicly about the fact she's serving life without parole for being an accomplice to first-degree murder, while the confessed murderer, Billy Flynn, will get out of jail at or before the expiration of his 40-year sentence.
The publicity could help her commutation case, they figure. But with the exception of the Herald, Smart has declined those interview requests.
She's sick of her own story, she says, adding, "They hate me in New Hampshire."
Just 5-foot-1-inch and slim, Smart's presence is dwarfed by her colossal notoriety.
Fifteen years older than when she was sentenced at the age of 23, Smart's blue-gray eyes now become framed with crow's feet when she smiles. Her skin is pale and her appearance slightly altered by the surgical implant of a steel plate in the left side of her face following an assault by two inmates.
In conversation, the word "yo" occasionally slips into her sentences, an indicator that her New Hampshire roots have become influenced by New York street vernacular.
Bedford Hills allows inmates to wear their own clothes, which for Smart on Thursday means a cream turtleneck, with brown slacks and boots. Around her neck, she wears a gold chain with a nautical interpretation of a crucifix - the cross fashioned from an anchor and accented by a ship's wheel.
The only woman in Bedford Hills serving life without parole, Smart's official release date is cited on prison records as the year 9999. She says that's because it's the latest date available in the prison's computer system.
She says that, and the fact she's exhausted all legal opportunity for appeal, gives her no hope of ever being freed.
A commutation would mean she'd be freed with time served, or another form of reduced sentence, including parole. But she says the commutation request is largely the effort of her mother, Linda Wojas, who has made her daughter's fate her own life's work.
And because of that, Smart says she's considered suicide, several times, so her mother could bury her and have her own life back.
Asked what she misses, it's family Smart cites first, followed by traveling, driving a car, then answering a telephone. She also mentions always wanting a daughter and, at 38, knowing it remains a physical possibility.
The prison allows conjugal visits between married inmates and spouses, and Smart has received mailed marriage proposals. But she says she's never seriously considered them, knowing any letters she writes, or conversations she has, might be sold to newspapers.
Sex with prison guards is the way she says she could conceive a child, insisting that's been a real option since transferring to the New York prison from Goffstown, N.H., 12 years ago.
But she's decided against it, she says, because after one year in a prison nursery, the baby would have to live with her already overburdened mother. Besides, she says, "there's no room in my head right now" for sexual relationships.
What is in her head is a back-and-forth battle between resignation to her fate and a fight to flee.
Some days she continues a personal mental battle, telling herself not to care about the little rewards prison offers, like packages from home, "trailer time" in on-site private motor homes with loved ones over certain weekends, or her former role as a teacher to other inmates. Convincing herself she doesn't care about these things leaves no room for pain if they're taken away as punishment, she says.
Other days, Smart digs out paperwork and writes letters in an effort to free herself.
Meanwhile, she resists the label "model prisoner," attached to her name in news stories about the dual master's degrees she's earned behind bars - one in literature, the other in law. She says living among criminals has also taught her how to commit a host of crimes.
"I'm not a model prisoner," she says, explaining she's had scrapes with other inmates and isn't adverse to telling a guard to F- off.
"I have nothing to lose," she says.
Smart talesSmart bristles at common descriptions and portrayals of her.
First, she was never a teacher, she says, noting her role as media coordinator for Winnacunnet High School and other area schools was not a teaching position.
She cares because not being a teacher makes her less culpable. Also because news stories about teachers gone bad, including renewed interest in Mary Kay Letourneau (a teacher imprisoned for her affair with a teen student), often include the Smart story.
As for the Ice Princess title, Smart describes herself as emotional and prone to being weepy.
I cry for humanity, she says, not for myself.
And if she seems icy today, it could be the prescribed medication she takes to control anxiety caused by a constant awareness of her infinite incarceration. Or perhaps it's a hardness that's seeped into her persona from living with New York's worst female criminals, some of whom she's had to fend off, others who've become trusted friends.
Smart also talks about portrayals of her as being "so smart," in manipulating her teenage lover and his friends to kill her husband. If she were so smart and had planned the murder, she says, it wouldn't have involved teenagers.
And she still denies involvement in the murder plot, but she says she regrets her admitted affair with Bill Flynn, the confessed trigger man, who wasn't old enough for a driver's license at the time.
She says before she began having sex with Flynn, her ego was shattered by her husband's infidelity, that she was flattered by Flynn's attention and battled conflicting feelings of knowing it was wrong and wanting to feel good.
Flynn's admission to being a virgin before his involvement with her was news she learned during the murder trial, she says. And she still believes he didn't commit the murder, but took the fall for one of the others he enlisted for the murder.
Flynn's accomplice Raymond Fowler has a Web site that says he's under a gag order preventing him from talking about the case. But it also says that if he'd been allowed to testify during Smart's trial, his version of the facts "would have raised serious questions in the case the prosecution had built against Pam Smart, making 'guilt beyond a reasonable doubt' very difficult to prove."
Inmate Smart has things she's thankful for.
She's allowed to provide her own bedding, as long as it's a solid color. A curtain offers privacy and a throw rug warmth.
She wears her own clothes and 14K jewelry, and her pajamas and undergarments often come through the mail from Victoria's Secret. She wears these inside her private cell, where she has a window overlooking the prison ball field and can be opened for fresh air at her whim.
She orders groceries monthly and shares a kitchen with inmates who cook their own meals and often swap a can of this for a half-pound of that.
Recently transferred from her inmate tutoring job to working and living with the prison's mentally ill population, Smart says she likes her new role. This includes reminding one woman to take a shower and instructing her to wash under her arms. For another, prone to using her month's food supplies in days, Smart rations the items.
She's learned what behaviors aggravate their individual illnesses and says she's found unconditional love from some who have no idea who she was before she went to jail.
Like most populations, says Smart, prison inmates and guards treat her in varied ways. Some feel sorry for her, while others look to confront her, just because she's Pam Smart.
Meanwhile, her commutation request will be decided by New Hampshire Gov. John Lynch and the governor's Executive Council.
Lynch spokesman Pamela Walsh said the governor has not seen the request, currently with the state attorney general's office, "so he feels it's premature to comment."
The five executive councilors - Ray Burton, Peter Spaulding, Ruth Griffin, Ray Wieczorek and Debora Pignatelli - were all asked for comment via e-mail and through links from their own Web site. Not one responded over several days.
At noon Thursday, Smart says she needs to end the interview to receive her medication. She offers directions to the nearest rest room, then the exit route for her visitor to leave the jail that confines her.
"Go down the hall and keep going," she says.