Martha's New Leaf

There are a lot of people who say Martha Stewart (search) is pulling a fast one on us. That she's playing us all like a fiddle. That the kinder, gentler Martha is a charade. That she no more went through a prison "Shawshank Redemption" reawakening, than me suddenly swearing off bakery products.

I'm not so sure.

It's too early to tell, but I think those five months in that West Virginia prison did change Martha. If you think about it, it would have to. It's why kidnap victims develop an affinity for their captors or why some inmates get some introspection.

I wouldn't know on either count. But I do know those who've been in similar circumstances.

Barry Minkow, who spent more than eight years in the slammer for creating a bogus Ponzi scheme of a company, claims his scheming mind changed in prison. He grew serious and he grew up. Today, he devotes his life to helping others avoid the same fate. He'll never be rich again and, as a modern day corporate pastor, he doesn't seem to care.

Something happens when you're behind those walls: The world suddenly doesn't see you, or care about you, or even talk about you. You don't exist and you're in the company of others who don't exist. Forgotten by society, scorned by society, you live a life apart from society. Some grow bitter and angry.

From what I can see, unless she's faking it, Martha grew reflective: Working on behalf of a fellow inmate estranged from her family, then working on behalf of all inmates estranged from their dignity.

Yes, this might all be for show. All I'm saying is that I'm going out on a limb and saying it's not.

They say you never get a second chance to make a first impression. But you do get a second chance to make a lasting impression.

Maybe that's what Martha is trying. And, who knows? Maybe that's what Martha will end up doing.

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