Make us your home page
Instagram

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

St. Petersburg woman finally has dinner with family after her sentence is commuted

Monique Baker, center, joins hands in prayer before dinner with, from left, mother Beatrice Baker, brother Jay Baker, nephew Jay S. Baker and father John Baker Friday night. It was Monique Baker’s first meal with the family in 20 years. 

Luis Perez | Times

Monique Baker, center, joins hands in prayer before dinner with, from left, mother Beatrice Baker, brother Jay Baker, nephew Jay S. Baker and father John Baker Friday night. It was Monique Baker’s first meal with the family in 20 years. 

Freedom tasted like China Wok takeout at the Baker home Friday night.

Shrimp fried rice, ribs, fried chicken, canned soda. It was the first meal that Monique Baker, 50, shared with her family after two decades behind bars.

The family joined hands. Baker led them in prayer before they sat down to eat.

Baker had skipped lunch at the Hillsborough Correctional Institution earlier that day. She was determined that a breakfast of toast and a few spoonfuls of grits would be her last meal as a prisoner.

The afternoon before, her sentence of 35 years was undone at a session of the Florida Board of Executive Clemency. Baker was sentenced in 1990 on charges of drug trafficking. With gain time, she was to be released in 2017.

At home Friday night, Baker asked her brother Jay to please pass the hot sauce. Everything was a focus of fascination, including the table china.

"I am eating with a fork, not a spork," Baker observed, childlike, at the family dining table.

Her father asked: "What's a spork?"

• • •

Earlier that evening, Baker looked to the sky as she stepped through the prison door with her parents.

"It's nighttime and I'm outside with the stars and that's something we don't do in prison," Baker told a gathering of reporters who were waiting for her release. "Freedom is a beautiful thing."

Her parents, friends and Rep. Darryl Rouson, D-St. Petersburg, pleaded with the clemency board to release Baker early. They said she fell into a bad crowd as drugs seized control of her life when she was young.

She spent her time in four state prisons: Lowell, Jefferson, Broward and, since May, Hillsborough. Baker had been a model inmate, honing her skills as a paralegal and teaching other inmates. In Hillsborough, she was editor of a newspaper.

The Clemency Board voted unanimously to commute her sentence.

It was a long way from 1990, when Baker was convicted of smuggling $395,000 worth of cocaine from Fort Lauderdale in a rented stretch limousine. At the time, police said Baker, 29, got the idea of using a limo from an episode of Miami Vice. ABC's Primetime Live featured the case, using it "to show the tremendous amount of time and money that goes into prosecuting one person in the war on drugs," the St. Petersburg Times wrote then.

Now, Baker told the group of reporters outside the jail, all she wanted was to go home and take a hot bath. She also was looking forward to a meal and surfing the Internet — something she didn't have access to while in prison.

"That's something I can't wait to get on," she said.

With her freedom, Baker said she plans to help people in situations similar to hers. She and her parents thanked the Clemency Board, Gov. Charlie Crist and Rouson.

"I just want to say, Gov. Crist, I'm going to make you proud," Baker said.

Baker said that while in prison, she was only allowed to hug her mother for short periods at the start and end of visits. Now that she's out, the hugs can be longer.

"It's nice to be able to hug her and not be able to stop," she said.

• • •

She arrived at her childhood home on Kingston Street in Child's Park just before 8 p.m. Again, she peered at the stars in the night sky before stepping through the door.

The last time she was in her home, Robert Ulrich was mayor of St. Petersburg and George H.W. Bush was the president.

Back then, the front of the house was a screened-in porch. Her father has since converted it into a living room.

But some things had not changed.

Her Gibbs High School graduation photo from 1977 still hung on the wall.

Luis Perez can be reached at (727) 892-2271 or lperez@sptimes.com

St. Petersburg woman finally has dinner with family after her sentence is commuted 12/10/10 [Last modified: Saturday, December 11, 2010 3:51pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Editorial: Hillsborough commissioners should revisit vote on Confederate monument

    Editorials

    It should be clear to those on both sides of the Hillsborough County Commission's decision to keep a Confederate memorial in place that the commission's so-called compromise doesn't work. The dignified protest outside the memorial on Tuesday reaffirms that the pain from this history isn't going away, and the commission …

  2. Protesters, politicians urge Rubio to vote no on Senate health care plan

    National

    TAMPA -- Even as experts struggle to grasp the cost and impact of the latest proposed replacement bill for Obamacare, Tampa resident Delores Grayson knows this much: "My medication is very important, and if they pass something I can't afford I might as well be dead."

    Florida Rep. Sean Shaw, joined community leaders gathered at the Mi Familia Vota Office on West Waters Avenue on Wednesday to urge Sen. Marco Rubio to vote against the Senate's health care repeal bill. [Times | Anastasia Dawson]
  3. Editorial: Rubio's VA reforms a step forward

    Editorials

    President Donald Trump has signed into law legislation that should inject more accountability into the Department of Veterans Affairs. The bipartisan effort led by Sen. Marco Rubio offers a combination of carrots and sticks aimed at making it easier to uncover problems and punish wrongdoers. The reforms should help …

    An effort to make the VA more accountable was led by Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla.
  4. Deputies: 34 malnourished cats seized from elderly woman's filthy Citrus County home

    Public Safety

    Citrus County deputies on Monday seized 34 malnourished cats they say were living in filthy conditions in a 75-year-old woman's home in Inverness.

    Citrus County deputies on Monday seized 34 malnourished cats they say were living in filthy conditions in a 75-year-old woman's home in Inverness. [Citrus County Sheriff's Office]

  5. Fishing company execs cut meeting short to fish from their balcony (w/ video)

    Bizarre News

    For virtually every other company, this story would sound ridiculous. But for Salt Strong, a fishing company, it seemed to be another day in the life.

    Luke Simonds poses with his balcony catch, a roughly three-foot snook. [Photo via YouTube]