Betty Smithey’s view has changed for the first time in 49 years.
"It's wonderful driving down the road and not seeing any barbed wire," she told the Arizona Republic.
Smithey, 69, was convicted in 1963 of killing a baby girl, and spent more time behind bars than any other female convict in the U.S. before she was paroled Monday and left the Arizona State Prison Complex – Perryville.
She was originally sentenced to life without the possibility of parole, but Gov. Jan Brewer granted her clemency in June and reduced her term to 49 years to life.
The parole board at Perryville granted an absolute discharge, meaning Smithey is not on probation. "Like I told the board, I know it's going to be a big adjustment, but I'll take it and I'll make good," she said.
Smithey was a 20-year-old live-in babysitter when she murdered 15-month-old Sandy Gerberick on the first day of 1963. Psychiatrist Elizabeth Kohlhepp said she endured an abusive childhood and went psychotic from the stress.
In her early years as an inmate, she escaped four times from three different prisons, according to the Arizona Republic. But as the years wore on, Kohlhepp said, Smithey changed.
“She has no risk factors for violence," the psychiatrist testified. "She doesn't have a criminal mindset."
Even baby Sandy’s mother, Emma Simmons, wrote Smithey a letter forgiving her for the murder. "I really see no value in keeping you in prison any longer. I really see no value in keeping strings on you any longer," Parole Board Chairman and Director Jesse Hernandez said Monday at her hearing.
She plans to live at a niece’s home in Mesa, the Republic reported.
"I am lucky, so very lucky," she told the paper.