Family Matters

Casey Anthony Released: Can She Ever Lead a Normal Life?

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What would you do if you met Casey Anthony in Target? She yearns to stroll the aisles of the chic big-box store, at least according to letters she wrote while imprisoned on charges of murdering her 2-year-old daughter, Caylee.

Anthony, arguably the most-watched defendant to walk free since O.J. Simpson was acquitted of murder in 1995, went bars-free Sunday morning after logging 1,055 days in prison. It was a stealthy, middle-of-the-night operation occurring at 12:14 a.m. on Sunday; most ex-prisoners exit through the front door, but because of security concerns (newsflash: she’s not America’s favorite person right now) Anthony got back-door status. She slipped quietly out of Orlando’s Orange County Jail with her attorney Jose Baez, saying nothing to the bystanders outside. She was provided with $537 from her jail account and hustled into a waiting SUV. But where will she head now?

Probably not to the beige ranch home she shared with her parents and Caylee before the toddler went missing three years ago. Anthony rejected a jailhouse visit from her mother days after her July 5 acquittal on murder charges, and it’s unlikely her father, George Anthony, is feeling too paternal after her lawyers laid out a scenario in which he and Anthony had covered up the accidental drowning death of Caylee.

Last week, George Anthony made it clear that he’s not one of his daughter’s biggest supporters, telling the Washington Post that he cried when he first heard about a popular petition to enact “Caylee’s Law,” which would require parents to report a child missing within 24 hours. It took Casey Anthony 31 days to inform police that she didn’t know Caylee’s whereabouts. “This is a great legacy for my granddaughter. Other children still need assistance,” Anthony told the Post. “If it reflects on my daughter, well, so be it.”

PHOTOS: The Casey Anthony Trial in Photos

Compounded by trial allegations that George Anthony sexually abused Casey, any whisper of familial reconciliation appears a long shot. Yet that’s exactly what she needs — along with intensive mental-health counseling, says Craig Haney, a psychology professor at the University of California, Santa Cruz. “The single most important thing that eases an ex-prisoner’s re-integration into society is a warm social milieu,” says Haney, who studies how people are affected by imprisonment.

Typically, that means a supportive family or a group of nurturing ex-cons who will be patient as an ex-inmate transitions from incarceration to freedom. It’s not as simple as just walking out of a jail cell into the sunshine. Just as soldiers returning from battle need to gradually ease back into society, so do people being released from prison.

“I’d suspect she will have a very difficult time,” says Haney. “People in general have a difficult time, and she has additional hurdles.”

Recidivism, of course, is an ever-present issue for people who’ve spent time behind bars. Anthony is hardly a career criminal, but she too may find it difficult to reclaim her decision-making abilities.

In jail and prison, every aspect of an inmate’s existence is tightly controlled. Forced to comply, they go to sleep, wake up and eat at a prescribed time. “Their autonomy has atrophied,” says Haney. “It begins to change who you are and what you’re capable of. People who come out of jail and prison tell you they feel stigmatized, like they’re out of sync with everyone. You get this social awkwardness where people can’t resume their social relationships or pick up where they left off. Add to that someone who is especially ostracized, and the degree of marginalization and alienation is going to be much greater.”

MORE: Online Petition for ‘Caylee’s Law’ Goes Viral

Karin Moore, an assistant professor of law at Florida A&M University who attended much of Anthony’s trial, thinks she is in danger. Locked up for the past three years, it’s likely that Anthony doesn’t have a pulse on the amount of hatred she’s engendered. “I’d hear the public talking in the bathroom or in the hall about what they’d love to do to Casey Anthony,” says Moore. “I understand the anger. I just don’t understand the bloodlust.”

Ideally, Anthony would leave town. But she’s due back in court just days after being sprung from prison. A woman named Zenaida Gonzalez is suing her for defamation because Anthony told police a nanny by that name had been caring for Caylee; Gonzalez says she knew neither Anthony nor her daughter. Anthony will also have to contend with a suit filed by Texas EquuSearch, a non-profit group seeking $100,000 in reimbursement for expenses it says it racked up while searching for Caylee. (According to Anthony’s defense, Caylee was already dead at the time.) If Anthony ends up having to pay but doesn’t have the funds, the state of Florida could place a lien against future earnings — including those from any potential book or movie deals.

She’d better hope a blockbuster offer falls into place quickly because finding a 9-to-5 job could be a challenge. In a tough job market, three years behind bars doesn’t do much to pretty up a resume, yet a job is one of the main paths back to normalcy. “Very few people are willing to hire people released from prison,” says Moore, who was a criminal defender for 22 years. “If you were an employer, would you hire Casey Anthony, an admitted prolific liar?”

To skirt that problem, it’s not out of the question that she might assume a new identity, indulge in plastic surgery or get a really good wig. In letters she wrote to fellow Orlando County Jail inmate Robyn Adams between 2008 and 2009, Anthony mused about taking on a new name. “If you could change your name to any name, what would it be?” she wrote. “I’ve been thinking about that a lot lately. Ideas? Many ideas.”

Released as part of a parcel of more than 50 jailhouse letters, Anthony described having a case of jailhouse fever, of craving a mani and pedi — and another child of her own. “And girl,” she wrote to Adams, “I could use a day at Target myself. Just to walk around the store, to be a part of society. I want to go grocery shopping.”

Bonnie Rochman is a reporter at TIME. Find her on Twitter at @brochman. You can also continue the discussion on TIME Healthland’s Facebook page and on Twitter at @TIMEHealthland.