She Was Acquitted Of Murdering Her Abusive Ex After Years In Prison. Now Comes The Hard Part.
From Huffington Post:
BRIDGEPORT, Conn. — Cherelle Baldwin was technically free.
It had been nine days since her release from York Correctional Institution, Connecticut’s only prison for women. She spent almost three years there, waiting to stand trial for the murder of her ex-boyfriend before being found innocent.
But even though she was back outside, free to go anywhere she wanted, whenever she wanted, Baldwin said she felt trapped. On her first day out of prison, she went to Walmart for an eye exam to get new glasses. She ran into the jury forewoman from her trial. The woman pressed her into a bear hug, and said she deserved to be home. The optometrist got curious and started asking questions.
Later, at the supermarket, strangers approached Baldwin and welcomed her back. She wondered if they were judging her.
“Every time someone looks at me, I think, ‘Do they know what happened?’” she said. “It makes me very fearful to be around people. I try not to go out in the public.”
On May 18, 2013, Baldwin hit her ex-boyfriend Jeffrey Brown with her car, killing him. She told police he broke in, beat and strangled her in front of their 19-month-old son, and that a crash occurred in her driveway while she desperately tried to get away. Brown was pinned against a cement wall and died. Baldwin broke her leg. First responders discovered her on the ground in her nightgown, without shoes or glasses, crying out for her child.
Media coverage of the incident wasn’t pretty. The New York Daily News described Baldwin as a “crazed woman” who crushed her lover to death in a “savage attack.” The story didn’t mention her telling police that Brown had tried to kill her. Or the slew of threatening texts he had sent her that morning. Or the protective order she had against him. Or that 10 days prior, he had been convicted of breach of the peace for an earlier domestic incident. Or that he was found grasping a belt, which she said he had used to whip and choke her.
“When I first heard my story on the news, I was like, ‘That’s not what happened,’” she said. “They make you sound crazy.”
So she stays in, mostly at her mom’s apartment in Bridgeport. It’s a tiny two-bedroom that now houses three adults — Cherelle, her mom and her brother, Bernard, who just graduated college. They take turns sleeping in the bedrooms, and someone, usually Bernard, takes the couch.
Struggling To Adjust
On a cold Saturday in April, Baldwin sat on that couch in her mom’s living room, sipping from a bottle of water. Her son, Jeffrey, wearing an Adidas tracksuit, sat by her side, transfixed by a game he played on an iPhone.
Baldwin said she is grateful for her freedom, but she’s also overwhelmed with anxiety.
“My nerves are bad,” she said. “I feel like I haven’t been here in awhile. It feels like a different planet.”
She said she can’t eat. Nerves. She drinks Ensure for nutrition. It’s not too bad, she said, sort of like a milkshake.
Baldwin was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder while in prison. From the accident, but also from surviving a violently abusive relationship. For the first three months after it happened, she said, she had vivid nightmares and would wake up covered in scratches. The prison doctors prescribed her anti-anxiety medicine.
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