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At 93, Minn's oldest inmate is released from prison

SHAKOPEE, Minn. (AP) -- With a cane in hand, Minnesota's oldest inmate stepped out of women's state prison this week and back into freedom.

Friends and supporters greeted Lucille Keppen, 93, and took her to a local Perkins for a freedom celebration including eggs, hash browns, and her favorite: a double order of bacon.

"This is so good!" Keppen said as she gulped orange juice Wednesday morning. "I haven't had any good orange juice in five years. That was the best!"

Keppen pleaded guilty to first-degree assault for the Sept. 15, 2002, shooting of Stephen Flesche. At the time, Keppen was living alone in a Minneapolis senior high-rise apartment complex, and Flesche, who was then 63, was her neighbor. The two became friends, but the relationship soured.

Keppen, a Chicago native who used to go target shooting with her late husband, shot Flesche in the back with a .38-caliber handgun. Flesche suffered a collapsed lung and some limited mobility.

"She was very vulnerable emotionally," recalled Gabriel Herbers, 87, a retired nun who visited Keppen regularly in prison.

Keppen entered the Shakopee correctional facility June 4, 2003. Her release date fell on what would have been her late husband's 104th birthday. Harold Keppen died in 1997.

Nicknamed "Grandma" by inmates, Keppen said she got along with most prisoners, with one exception. One inmate serving time for murder had lashed out at Keppen, and the two were moved to separate facilities.

Keppen, who once feared she would die in prison, said she noticed an increase in the inmate population while she was there. She also noticed a surprising number of inmates who re-offended and returned to prison.

"That's really sad," she said. "A lot of these girls are young. But they don't listen to me."

Keppen said she didn't get special treatment during her final days in custody. She wishes prison on no one, and said she wants to look ahead to her freedom.

Keppen's to-do list includes a visit to St. Paul's Como Zoo, a stop at the Old Log dinner theater in Excelsior and a performance at the Guthrie Theater. She also wants to live in an apartment of her own, whether assisted-living or not.

For now, Keppen said she's content to share living quarters with a window to the outside world.

"This means the world to me," she said. "You just don't ever realize how fortunate we are, to be able to come and go as we like, to do as we like, when we like."