EXCLUSIVE: Karen Sypher speaks from behind bars - WDRB 41 Louisville News

EXCLUSIVE: Karen Sypher speaks from behind bars

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- Life in prison will change a person.

More than six months into a seven-year sentence for extorting U of L basketball coach Rick Pitino, Karen Sypher already has a lot to share.

In the first interview she's done from the Florida prison where she's serving her time, she shared her biggest regret, and the one thing she would change.

"This is like, um, just a terrible nightmare that I just can't seem to wake up from," Sypher said. 

Karen Sypher is behind bars at the Marianna Prison Camp in Florida. The prison would not agree to an on-camera interview and will not release any photographs of Sypher, so we talked with her by phone and learned life has not been easy.

"They have to rake the lawn, cut bushes, stay out in the hot sun, scrub floors and ceilings and paint," Sypher said. "I've pulled weeds on my hands-and-knees, but that's OK that makes us stronger."

"I'm in an 8x10 cell with another...we call them bunkies...and we obviously do what we're scheduled to do," she said.

When WDRB's Elizabeth Woolsey asked Sypher to identify the hardest part about being in prison, Sypher was quick to reply.

"Not having my family close by," she said. "Not being able to pick up the phone and call my mom...[or] being able to go get my daughter from school."

Sypher's mother, Judy Cunaghan, has made two trips to see her daughter - and what she sees leaves her worried.

"She looks sort of bloated," she said. "As far as her hair, they are like childrens' scissors so she can keep her bangs cut and out of her eyes. Her hair is still as white as snow. Karen's very good at just, 'I'm OK. I'm OK,' when I know she's not."

Contact with her family is very limited so pictures, some of the last taken before Sypher reported to prison, mean a lot. One portrays Sypher and her 6-year-old daughter, Annabelle, at her oldest son's wedding.

"That picture says a lot- a whole lot," said Cunaghan. "Karen knew that was her oldest getting married, she was holding her youngest in her arms knowing that she was going to prison and that she would never see Annabelle."

Karen's sons have paid a visit, but she has not seen her daughter since she's been in prison.

"It has almost killed me to be incarcerated and unable to see her - to hold her little hand and hear her voice," Sypher said.

Without her family nearby, she's formed a close bond with her fellow inmates.

"This is my family here," Sypher said. "We all hurt together, we cry together, we pray together- there's really nothing we don't do together."

Sypher has also been writing - and says the public will soon learn much more about her story.

"The name of the book is 'Raped and Railroaded: The Karen Sypher Story,'" she said. "I've obviously had so much time to think and relive - instead of just reliving it in my mind, I started writing it down on paper. How can an innocent person who's never asked for a penny, taken a penny, be in prison for seven years? Oh my, it's unbelievable."

"Any regrets about what led to this point?" Woolsey asked. 

"Absolutely," she said. "Regrets that I have are actually believing in who was representing me and why this has all happened. I'm figuring that all out and that will be mentioned in my book."

And she's quick to answer when I ask if there's anything she would change since this ordeal started.

"If I could change one thing, the one thing I would change is standing on the courthouse steps saying, 'justice will prevail' when I should have said, 'God will prevail.'"

Sypher's appeal is pending. She reported to prison on April 6 for a seven-year, three-month sentence.

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