An inspired Marie Walsh, Michigan's 'fugitive mom,' looks to free others

Walsh hopes a nonviolent drug offender get a chance at freedom

The woman once known as the 'fugitive mom' is hoping she can draw attention to what she calls 'the prison problem.'

Marie Walsh is hopeful sharing this story will help a nonviolent drug offender get a chance at freedom and also revealing the surprising new twist in her own life.

Local 4 received a letter from Walsh in 2008. She was looking for help and wanted the world to know she didn't feel like she belonged in prison. Walsh sat down with Local 4 in San Diego for an interview where she wanted to focus on another inmate being held in Michigan that she's hoping will be set free soon -- Tracy Cowan.

"There are a lot of people who are in prison and a lot of people think they've reformed," Walsh said. "They have long sentences, they just have no real chance."

Walsh knows firsthand how the Michigan prison system works. The Saginaw native was arrested in 1974 on drug charges. At the time heroin was a huge problem and anyone caught with it could face decades in prison. That is what happened to Walsh.

At the time she was known by her birth name, Susan LeFevre, and she claimed she was in the wrong place at the wrong time. She was still sent to prison, but managed to escape.

She assumed a new life and identity in San Diego where she got married and had three children and a beautiful home. A tip led police to her in 2008, when she was extradited back to prison in Michigan.

Less than half a year later, the parole board voted to release her, allowing her to go back to the life she built in San Diego.

Walsh said Kim Kardashian West's success with getting President Trump to pardon Alice Marie Johnson, a 63-year-old woman who was sentenced to life in prison in 1997 after a nonviolent drug offense, impacted and inspired Walsh.

"I'm very impressed that she chose to help a woman out of the dark dungeon that is the prison system," Walsh said.

Now Walsh wants to draw attention to Cowan's story. Like Walsh and Johnson, Cowan is also a nonviolent drug offender who has spent years imprisoned, but now there could be hope.

Oakland County Judge Wendy Potts will be reviewing her case in July. 

"Tracy has been in prison for 15 years. I met her 10 years ago," Walsh said. "I really thought she would get out any day."

Cowan is held in a state prison, which makes her ineligible for a presidential pardon like Johnson received. Her release is dependent on a local judge or the governor. It's Walsh's hope that those who support Cowan's release will write letters of support.

There is a long history of presidents issuing pardons -- some of those granted had prior personal relationships with the sitting president and others are cases cases that garner a lot of public attention and support, like Johnson's.

"I think it helps to have a prominent person advocate on behalf of someone seeking a pardon," said Local 4 legal expert Neil Rockind.

Former Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick made an appeal online Tuesday for a Presidential pardon.

"He may be Kilpatrick's best chance at getting relief, because if President Trump won't do it -- someone who doesn't appear to operate under the same normal, typical playbook, who isn't worried about the political repercussions of things, a guy who marches to his own beat," Rockind said. "Then a president who's more by the book, who sort of follows the guidelines and worries about the traditional political fallout from a pardon like that probably won't."

Walsh is continuing her work to help inmates, but her life has also taken a turn. The last Local 4 spoke with her, Walsh settled back into her life with her husband and children. Now she's in a small apartment and separated from her family.

"Marriages are hard anyway," Walsh said. "We're just working things out, hopefully."

Her relationship with her children also took a turn after her release.

"The kids, I was estranged from them for a while," Walsh said. "We're working on things. It's very hard for them."

The double life Walsh lived caught up with her legally and emotionally. Trust issues caused problems with her family and her criminal record caused issues with her life.

"I wanted to be a drug counselor and I'm having trouble getting certified because of my history. I missed out on getting an apartment in Del Mar because of my history," Walsh said. "I'm having these obstacles. Because I would love to work with people because I know what that darkness is -- that lost feeling when you're trying to find the answers the wrong way."

Walsh is hopeful she can now help others, like Cowan, find the right way.

The letter Walsh sent to Local 4 in 2008 can be read below.

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