“But she said that she was always looking over her shoulder because she knew that there was going to come a day. That was the hardest part. Like, yeah, she was free but she knew that at some point it would end,” said Damaris Serrano, translating for her grandmother. (Lydia speaks conversational English, but prefers Spanish.)
Eventually, the police caught up with her. A tip led authorities to where she was living, and they confirmed her identity by looking at fingerprints taken for her driver’s license test. In absentia, she had been sentenced to 25 years. At the time she was 58, “In all likelihood, this is a life sentence for her,” then-Monroe County District Attorney Howard Relin told the Houston Chronicle. That was in 1998.
Life on the Outside
On October 27, 2015, Lydia stepped out of Bedford Hills Prison, the only maximum security prison for women in New York, in Westchester County, about an hour north of New York City. She wore state-issued red sweatpants and held a train ticket to New York City, where she would catch a bus to her family’s home in Rochester. Just five days earlier she had learned that Governor Andrew Cuomo granted her request for sentence commutation. Without the commutation she would have been in prison for at least another twelve years, well into her 80s.
For her welcome-home meal, her sister-in-law cooked the foods that Lydia missed most: arroz con gandules, a classic Puerto Rican rice dish with pigeon peas and pork; pasteles, a type of tamal typically eaten on Christmas; roasted pork; and virgin piña coladas. Her daughter, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, and her best friend gathered at her brother’s house in Rochester, New York.
This was her first home-cooked meal in 12 years. Pork was the food that she missed most while incarcerated. The next day, her daughter Daisy made rice with beans, and pork chops. That, Lydia said, was really, really good.
She told me so in November while we sat around the kitchen table at Daisy’s quaint single-family home in Rochester; two granddaughters sat by Lydia’s side. Both in their early 30s, Damaris and Susie Serrano shared their grandmother’s curvy build and contagious laughter.
Lydia lives here with Daisy, Daisy’s husband, Juan Serrano, Damaris, and Damaris’s teenaged son. The home is immaculately clean. Daisy suffers from lupus and rheumatoid arthritis. She can’t work, and sitting for too long is painful, so she frequently takes physical solace in housework.
We sat in the basement, where there is a wood-paneled kitchen and dark den. Family photos decorate the wall, as well as the head of a deer that Juan hunted.
Lydia wore a gold chain with a cross around her neck that Daisy had kept safe for her while she was away. Her hair was dyed blond—she joked that having it done was among the first things she did as a free woman.