Susan Smith will be eligible for parole in November 2024 — and she is strictly adhering to prison rules in hopes of increasing her odds of being released from prison.
A prison source who has known Smith for several years tells PEOPLE the notorious inmate is aware that her past violations have created an uphill battle for her release, but says she is determined to turn things around. "She's behaving herself these days," the source says. "She knows that her parole date is four years away and she can't get parole if she isn't being good."
On Oct. 25, 1994, Smith told police 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 at Leath Correctional Institution in Greenwood, S.C. She is eligible for parole in 2024.
Now, 26 years later, Smith has spent more than half of her life in prison — and records obtained by PEOPLE show that her incarceration has been marred with disciplinary infractions.
In the past ten years, Smith has been disciplined at least five times for various infractions, including self-mutilation and the use and possession of narcotics or marijuana. Each infraction has resulted in the loss of privileges, including loss of visitation, canteen and telephone privileges.
Twice in 2010 and once in 2015, she was disciplined on drug charges, losing privileges for more than a year.
In 2000, Smith 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.
But Smith claims she has been misunderstood.
In 2015, Smith wrote a letter to The State. “I am not the monster society thinks I am,” she wrote. “I am far from it.”
“Something went very wrong that night. I was not myself,” she continued. “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.”
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.”
Smith, now 49, is keeping her head down and following the rules in jail. She works as a wardkeeper assistant, and interacts sparingly with other guards and inmates.
"She knows it's a long shot that she'll be paroled in four years," says the source, "but she's giving it her best."