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The new Martha
Martha Stewart due to leave prison Friday. What's next for the domestic diva?
February 28, 2005: 6:36 PM EST
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Stewart is due to leave a federal prison in West Virginia on Friday.

NEW YORK (CNN/Money) - She gets out of prison Friday, and to hear her coworkers and friends tell it, Martha Stewart is hungry.

Four days from now the lifestyle maven is due to emerge from a minimum-security prison in West Virginia, where for the last five months she has been cleaning, contemplating and, by her own admission, avoiding the "bad" prison food.

The 63-year-old founder of Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia (Research) is eager to get back to work, according to Margaret Roach, the editor-in-chief of Martha Stewart Living, in her editor's letter in the magazine's March issue.

Before she can dedicate herself completely to her company, Stewart has a few remaining hurdles to surmount.

First she must spend an additional five months in home detention, wearing an ankle bracelet and reporting regularly to a probation officer. Stewart selected her 153-acre Bedford, N.Y. estate north of Manhattan for her confinement, although she will be allowed to leave the grounds for up to 48 hours a week for work.

Stewart must also resolve a bid by the Securities and Exchange Commission to limit her future role at Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia. In its insider trading lawsuit against Stewart, the SEC seeks to bar her from serving as a director or officer of a public company. Stewart relinquished her chairman and CEO roles following her 2003 indictment for obstructing justice and lying to government investigators.

She remains her company's controlling shareholder and now holds the title of founding editorial director.

Stewart's reputation, sullied by the personal stock scandal that led to her conviction and sentencing last year, has vastly improved in the six months since she announced she would serve her time in prison rather than await the outcome of her still-pending appeal.

The image makeover has been helped along by a savvy public relations campaign and two promising television deals engineered by Mark Burnett, the Hollywood star producer and self-described Stewart pal.

Stewart's dramatic and sudden comeback has fueled a big jump in her company's stock.

But the rally has been based largely on the promise of Martha -- and the anticipation of what her rejuvenation will do for product sales and magazine subscriptions at Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia -- and not the company's actual financial results, where losses are growing.

Whether Martha's reputation will be what it once was with consumers and advertisers remains an open question.

Burnett, the mastermind behind reality shows "Survivor" and "The Apprentice," has said he's confident that Stewart will succeed in turning around her company and luring back once-loyal followers.

"This is a forgiving country," said Burnett. "People love redemption stories."  Top of page

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