By Vern Hee
Alexis Smith wishes her mom could come to just one of her games.
Stacking up all those victories on the soccer field, scoring all those perfect grades in the classroom, seems just a bit less meaningful for the 17-year-old when someone so important is so far away.
Stray tears and distant memories, faded photos and the occasional phone call and email, are all that bridge the gap between this young life spent on Southern Nevada’s sports fields and the other one languishing in a Texas prison.
Smith, called Lexi by her Pahrump Valley High teammates, lives with her grandparents. But her heart often drifts back to mom.
Mom is Crystal Boler, who pleaded guilty on March 3, 2003 to shooting a pregnant woman named Emily Garrison five times. Garrison had been having an affair with Crystal’s husband, Deshone Boler. The crime occurred in the tiny East Texas town of Sweeny, near Houston.
Crystal confronted Garrison — prosecutors say she went to Garrison’s home with a gun, intending to harm her, but Lexi says her mom claims Garrison pulled the gun and Crystal simply wrested it from her — and that fateful decision led to a life sentence for more than just the suspect and the victim.
Lexi, it seems, is serving time, too. So are her siblings, little brothers Darius and Shone pronounced Sean . She was 6 when Crystal went to prison; the boys were 3 and 1, respectively.
Their grandparents, Cyndy and Wade Smith, fortunately, were around to pick up the pieces. The pair came out of retirement, of sorts, and scooped up the kids, bringing them home to Pahrump. Cyndy recalls the turmoil like it was yesterday.
“All three would go to bed with me and just cry all night,” she said.
Lucky for her, meeting tragedy with intensity seems to be Lexi’s coping mechanism, her grandmother says. The junior defender’s five goals this season and her 4.2 GPA seem to bear witness to that.
Lexi says she believes a strong spirit runs in her family — it’s the same spirit that has buttressed her mother’s long years in Gatesville Prison.
“She is my inspiration to do well. I want to prove to her that she has made mistakes; I can do better. I want to make her happy and proud,” says Lexi, choking up with emotion.
Lexi says she has led a good life because of Cyndy and Wade.
She says her grandparents have done the best job they could to raise her and her brothers. And she loves them deeply for it.
“It was really hard. My grandparents are older, so it is harder. To a point it is kind of hard because they are older. To me they have old- fashioned thoughts about things. I respect that, but I am a teenager and trying to figure out things about myself and sometimes it is hard to go to them. But then I always realize that they are there for a reason. I have to use all my resources. We butt heads. I don’t get in trouble. My brother and I will fight, but since I am the oldest I get yelled at and it is my fault,” she said.
Lexi started soccer at a young age when she was only seven or eight after moving here. She is part of what is fast becoming a deep-rooted, winning tradition in Pahrump girls soccer — the secret formula goes something like this: Get a group of 7- and 8-year-old girls together and team them up for about eight years, and when they get to the varsity high school level, they are simply unstoppable. Proof? Last year’s state championship and the one the team is favored to win again this year.
Lexi says she can’t remember why she started playing the game, which could very well launch her into the college stratosphere in the next two years.
“It’s hard to say why I got into soccer. I moved here from Texas. It was one of the things that all my friends were doing in second grade. I didn’t ever think that it would end up being something that I was attached to and never want to give up. So I just started playing. And the more I played, I just got attached to it and it was just fun. It has just been going like that ever since,” she said.
Love of the game has saved this young woman more than once.
“Soccer is the one thing that has always been there for me. I can take my anger out, and then afterwards I feel better because I put my heart out on the field,” Lexi said.
She says she has a good understanding of what happened to her mother. And she misses her every day. The two communicate by email and Lexi gets to talk to Crystal twice a week for 15 minutes. She has only visited Crystal twice in 10 years, once eight years ago and the last time last summer. Cyndy said she can not afford to send her very often.
“The money is just not there anymore, now that we are retired,” says Cyndy.
Lexi believes that her mother could never hurt anyone intentionally and she believes her mother is telling the truth about what happened that bloody day in Texas.
“My mother had never done anything wrong. She was pushed to a breaking point. She is the sweetest most caring person. You never would think that she did what she did, but the pressure that my stepdad put her under and the things he did to her … it like made her break. Even though she did what she did, I am really so proud of her because I know that is not who she is and it was a mistake. Everyone makes mistakes. I have forgiven her. I can’t base my life on what she has done. I have to do whatever I can to make my life good for myself,” Lexi said.
In addition to her grandparents, Lexi gives her adopted dad, Joe Sladek, himself a key ingredient in local girls soccer’s winning formula, a lot of credit for getting her through the tough times.
Like her mother, Sladek is a role model.
“I admire my coach, Joe too, because he only wants the best from people and he is hard on people. He owns his own business, his own house and has a family; I want that. I probably would not want to be an insurance salesman, because I would not want to sit all day,” said Lexi with a smile.
Cyndy said she welcomed all the help Sladek has given her all these years.
“Joe has been like a dad to her. Joe has been there since she was 8 or 10. He is like a role model and mentor to her. If Joe says to be home at a certain time, or go to bed at a certain time, or if Joe says to eat carbs before a game, she listens,” remarked Cyndy.
Lexi said whenever she has problems she knows she can confide in Joe’s own daughter, Sydney Sladek, her best friend. Sydney is Joe’s younger daughter and is the same age as Lexi. They are friends and teammates.
“Sydney, Haley and Courtney all have their moms, but they support me. When we were all at a soccer tournament together not too long ago, Sydney and Haley had their dad, but Courtney and I did not, but Joe was pretty much like my dad and I look to him as my dad,” said Lexi. “Joe and his wife have done a lot for me. We butt heads because I am like his daughter and I am part of the family. We just spend so much time together. I am always over at their house during the weekend.”
The coach said he treats Lexi like his own. He said he has known from the very start that she didn’t have her parents in her life and that he knew also that Lexi’s mother was in prison for murder. That never bothered him, he said.
“I have been coaching Lexi since she was 8. Her mother being in prison never really affected me. I never really put much thought into it accept she grew up without parents. She is at our house a lot. When she travels with us, she is like part of the family. She and Kiaya another teammate and a couple of the others probably listen to me just like they would a parent,” said Sladek.
Lexi is a junior now and has another year of playing with Joe and her teammates, but after high school she wants to go to college and play sports there, too.
Cyndy supports whatever Lexi wants to do. She said she can not pay for Lexi to go to college but hopes she gets a scholarship.
Lexi said at one time she wanted to be a lawyer to help out her mother, but now has changed her mind.
“I want to be a doctor or a dentist. I am still debating. I am a team player, and that comes into play a lot for a doctor and dentist. I like helping people, and being a doctor. There is obviously ups and downs to that, but I want to do it. I went through the stage of wanting to be a lawyer because of my family situation. I like to argue, but I do not want to be stressed out all the time. I wanted to help my mom. I thought I could, but then I realized if I could not help my mom, then I would have all that pressure and then I would be disappointed in myself. And so I rather do something I want to do. Not what I thought I would want to do,” she says.
Lying beneath the surface of her teenage thoughts — tonight’s game, fun with friends, looming college choices, a career someday and a family of her own — is her mom.
Crystal’s incarceration is a recurring nightmare for her children. They’re truly serving life, too.
“It is like a nightmare that reoccurs. I have talked to her on the phone. I have asked questions about it and I have read articles online and that is all lies. That hurts to hear those lies. I talk to her about it and we can talk to her about anything and we are really open even though we are not physically close. She tells me the truth and I ask my grandmother about it and she says ‘yeah, that is what was said in court,’” Lexi said, obviously struggling, the mind of a young girl forced to deal with a very adult reality.
She gazes off when the thoughts get too pointed.
“She was a really good mom. It is really hard living without her,” her voice trails off.