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"I was only in my thirties. Being the oldest in my family, I had to be the one to tell the doctors to take my mother off life support.”

As far as she can look back at her life, that was the first time Carolyn LeCroy was faced with the hardest, most painful decision of her life. “We all knew my mother was not going to pull through. I just had to do the right thing.”

With a successful career in a local media channel in Norfolk, Carolyn had everything one could ask for professionally. Personally, she was at an extremely ‘happy place’, with two beautiful boys and a loving husband. “George, my husband used to work as an air traffic controller. We were very comfortable with our lives.” But one day, he lost his job. “Everything went spiralling down thereon.”

For years they struggled emotionally and financially. Communication between them broke down. They failed to pay bills and Carolyn struggled to get higher paying jobs to fill in the gap. “We finally separated.”

“I left my job at the agency and took up a job as a restaurant manager. The pay was much higher,” Carolyn says.

Life started to pick up slowly for Carolyn, as it seemed to offer her a second chance, both in life and in love. “I met the most charming man. He was customer at the restaurant. We got talking. He was the most attentive man ever. Constantly wanting to be with me, talking to me, flattering me.” One thing led to the other, and before she knew it, they were in a relationship. “We moved in together while he spoiled me and my children. He took them out everywhere, treating them to a luxurious life.” Carolyn was happy. She had made for herself once again, a home she could call her own.

“Abuse comes in so many forms. It’s not always physical,” Carolyn goes on to say in the same breath which has so far captured so many of her unfinished dreams. “Never once had he laid his hands on me. But I did not know until later that I was being emotionally abused all the while I was with him.”

While traveling through life’s journey, one tends to overlook a lot of things in the best interest of ‘the larger picture.’ Perhaps the larger picture in Carolyn’s case was a happy home after a failed marriage. For the security for her children. For her own self.  For love.

“He tried to get me to quit my work, so I could depend completely on him. He deposited money in my bank, just as security for me. I didn’t understand a lot of things then.” Carolyn quit her job and became completely dependent on him. We will call him Steve for the purpose of this story, as Carolyn prefers not to disclose his real name.

For long Carolyn believed all of Steve’s wealth was coming in from his business. Until one day they met a couple while they were traveling to Mexico. That trip finally opened her eyes as she for the first time stumbled upon the truth. The man she was building her dreams with all this while was in reality, a drug dealer.

“And that was the end. I kicked him out even as he begged me to go back to him but what was done was done.”

Hurt, scared and confused, Carolyn started her life yet again as she went back to her old life; just her and her two boys. "I wasn't sure what I was going to do to support myself at that point." But life just had to go on no matter what, for the sake of her children. She picked up all of life’s little pieces and started yet again. And as she worked her way back into reality and learned to live with shattered dreams, her hatred for Steve grew in some corner of her heart. The lies and the deceit, the cheating, the manipulation all started making sense to her now. How could she not see it before? How did she allow him to manipulate her? How did he play with her emotions and with the lives of her children? Questions came to haunt her over and over again, and remained in her mind, unanswered.

Until one day, a year later, Steve called her again. Carolyn agreed to meet him. “I wanted closure,” she says. “I wanted to meet him one last time to face all of my hatred within me. To answer all those questions that I had no answers for.”

Steve and Carolyn met one last time that night. “He had moved on and was happily settled in Mexico with someone else. It didn’t bother me,” says an undisturbed Carolyn. Love had given way to hatred, and hatred to indifference. But she had finally, just over dinner that night with him, realized that she hated him no more. “I finally had my closure.”

Steve and Carolyn parted ways as friends, and all was forgiven and forgotten. Steve asked her for one last favour, where he could use her storage room to be able keep some of his luggage as he was traveling. She obliged, as she gave him the combination to the lock of her storage unit and said goodbye to him one last time. Carolyn was happy, for she could finally move on and ahead with her life without harbouring any ill feelings.

“I can’t remember very well now was it that same night or the next morning,” Carolyn tries hard to remember, “when the police came to my house and took me to jail.”

What followed in Carolyn’s life was pure hell. “It was like I was having an outer body experience,” she remembers. “Here I was, never even having received a parking ticket in my life, taken to jail by a bunch of police officers.. I was numb, in an absolute state of shock.”

The police, the handcuffs, the women’s ward, the imprisonment was to become Carolyn’s life for the next two years. “Truth didn’t quite hit me until after I was thrown in prison.”

Carolyn’s biggest mistake was trusting Steve for the first time several years ago. Her next mistake, and what proved to be even bigger than the first one, was trusting him for the second time round.

“I had been framed.”

Police found drugs inside Carolyn’s storage unit while Steve escaped the country.

Carolyn went through a mixed wave of anger, sadness, hatred, shock, desperation and helplessness all at once. She got charged with the illegal possession of drugs with intent to distribute and for conspiracy. The judged slapped a $250,000 bond on her plus what was to be a lifetime in prison for illegal possession of drugs and conspiracy. All she wanted to do now was prove her innocence. But nobody was listening.

They say true love can only go so far, but returns home when the night falls.

One was Carolyn’s mother. “She never really ever left me, and has been my angel all along after passing away.” The other was her ex-husband George, who came back in her life when she needed a friend the most. “George stood by me right through my darkest days,” she says, grateful for him to this day. “He sold off the condo, and arranged for the entire bond amount.” Carolyn cooperated with the police the entire time she was imprisoned. “But they disconnected my phones and all other forms of connection while I was being transferred to another prison.” She didn’t know where she was being taken to, nor was her family informed. Helplessness overcame her as all she could think about now were her young children.

“I just sat there and thought about my kids,” her voice breaks. “I missed touching them, kissing them, holding them.” Lawyers, judges and cries for help, no stone was left unturned to prove her innocence. But her path seemed to have been chalked out because of one wrong decision she made.

Then came the day of family visitation. “I could see my children!!”

The excitement, the hope, the fear, the nervousness of meeting ones children while a parent is locked up is a feeling very few can relate to, and much less understand. “As outsiders, we know so little about the prison system. We know nothing about inmates, nothing about what goes on inside until one of us is hit violently with reality.” Starting from understanding the personal reasons behind the judge slapping an exorbitant bond fee of $250,000 who had incidentally lost his own daughter to drug abuse, to understanding women in her ward desperate to meet their children, to seeing wronged convictions to those who repented their actions, to how horrifically inmates were treated by some, it was as though Carolyn had her eyes open to a planet she never knew existed.

“We all had to suffer the biggest indignity, as we went to meet our family on visitation days. Each time before meeting them and each time after meeting them, we would have to go through the most humiliating, shaming strip searches. And each time, I remember thinking, ‘I will endure this. Because it allows me to see my children.’

Carolyn, determined to come in front of the boys, happy and strong, strived to disconnect from her reality. “Anything was worth being with my boys.”

“My oldest boy was very angry with me,” remembers a disheartened Carolyn, whose boys were young teens by now. “I wasn’t there for him. His anger towards me was justified.” The younger one who was more supportive, expressed his emotions differently. But one thing ran common between both the boys: “Neither ever stopped saying that they love me.”

George, standing by her side right through, emotionally and physically, tried everything to bring her back home. Lawyers and friends, he went to them all. “He would have my boys write cards for me and send them to me.”

There was once a time when Carolyn was at a crossroad of her life, when she had to decide to let go of her mother. Today, years later, she faced the same situation once again. To her, she knew she was to be in prison for the rest of her life, and so she decided to tell her sons not to visit her as often so they could lead normal lives on their own, away from her. “They were young boys now and had their own lives to lead. I didn’t want them to waste their time every weekend, travel the long distance from the house to my prison to see me.”

Months went by. “I missed their birthdays, graduation and Christmas. It was the hardest thing to be separated from them.”

If only she could reach them somehow, was all she thought. If only the judges would release her from the false accusations was all she prayed for. If only she could tell her family every day of her life how much she loved them and how much they meant to her.

Little did she know at the time, that whatever happens, happens for a reason. Reasons we tend not to see or understand at the time.

“Then one day, just like that, I got a call to the counselor's office. This was after I had been called in for parole hearing. ‘Carolyn,’ “they told me,” ‘you’ve made it! You can go back home!’

Words that Carolyn didn’t think she was ever going to hear. Imprisoned for life, Carolyn was told she had made parole. In just 14 months.