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Martha's 'Homecoming'
Lifestyle company changes tune, re-embraces disgraced founder; tales of eating dandelions in prison.
February 28, 2005: 6:37 PM EST
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The March issue of Martha Stewart Living

NEW YORK (CNN/Money) - Not long ago, Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia seemed eager to put as much distance as possible between itself and its famous founder.

After Martha Stewart's conviction a year ago for obstructing justice and lying to investigators, the New York-based company cancelled her columns, downplayed her name in its flagship magazine, and actively promoted a new crop of lifestyle experts in the hopes of stemming mounting losses.

Now, with Stewart, 63, due to be released from prison next week and having undergone an image makeover that surprised critics, Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia (down $0.72 to $35.35, Research) is reaching out to its namesake with open arms.

Investors are betting heavily on the company's future once Stewart returns -- if not as an executive, at least as the creative brains behind it.

The Securities and Exchange Commission wants to prevent Stewart from returning to MSO's executive suite, but Stewart's attorneys may be able to negotiate a settlement with the SEC that would permit her to return to the helm of the company at some point, a person familiar with the situation told CNN.

In the March issue of Martha Stewart Living and on the company Web site, editor-in-chief Margaret Roach says Stewart will begin penning a new column for the magazine starting in April.

Roach's letter also offers a vivid first-person account of her interaction, through letters and personal visits, with Stewart since she began serving a five-month sentence at the federal prison in Alderson, W. Va., also known as "Camp Cupcake."

Early in her prison term, Stewart herself was posting notes to supporters on her personal Web site, www.MarthaTalks.com. But after a pre-Christmas missive in which she lamented the "bad food" in prison and criminal sentencing guidelines, Stewart has not been directly heard from since.

Stewart is scheduled to be released from prison on March 4. Upon her release she will serve five months of house arrest in Bedford, N.Y., where she's been renovating an estate she bought in 2000.

In the editor's letter, which refers to Stewart's "homecoming," Roach writes about letters exchanged with Martha that describe her "foraging for wild greens, such as dandelion" on the prison grounds to "augment the limited fresh vegetable offerings in the diet," decorating the prison chapel with remnants from the garden, and cooking up impromptu recipes in the microwave with ingredients from the commissary. (See correction).

Stewart has also been reading "voraciously," including Bob Dylan's memoir and a biography of John James Audubon, the naturalist and renowned bird-lover.

The letter also relates a story about Martha launching into a "downward-facing dog" yoga pose, which turned into a headstand, in the prison visiting room.

The move to include a Martha Stewart column in the monthly magazine represents a change of strategy for Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia. The company had previously distanced itself from its founder and former Chairman & CEO, after her conviction last March.

But since two Martha Stewart television shows have been announced, a daily lifestyle program and a new version of "The Apprentice", both produced by Mark Burnett, her star has risen.

Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that Roach's letter to readers does not use the word 'prison.' It does. CNN/Money regrets the error. (Go back to corrected paragraph).  Top of page

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