Lawrencia Bembenek had served nearly nine years of her life sentence for first-degree murder when she escaped from a Milwaukee prison in 1990 and fled to Canada, adding a chapter to the story of a woman who became a folk hero.

People in Wisconsin who believed she had been unfairly convicted sported T-shirts that read "Run, Bambi, run!"

Her story, "Woman on the Run" (Sunday and Monday at 9 on NBC), is based on her book, "Woman on Trial," and stars Tatum O'Neal. Bruce Greenwood plays Fred Schultz, the man Bembenek married in 1981 and whose ex-wife she was convicted of murdering with his gun.

Bembenek was paroled Dec. 9, 1992, pleading no contest to second-degree murder (although she still says she didn't do it), and less than two weeks later she was graduated with honors from the University of Wisconsin-Parkside. She was the first Wisconsin woman "lifer" admitted to a college-extension program. Now she's thinking of applying to law schools, perhaps Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill.

"I was a jailhouse lawyer. I learned all sorts of things. I lived criminal law for 11 years, and I learned civil law. If I can do that, I can do anything."

She said she has plenty of experience, filing class action suits to alleviate harsh conditions at the prison and helping other inmates research their appeals, writing by hand because typewriters were not allowed. She also started a prison newspaper and edited it for four years.

As a convicted felon, she likely would not be admitted to the bar. "I don't know if I could practice, but I could teach," she said.

Life outside prison is sweet, she said, but the decade inside and as a fugitive took its toll.

"When you do time, you learn to live one day at a time," she said. "I'm still in that mode. One of her greatest delights: "It's very wonderful to be able to open my own mail."

Bembenek was convicted in 1982, largely on circumstantial evidence, for the May 1981 murder of Christine Shultz, her husband's first wife and the mother of his two sons. It was his $700 alimony to his ex-wife -- nearly half his paycheck -- that was said to be the motive for the murder. They were married less than four months at the time of Christine Schultz's death.

She appealed her conviction four times, saying she did not commit the crime. She believes Schultz, who was among the officers called to the murder scene (and was granted immunity), hired someone to kill his ex-wife. Bembenek also thinks the Milwaukee Police Department, of which she had been part, covered it up to implicate her. Schultz, who divorced Bembenek after she was convicted, remarried and lives in Florida.

Bembenek (she got the nickname "Bambi" at the police academy) was fired in her first year as a Milwaukee cop for allegedly filing a false report. She countersued for discrimination, and said the police were corrupt and found reasons to fire women and non-whites.

At her trial, Bembenek captured the public's attention largely because she was a knockout. Five feet 10, she had been a model, posed -- fully clothed -- for a Schlitz beer calendar (she was Miss March), and worked briefly as a waitress at the Lake Geneva (Wisc.) Playboy Club and as an aerobics instructor. One Milwaukee man who had seen her pictures paid $28,000 of her appellate court costs.

Sentenced to life, she escaped from a laundry room window at Wisconsin's Taycheedah Correctional Institute in summer 1990, scaled a seven-foot chain-link fence, and fled to Thunder Bay, Ont., with her fiance, Dominic Gugliatto, 34, brother of a fellow inmate. He is played in the movie by Alex McArthur.

That October, a tourist recognized her from Fox's "America's Most Wanted." She and Gugliatto, living as Tony and Jennifer Gazzana, were arrested by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.

He was deported and sentenced to a year in jail in Wisconsin for helping her escape. She was jailed and fought extradition, but eventually agreed to return to Wisconsin, rather than be deported and charged with offenses related to her escape and flight.

Bembenek's lawyer, Sheldon Zenner, a former federal prosecutor who took her case without pay, produced a 147-page legal brief that raised issues concerning the sloppiness of the initial police work and discrepancies in physical evidence. But Bembenek did not get a new trial. Milwaukee deputy district attorney Robert Donohoo still believes she's guilty.

Bembenek, now 34, is planning the rest of her life.

"I've been doing public speaking and writing articles on prison reform," she said. "I'm still committed and real tied to women's issues. I got a new contract for a sequel {to 'Woman on Trial'} with the same publisher, HarperCollins. I consider myself a writer. I would like to write maybe a column for a national magazine."

Bembenek also is trying to decide whether to remain in Milwaukee or move to Chicago, two hours away, and try law school. "The familiar is comfortable and I have a big base of friends, so I don't know. It would be a big upheaval. It's a scary thought to move to Chicago alone. But I don't know that I would want to stay here. It's a fish bowl."

And there's a Milwaukee columnist who's been a thorn in her side. "She's just obsessed with me," said Bembenek. "She prints totally untrue things. My lawyer called, but she just got crueler. Anything she writes is real snarky, real nasty. So stuff like that I can't get away from."

She's also still feeling her way back.

"At first, I'd lost my sense of direction, my independent living skills," she said. "I was not presented with many choices for so many years. I couldn't figure out how to take the bus to work. I'd sit down at a restaurant and look and look and look at the menu. It was overwhelming when I first got out -- I had never seen a fax machine, a VCR or a CD player.

"It's still one step at a time," she said. "I just got my driver's license -- I had to take the road test. I need a doctor, a dentist, eye doctor. I had to get medical insurance. I have to pay taxes now."

Despite her public speeches, Bembenek said she appreciates privacy and prefers working on her own. "I don't like exposing myself to large crowds that much."

But in mid-April, she agreed to appear on "Oprah Winfrey," taped in Chicago.

"They were advertising this on TV all day," she said. "Anyone could call this 800 number, and they bused interested people from Milwaukee."

One of them was a juror who convicted her and who still believes she is guilty. Others are her lawyers and her employer in Canada. And there are clips of Schultz and Gugliatto. The installment airs Monday at 4 p.m. on WJLA.