Life on the Outside

This is a partial transcript from "The O'Reilly Factor," April 6, 2004 that has been edited for clarity.

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BILL O'REILLY HOST: In 1983, Elaine Bartlett (search) and her boyfriend, Nathan Brooks, (search) delivered four ounces of cocaine to undercover cops in Albany, New York. Brooks was a convicted dope dealer, so he received a mandatory 25-year sentence, which he is still serving.

New York authorities offered Bartlett a deal: become an informant and be reduced to five years, serving less, or take the 20-year maximum. She chose the max.

In 1999, Governor George Pataki (search) pardoned Bartlett and now she has her name on a book written by author Jennifer Gonnerman. "Life on the Outside" portrays Bartlett as a victim and has received praise from many elite-media types.

But I remain skeptical and talked with the ladies about the situation a few days ago.


O'REILLY: Now, Elaine, I'm trying to figure out whether I should feel sorry for you or not. I don't know. I mean, I looked at the book and it could go either way with me.

So I want to ask you a couple of fundamental questions. Do you believe that selling hard narcotics, heroin, cocaine, methamphetamine, is morally wrong?


O'REILLY: Did you believe it back then when you were moving the cocaine?

BARTLETT: Yes, I did. I always felt that drugs has played a big part in our lives and in our communities, but the problem is that it doesn't stop us from making foolish mistakes.

O'REILLY: OK. So you knew when you were moving the cocaine from New York to Albany, carrying it, that it was morally wrong to do that? You knew that?


O'REILLY: But you were involved with a boyfriend at the time, a husband now, who's still in prison, by the way, who was as dope dealer.

BARTLETT: Yes. And at that time he was my boyfriend. It's not uncommon for...

O'REILLY: Why -- if you think it's wrong, why would you be the girlfriend of a dope dealer?

BARTLETT: Well, in our neighborhoods, drugs was so common, like people go to the store to buy candy. It's not that we go out and look for it. It's what we're faced with every day of our lives.


BARTLETT: We're not the ones that are bringing the drugs into the country, but we are the communities that are being affected by it.

O'REILLY: But you just said to me you knew it was morally wrong to traffic in hard drugs, yet you became the girlfriend and the subsequent wife of a drug dealer. See that confuses me, and I think it does to the audience, as well.

BARTLETT: Well, he wasn't a big drug dealer. He got involved with drugs at a very young age.

O'REILLY: You were offered a deal by the prosecutor that would have put you in jail for five years if you did what?

BARTLETT: Became an informer and went back to Manhattan and set someone up the same way...

O'REILLY: That someone had set you up.

BARTLETT: ... that someone had set me up. But the problem with that was that I didn't know any kingpins. So, who was I going to set up?

O'REILLY: But if you set up -- if you agreed to the deal and said, "Look, I'll become an informer and tell you what I know," and if you don't know anything, what's the deal? They just wanted to put you in a position where, if you did know something, you'd tell them and you said no.

BARTLETT: No. They told me that they had people that they wanted me to go back to Manhattan and...

O'REILLY: And try to buy from and develop information.

BARTLETT: Exactly.

O'REILLY: But you were not willing to do that.


O'REILLY: why?

BARTLETT: Because I would have put my family in jeopardy in doing so. I didn't know the people they wanted me to set up.

O'REILLY: So it was just fear.

BARTLETT: Mostly fear.

O'REILLY: All right.

Now, Jennifer, you can understand how people reading this book or listening to Elaine -- some people are going to feel sorry for her, that she served 16 on a four-ounce cocaine rap.

And some people are going to say, "Listen, you got what you deserved. You deal with the devil, you get involved with hard narcotics, you get to be the boyfriend and a wife of a drug dealer, I'm not going to feel sorry for you."

JENNIFER GONNERMAN, "LIFE ON THE OUTSIDE" AUTHOR: Yes. I think -- I think probably most of your viewers will maybe not feel sorry for her, but really question the -- what the circumstances of what happened.

You know, as you mentioned, it was a set-up. She was set-up by a man named George Dietz, who in fact was a pretty serious drug dealer in and of itself.

O'REILLY: He got out because he was setting other people up and knocking them down, but that's how drug cases are made all day long.

GONNERMAN: But in this particular case, he was a lot like -- it was like Tom Coleman, who I know you talked about, who set up a lot of people in Tulia, Texas.

George Dietz was bringing cocaine from Colombia into upstate New York at the same time he was working for the New York state police and setting up poor people like Elaine Bartlett.

O'REILLY: OK. But I know Ms. Bartlett is a poor person. But she still had made enormous mistakes on her judgment of who to be associated with romantically, and then deciding to move four ounces of cocaine.

And I mean, I don't know whether this was the first time she did it. I don't know. Nobody knows.

So what I'm trying to tell you is that this is a very, very murky moral area for a lot of people. They don't like to see people's lives be ruin. But at the same time, the reason the crime rate has fallen so drastically here in New York state is because of these tough drug laws that take these people off the streets.

GONNERMAN: I think that there's no question, obviously a crime was committed, and Elaine will be the first person to tell you that she should be punished for her crime.

I think the question comes in the fact that she was sentenced to 20 to life. She did 16 years before Governor Pataki gave her clemency. When she went in, she was a welfare motor. Had $5 in her pocket when she was arrested. The New York state spend more than $500,000 to keep her in prison.

O'REILLY: Yes, but they send a message to other people like Elaine, don't do this. Because if you do this, then you're going to go up and that's why the crime rate has dropped so drastically.

Every criminologist says the same thing. Once they got the crack epidemic under control, once they put away these people who are selling it, the crime rate came down. Surely you know that.

GONNERMAN: Well, there is a message sent. But you know, the drug laws were on the books for, you know, a long time, several decades before Elaine committed her crime and it didn't stop her.

O'REILLY: Your husband is still in jail?


O'REILLY: He's going to get out fairly soon, correct?

BARTLETT: Yes. He received 25 to life.

O'REILLY: Right. And what are you going to do? Are you going to get together with him and...

BARTLETT: I don't know.

O'REILLY: Has your life changed? Have you changed your opinion on life?

BARTLETT: My life has changed, and it didn't take 16 years for my life to change. It didn't take 16 years for me to realize that I made a poor judgment and a mistake.

I'm not saying that I shouldn't have been punished for carrying that package. But to receive a 20-to-life sentence, I was robbed out of my whole life.

O'REILLY: If you had to do it again, would you have made the deal and only done five?


O'REILLY: OK, so you would have taken the full step.

If you look back, would you have done anything differently at all?

BARTLETT: I wouldn't have agreed to deliver the package in the first place.

O'REILLY: Would you have started to take drugs in the first place?


O'REILLY: OK. So you would have stayed away from drugs altogether.

BARTLETT: Because drugs have destroyed my family, just as well as other families.

O'REILLY: And millions of American families.

BARTLETT: I realize that.

O'REILLY: That's why people go to jail because they destroy -- drugs destroy people. Last question -- do you see yourself as a victim?

BARTLETT: I see myself as -- yes, as being railroad out of my life.

What I'm saying -- I know I committed a crime. But they could have did so many other things with me. They could have educated me. They could have put me under strict supervision. They could have gave me some jail time. They didn't have to give me a 20-to-life sentence.

And me doing 20-to-life didn't stop my son from getting involved with drugs and going to jail. So after 16 years, I had to come home and go visit my own child in prison.

And sending us to prison for such a long period of time, it doesn't stop our children. It doesn't put fear into our communities or stop the kids.

And the kids are getting a hold of drugs at a younger age now. My son got a hold of drugs at the age of 12 out there on the street. So, it's not deterring our communities from getting involved with drugs because we go to prison.

O'REILLY: Your son probably got involved with drugs because he was unsupervised, because you were in jail and whatever. But there was a history of this.

OK. Fascinating story. And I think that anybody watching this interview will be able to make their own decision on this. And we really appreciate you ladies coming in.

BARTLETT: Thank you.

GONNERMAN: Thank you very much. Thank you for having us.

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