Hiding Behind a New Identity
by Cheryl Norman
by Cheryl Norman
For my newest book Reclaim My Life, I had to research the Witness Security Program because my heroine, Sofia Desalvo, is hiding from a contract killer. One of my best resources was the book WITSEC - Inside the Federal Witness Protection Program, co-written by the program's creator Gerald Shur. Although most protected witnesses are criminals, too, the program offers protection for the innocent witness as well, like Sofia.
Everything I’m about to relate happened to Sofia a year before the beginning of Reclaim My Life (what we writers call "backstory") and won’t spoil the story for you.
After Sofia reported the crime she witnessed, the police learned the suspect was part of a larger investigation by the feds. Moved immediately to a temporary safe house, Sofia met with personnel from the U.S. Marshals’ office for a pre-admittance interview. Once the U.S. Marshals determined her to be a candidate for the WitSec program, they paired her with a handler, in this case Special Agent Cory.
Working with several government agencies and under total secrecy, Sofia was given a new identity and all supporting documentation for her new persona. First they moved her to Athens, Georgia, to enable her to complete an accelerated degree program. Relocated in a new town—Drake Springs, Florida—where she was unlikely to be recognized, she secured a job and a place to live, helped in part by reasonable financial assistance for living expenses. In exchange for all the tools necessary to create her new identity as Elizabeth Stevens, English Professor, she had to agree to adhere to all rules and guidelines of the program—no easy task. But following the rules keep witnesses alive.
The strictest and most vital rule is no contact with anyone from your former life. According to the U.S. Marshals, no one who adhered to the rules has been killed.
While Sofia/Elizabeth followed the rules to the extreme—enjoying nothing or wearing no clothing or jewelry she loved in her former life—she was lonely and isolated. Eventually, she made new friends but with reluctance, knowing she could be ripped from her new home and relocated with no notice if her new identity was compromised. Not a day went by that she didn’t look over her shoulder or wonder if she’d somehow betrayed her identity. Scrupulous and honest, she felt like a fraud, yet she became adept at lying. Lying kept her alive.
As you can tell by the title, more than anything Elizabeth wants to reclaim her life as Sofia, before a murderer and racketeer drove her into hiding. But can she? Reclaim My Life is a new romantic suspense from Medallion Press. I hope you’ll give it a read.