Much of the book, Three Days In August: A U.S. Army Special Forces Soldier’s Fight For Military Justice, chronicles events in the life of Army Green Beret Sgt. 1st Class Kelly A. Stewart leading up to his wrongful conviction by a court-martial panel during three days in August 2009. Below, however, is an excerpt describing the day he was released from prison:
It was a day Stewart had looked forward to with both excitement and trepidation. On one hand, he was getting out of prison. On the other, it was humiliating for him to think about his parents having to come to the prison to pick up their son.
On March 31, 2011, Stewart was released from the U.S. Military Disciplinary Barracks at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. Stewart’s wife, Freija, would have been there to pick him up that day, but the legal battle had drained their finances so much that they decided it would be best for all involved if she and their children waited until the fall—while they were en route to her next Army assignment in Colorado—to see him. Instead, his parents met him outside the prison gates at around 11 o’clock that morning.
Living outside of prison as a “free man” required Stewart to make several adjustments, one of which involved doors. Stewart said he waited for his dad to open the door of the truck for him. Why?
“Because, in prison, we don’t open our doors,” he explained. “(The guards) open the doors for us and they close them behind us.”
As soon as he got into the truck, Stewart spent time several minutes on the phone with his wife and a few other people.
After that, his dad drove him to a convenience store so he could buy a pair of sunglasses to replace the ones he forgot in his cell amidst the excitement of leaving prison.
“I actually had cash in my hands that I had just gotten five minutes earlier,” he explained. “I hadn’t seen cash in several years. Now, I’ve got a couple twenties and some change in my hand. Loose change. I hadn’t seen change in several years.”
At the convenience store, Stewart felt like everybody knew he had just gotten out of prison.
“I felt like everybody was staring at me,” he said.
He went on to describe the thoughts swimming through his mind as he grabbed a bottle of water, some sunflower seeds and other items.
“I actually wanted to buy up like 50 things in there, but I was trying to pace myself,” he said, describing himself as being like the proverbial “kid in a candy store.”
“You’ve been eating the same bland food for two years,” he continued, comparing prison food to what it might be like to eat nothing but the 12 different types of meals on a McDonald’s menu for two years straight.
Stewart said he was tempted to eat some of every kind of food imaginable, but soon learned—thanks, in part, to a headache and a “sugar rush”—that doing so was dangerous for someone coming off a bland prison diet.
In addition to dietary concerns, Stewart talked about having to make other adjustments to life outside prison.
“I’d be lying to say I haven’t had to make some adjustments,” he said, before explaining that he found out that your face gets sore if you laugh and smile a lot for the first time in a long time.
“I spent the first 30 or 40 minutes when we were driving trying to look at so many different things,” he said, “because I’d been living in the same gray area where the farthest distance you could see was maybe 150 meters.”
He went on to describe the jubilation of being able to see colors, things and people he hadn’t seen in a while.
Asked if his experience was similar to the scene played out in so many movies when a man leaves prison and is struck by how green the grass is or how blue the sky is, he said it was and then elaborated on life inside the walls.
“Only in prison do you see a plane fly overhead and actually try to dream about what it would be like to be on that plane,” he said, explaining that such effort serves to provide you with an escape from where you are.
“After several months in prison, you don’t dream outside the walls,” Stewart said, “because the reality is you don’t know what it’s gonna be like outside the walls.”
To learn why Stewart is still fighting for a new trial and to clear his name, order a copy of Three Days In August. It’s available in paperback and ebook via most online booksellers, including Amazon.com.