All In the Family

Former Manson Family Disciple Susan Atkins Wants to Be Your Neighbor

Lampel dismisses Kay as a man who "doesn't mind bending the facts to suit his argument."

"Susan is the only one in the Manson family who did not actually kill anyone with her own hand; Tex Watson [another Manson killer] has admitted that he was the one who stabbed Tate, not Susan," he said. "And yet for more than 30 years, Susan has lived in a place that smells of piss and shit and is overwhelmed with flies."

Give Susan Atkins an opportunity to blast Kay or the parole board, and she won't take it. "If I've learned anything in prison, it's that everything is subject to change," she said. "And I've learned to be flexible at all times."

Her days are filled with the unpleasant rigors of prison life, she admits, but also with anticipation. Besides religion, she says the passion she has for her husband inspires her to fight for parole.

"Our relationship is intact despite our circumstances, and that is phenomenal," said Atkins during a monitored phone conversation that was periodically interrupted with a prison announcement that the caller is an inmate. "He has endured so much in order to love me. It's a testament to the power of love. Love cannot be constrained by prison bars."

Her love of life is also expressed in her artwork, she says. She was so saddened by the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11 that she used colored pencils to draw her own red, white and blue memorial to the victims.

But the intended audience for her art is teenagers.

"I use color pens, pastels, watercolors and graphite as my medium to speak to young people about incarceration and about the choices they face in life," Atkins said. "My life is about helping people now. I am a good, law-abiding citizen, and I've done everything in this environment—everything. I should be given a chance."

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