After nearly 13 years, Beth Dodd will walk out of prison at the stroke of midnight July 29 and into the arms of her mother, whom she hasn't seen in five years.
Life is rebooting for Beth, and the 33-year-old woman who loves knitting, crocheting, sewing and dogs is bubbling over with plans.
There's no second chance for her victim, however. Beth was wasting her life and hooked on heroin when she raced through a Paisley school zone in her boyfriend's car, killing 8-year-old Amy Rosa and seriously injuring Amy's mother in 2001.
Once troopers pulled a babbling Beth out of the wreck and took her to a hospital for treatment of a broken pelvis, that was it — her freedom was gone. She was 20.
Beth's early years in prison were haunted by thoughts of the child she killed.
"It should never have happened, and I am fully responsible," she said tearfully during a 2003 interview at Lowell Correctional Institution. "Every time I have a birthday, I think of her. Every holiday, I know it's one she doesn't have."
Over the years, Beth was moved to several prisons, along the way building up 12 college credits from Ohio University, training service dogs — her favorite was a golden Labradoodle named Buckmaster — and making layettes out of laundry baskets for pregnant women too poor to afford cribs.
And now, it's time for Beth to focus on Beth.
Some may say she doesn't deserve a new chance. But in truth, it is impossible to spend an entire life in penance. A judge deemed this the proper payment — indeed, it was the maximum — and Beth served her time.
Now, it's on to the cereal aisle at Publix. Yes, breakfast cereal. Beth is missing it something terrible.
"I'm going to buy cereal, and I'm going to eat it," Beth said enthusiastically in an interview this week from the work-release center where she is assigned in St. Petersburg.
What kind will she buy?
"Every single one," she said with certainty.
Ah, the small details of life.
"Little things are super-exciting to me now. I can buy shoes. I can buy two pairs. I can sleep in bed with them. I can wear them in the shower if I want to! I can wash my own dishes! I'm gonna clean out the refrigerator! Fabulous!" she exclaimed.
For the last five months, Beth has been getting ready to be out on her own. Her family is in Indiana, but she doesn't plan to move back there. At first, she'll be staying at the Gateless Gate Zen Center in Gainesville, which in addition to teaching meditation also helps women in prison get back into society.
She has been working at night at a Dunkin' Donuts shop and during the day at a small family-owned business that sews seat covers for golf carts. She pays the work-release center $900 a month for her room and board and has been able to save $2,000 to get her restarted in the world.
In addition to appreciating small choices, Beth has learned the value of kindness. An older Korean lady she works with at the sewing job learned that Beth was from the work-release center and began bringing her homemade food for lunch. That woman probably never will understand what her gesture meant.
"She's my hero," Beth said.
One thing she has learned in these last five months — other than that doughnuts have to be baked and iced real, real fast — is that she must be up front about her background.