When journalist Judy Muller first met Cheri Mathews, a woman serving "lifetime parole" for murder, she knew immediately that Cheri had a story worth sharing. But she could not have foreseen how their year-long collaboration would have such a profound impact on both of their lives. Despite their disparate pasts, they learned that they shared the common bond of alcoholism and addiction, a bond that would be both enriched and strained during Cheri's deep dive into a brutal past.
"The Red-Headed Cook of the Desert" follows Cheri from an abusive childhood, where her alcoholic father taught her to live by a brutal "code," to an outlaw lifestyle in the California desert. When Muller first sat down with Mathews at a diner in their rural Colorado community, she said, "Why don't you just begin by telling me about the murder?" Mathews replied, "Which one?" And Muller was hooked. Get ready to experience this roller-coaster tale of a talented, smart woman who gets hooked on the outlaw world of meth and hits one bottom after another. This is the story of a woman who says her life was saved by prison, where she became a drug and alcohol counselor, and a person determined to make amends to her children. If only it were that simple.
Cheri's life is a study in paradox: she is convicted of murder, yet voted Humanitarian of the Year by fellow inmates, she is a young Army soldier who goes AWOL not once, but twice, only to earn many commendations before earning an honorable discharge, she admits to killing two men, but she has a reputation for standing up to bullies and saving lives.
The book takes readers on a journey into Cheri's complicated life, through her ill-fated attempts at marriage and motherhood to her love affair with meth to the murder that landed her in prison. And, finally, to her life now as a free woman, where she learns, with Muller, that there is no "happily ever after" for addicts and alcoholics. Unless, that is, you know how to live 24 hours at a time.
Muller is an Emmy and Peabody award winning journalist, and professor emerita at USC's Annenberg School of Journalism. She lives in Norwood, Colorado. Mathews is the woman whose story brought Muller out of retirement and into a deep, abiding friendship.