His mind was unclear and his conversation was confusing," says Lisa Hunt Kyle of her father after visiting him in prison. "What I knew as a once proud human being was reduced to a babbling nonperson."

Lisa is the daughter of E. Howard Hunt, convicted Watergate conspirator. The eldest of Hunt's four children, Lisa, 25, is now spearheading a committee to free Hunt from what she calls "cruel and unusual punishment."

Hunt is in the minimum security federal prison at Eglin Air Force Base near Pensacola, Fla. He is serving a two-and-a-half-to-eight-year sentence, one of two Watergate conspirators still in jail (the other is G. Gordon Liddy). "He's terribly bitter and feels really let down," says Lisa. "Look at Papa's life. Twenty-six years in government service—the Navy, OSS and CIA. He believed he was following an executive order [at Watergate]. He made one mistake, and suddenly the rest of his life doesn't make a difference."

Hunt's life—as dramatic as those of the fictional heroes he chronicled in 46 mystery and spy novels—centered around his 21-year career as a CIA operative. It took him and his family to such exotic foreign capitals as Montevideo, Madrid, Mexico City and Tokyo.

Watergate was Hunt's undoing, but a worse blow was the death of his wife, Dorothy, in a 1972 air crash. Shunted among 10 different prisons since 1973, Hunt is now working in the Eglin laundry. "Can you believe that?" asks Lisa. "An author working in a laundry."

Aside from the argument that Hunt has been punished too severely, Lisa pleads that he should be freed because his children Kevan, 23, St. John, 22, and David, 12, are parentless. "They [the government] stripped him of everything he holds dear," Lisa says bitterly. "He also lives with the guilt of Mother's death. And now my brother David is growing up without a father."

When Lisa was in high school, the family learned that Hunt was in the CIA. "We always thought Papa worked for the State Department as a diplomat." But Watergate was a shock. "I started getting suspicious when I saw Papa getting nervous at home. He was short-tempered and didn't sleep much. He finally told us he was involved." (Lisa says she urged her father to skip the country while he was out on appeal, but he refused.)

By her own admission, Lisa led a sheltered life. She was educated in private, mostly Catholic, schools. She suffered a nervous breakdown at 16 and afterward attended American University, but did not graduate. In 1974 she met Charles Kyle, then 22, an artist-designer. They were married last year and expect their first child in August. ("Papa has not even seen a picture of me pregnant.")

The Kyles live a bucolic life on a 60-acre, $22,500 farm near Hurley, Wis. The down payment was financed with insurance from Mrs. Hunt's death. While Charles draws, paints and does chores, Lisa bakes bread and nurtures her obsession to free her father. "When Lisa's mother died, she had to bury her—they were extremely close," says Charles Kyle. "Now Lisa is becoming whole again, but she'll never be the same person she might have been without Watergate."