Sex, Drugs and Sickness: Inside Susan Smith's Life in Prison After Drowning Her Sons

A look at the notorious convicted murderer's life in prison after she drowned her two sons in 1994

On October 25, 1994, Susan Smith told police that she had been carjacked by a Black man who had taken off with her two young sons still in her car. For nine days, she made tearful pleas for their safe return.

But it was all a lie.

As her story began to unravel, Smith admitted that there was no carjacker, and that she had let her car roll into a lake with Michael, 3, and Alex, 14 months, still strapped in their car seats.

Her motive: She was secretly dating a man who didn't want children. The story became international news, even landing on the cover of PEOPLE. Smith was convicted of two counts of murder and is serving a life sentence in Leath Correctional Institution in Greenwood, S.C.

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In 2019, 25 years after the incident, PEOPLE obtained records that showed her incarceration had been marred with disciplinary infractions for self-mutilation, drug use and possession of narcotics or marijuana. Each infraction resulted in the loss of privileges, including loss of visitation, canteen and telephone privileges.

In 2000, Smith, then 28, was disciplined for having sex four times with 50-year-old prison guard Houston Cagle. (He pleaded guilty and spent three months in jail.)

The following year, a prison captain, Alfred Rowe, also pleaded guilty to having sex with Smith and was sentenced to five years probation.

Twice in 2010 and once in 2015, she was disciplined on drug charges, losing privileges for more than a year.

But Smith claimed she was misunderstood.

In 2015, Smith wrote a letter defending herself to The State, a South Carolina newspaper. "Mr. Cahill, I am not the monster society thinks I am," she wrote to reporter Harrison Cahill. "I am far from it."

"Something went very wrong that night. I was not myself," she wrote. "I was a good mother and I loved my boys. There was no motive as it was not even a planned event. I was not in my right mind."

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Susan Smith in August, 2017. South Carolina Department of Corrections

But Smith's ex-husband — and the father of the boys — told PEOPLE in 2010 that he has never fully recovered from the pain. "There's always this nagging and gnawing heartache," David Smith said. "It's there every day, even if I'm not always conscious of it."

In 2017, Smith was working in the prison as a landscape laborer — a step down from a position she previously had, as a senior groundskeeper. In March 2018, she was promoted to a wardkeeper assistant, in which she is responsible for the daily operation of her housing unit.

At least six times from 2017 to 2019, Smith had severe enough medical issues that she was transferred to another facility for outpatient treatment. The nature of her treatment had not been made public.

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Michael (left) and Alex Smith. Dave Martin/AP

In March 2022, PEOPLE gained access to letters Smith had written to a long-distance boyfriend, whom she said she wanted to marry if she was freed from jail.

"She's imagining the normalcy of a married life," a relative of Smith told PEOPLE. "She wants everything in life that she believes has passed her by."

PEOPLE viewed parts of two letters she sent to the man. "I can't wait to build a life with you," Smith wrote in one letter. "Leave the past mistakes behind and start fresh, just you and me."

However, by October 2022, Smith and the man had stopped corresponding, according to one of Smith's family members.

"Yeah, that fizzled out," the family member told PEOPLE. "They are no longer corresponding. It's over."

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