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March 4, 2005, a few minutes after midnight. The temperatures are sub-freezing, maybe even in the teens. Snow covers the ground. Nearby is the Alderson Federal Women's Prison at Alderson, West Virginia. Dubbed "Camp Cupcake" for its easy living, it is more like hell for its 980 inmates.
Soon, its most famous prison inmate will go free.
The rumor mill is churning in full force. Maybe she'll come out in an hour or two, maybe she'll emerge through an entirely different gate. Perhaps she'll make a public statement soon after her release.
Any public utterance that she makes this evening, any facial gesture, will be dissected and analyzed and conveyed immediately around America and the rest of the world.
For the prisoner is both the most famous and infamous woman in America. Many know her simply by her first name, Martha.
Five months earlier, she slipped into jail in the dark of the night just before dawn, silent, secretive, sullen, strident, high and mighty.
Now, she is about to begin her post-prison freedom and she is on a dramatic mission to stage an unprecedented comeback.
Can she pull it off?
Will her fans welcome her with open arms? Can she again become the queen of homemaking? Can she ignite fresh energy into her faltering businesses?
Or will she be scorned as a convicted felon? Will her commercial empire remain a shadow of itself?
All of America is waiting with baited breath for the answeror so it seems. For, Martha Stewart has risen, and fallen, and now she is trying to rise again.
While journalists stake out the prison, Stewart goes through the routine that everyprisoner waits for with the greatest anticipation, handing in her prison khakis, closing out her commissary account, and finally, changing into civilian clothes.
She is like no other prisoner in America. No prisoner, indeed no celebrity prisoner, is watched and analyzed as carefully and constantly as she is. The Trace of a Smile
Like every prisoner, she has been counting the days until the hour of her freedom, and now that it is here, the trace of a smile crosses her lips.
Fellow inmates and visitors remark that she is coming off the dreaded experience of five months in prison in remarkably good spirits. The nervous, bemused pre-prison look has given way to a new radiance. Her eyes sparkle. She has a sprightly gait. She emerges kinder, humbler. She seems to have shed her elitist airs by getting close to other prisoners.
This then is the new shiny Martha Stewart, the nicer version, and while there is undoubted orchestration behind her makeover, she still seems genuinely to have put her anger, bitterness, and frustration behind her. She knows she must if mainstream American society and culture will have her back.
As it turns out, Martha Stewart leaves Alderson entirely unnoticed. That is how she and her handlers want it. They are organizing her departure from Alderson and her journey to freedom as if she were a political candidate.
There must be no reminders of her life behind bars. She must convey the image of a leader making a triumphant return, fulfilling her promise, "I will be back." The grimacing, my-life-has-been-a-waste Martha Stewart must be airbrushed out of existence. All photos must show her as a freshly minted heroine.
Hence, her aides do nothing to make life easy for the gaggle of media at the prison gate; but they go out of their way to facilitate television coverage at the Greenbrier Valley Airport in Alderson so that TV crews can shoot Stewart stepping on a plane, whisking her to a new life.
Precisely at 12:30 a.m., she leaves prison and arrives at the airport a half hour later.
"Now we're just waiting for that million-dollar shot," reported a gushing CNN reporter named Deborah Feyerick, "whether it will be a smile, a wave, a wink. What will she be wearing?"
"...We'll have that answer as she leaves West Virginia. I don't know whether she'll ever be back but certainly she's leaving in style."
Martha Stewart is indeed leaving prison in style, accompanied by a brand-new media love-fest. She takes quiet satisfaction that the comeback she so much wants has gotten off to a good start.
She feels that she is finally reading the outside reality in a way that can be helpful to her. She now knows that it had been her own distorted version of that outside reality that had gotten her into such trouble.
But, as she boards the private jet, she knows that cynics and even haters await her, hoping that her comeback will go up in smoke. They do not feel that she should be forgiven for the "small personal matter" (Stewart's phrase) that had turned her life into a nightmare for the past 39 months. They do not regard her as a heroine.
Will the anti-Stewart forces scuttle her comeback? Or will she return to her past glory?
Soon, everyone would know the answer.
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