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After 10 years in jail, this former DeKalb County inmate got a second chance -- and wrote a book about it

After spending 10 years in jail, Desiree Lee is working to inspire others.

DEKALB COUNTY, Ga. — A former DeKalb County inmate is reshaping her life and lifting up other people who may find themselves in the same situation.

Desiree Lee became determined to make the most of her second chance when she was released from prison in 2006.

For years, Lee was known as inmate 1142980 and said it became part of her identity. When she stepped back through the prison doors this summer - that number was on the cover of her book.

"I did panic when I went in those doors and they locked behind me, but this time, I was able to leave and it was for a different purpose," she said. 

Sheriff Melody Maddox told the former inmate she wanted her experience in that jail to inspire people still serving their sentences behind those walls.

"I just sat there in the parking lot and realized wow, this is the place I thought was the end of my life -- and it just blew my mind," said Lee. 

She came in person to deliver copies of the book she wrote to women in the same situation she was in two weeks after her high school graduation.

Lee was facing 135 years in jail for 11 armed robberies in Dekalb County - when the judge told her she would give her just 10 years if she turned her life around.

"She said, 'I can't wait to see what you do with your second chance,' and that really meant a lot to me, coming from her, from the bench," she said. 

After she was released from the DeKalb County jail 16 years ago, Lee had a hard time. Finding someone who would take a chance on her is what she struggled with most.

So she decided to bet on herself.

"I just refused to give up," she said. "I thought, I have nothing else but my story. Hopefully, my story can prevent another teenager from making similar decisions," she said. "I hope it can encourage people who find themselves in similar situations, with their backs against the wall, and I can show everyone, including the judge, what I did with my second chance."

Lee wrote a book about her experience behind bars and spends every week talking to young people about how to make smarter choices to protect their own futures.

"It's never too late to become what you could have been. What my dreams and aspirations were when I was a teenager, it just doesn't end there, you can always become who you could have been," she said. 

Lee said it was important to her to go there in person to deliver the books to the current inmates -- so they could see her walk out of those doors on her own -- and know that one day they can do that, too.

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