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When viewers first met first met Teresa Giudice on The Real Housewives of New Jersey in March 2009, she was described as Dina and Caroline Manzo's friend who loved to shop, get spa treatments and spend time at the Jersey Shore with her three young daughters and husband, Joe, who owned a successful construction business. They lived in a brand-new, $1.7 million 10,000-sq.-ft. mansion, and the pregnant mom soon gained a reputation as a big spender (dropping more than $120,000 on furniture for a single room). But that October, the couple filed for bankruptcy, claiming they were a staggering $10.98 million in debt.
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DRAMA, DRAMA, DRAMA
It wasn't long before the Jersey native's ugly side came out as she argued with costar Danielle Staub over Staub's sketchy past. The feud led to Giudice's infamous wild-eyed, table-flipping freak-out on the season 1 finale, in which she upended a fully loaded dinner table while declaring Staub a "prostitution whore." "She just snapped," Caroline Manzo admitted. "We all have our breaking points." Giudice, however, said her husband, Joe, was "really turned on" by her display. "When we went home we really got it on," she smiled. "I was like, 'I should flip tables more often.'"
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BUILDING HER CAREER
After giving birth to fourth daughter Audriana, Teresa got herself a new body – upping from an A cup to a C – and a new career as a cookbook author. Her first book, Skinny Italian, published in May 2010, became a New York Times Best-Seller, as did her two follow-ups. She also released a cocktail and hair-care line, but her sudden success caused friction among her cast mates. As new Housewives – including her sister-in-law Melissa Gorga and cousin Kathy Wakile – joined the show, Giudice fought with them too, prompting former friend Jacqueline Laurita to Tweet, "Teresa is scum!"
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TROUBLE AT HOME
Her career was riding high, but Giudice's personal life hit a low as she and Joe continued to struggle with their bankruptcy filing – a sale of their personal effects was scheduled and then canceled amid claims that they had hidden assets and undervalued items. Even more worrying for Guidice was her husband's January 2010 DUI arrest, which led to him being sent to jail later that year to serve 10 days for driving on a suspended license. He was arrested again in 2011 for fraudulently obtaining a new license using his brother's ID (and faced up to 10 years in prison). Giudice also laughed off rumors that "Juicy Joe," as she nicknamed him, was a cheater who may have fathered a love child. But rumors of his infidelity surfaced again in 2013.
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The couple's money issues reached a whole new level of trouble when they were both indicted on federal fraud charges on July 29, 2013. They were accused of exaggerating their income while applying for loans before the Real Housewives debuted, then hiding their improved fortunes in their bankruptcy filing. They learned their fate on Oct. 2, 2014: In addition to probation and fines, Teresa was sentenced to 15 months in prison for fraud, while Joe (who was told he's also facing "imminent deportation" back to Italy) was sentenced to 41 months. Her term began first, on Jan. 5, 2015. "My daughters are my life. I'm more sorry than anyone will ever know. I will make this right no matter what," she said in a tearful statement read in court. "I'm really scared … It's time for me to wake up."
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LIFE IN PRISON
Giudice, who served an 11-month sentence, opened up to PEOPLE about her harrowing experience in prison, including the moment she realized her prison room was a hub of sexual activity and the workout plan that got her down to a size 2. "The ladies were getting it on so much that our room became known as the Boom Boom Room," she shared. Giudice stayed focus by working out three times a day, doing everything from running on the track to lifting weights and exercise classes. "It got me through this whole ordeal, and I can't live without it now." For her 43rd birthday, her inmate friends surprised her with a special dinner of chicken, linguine and cookies.
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AN EMOTIONAL HOMECOMING
Giudice was released from Danbury Correctional Facility on Dec. 23. In a sneak peek at this season's premiere of The Real Housewives of New Jersey, her four daughters eagerly await her return. Guidice's oldest daughter Gia – who helped her father take care of her younger sisters while Teresa was away – urges a groggy Milania to get up and dressed for her mom, eventually warning her younger sis: "I swear to God, if you make your mother's picture taken by a paparazzi, you're going to be in so much trouble." Since her return, Giudice told PEOPLE, home life has been a love fest. "It's been a whirlwind," she said, adding that she was getting "lots of hugs and kisses. In one day I'd say like over a hundred kisses."
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REUNITING WITH RHONJ STARS, INCLUDING JACQUELINE LAURITA AND MELISSA GORGA
"Teresa and I have a roller coaster friendship," Laurita told PEOPLE. "It's a love/hate relationship. Not all people will understand it." Laurita is returning to season 7 after taking a break from the show, and this time she's all about "trying to figure out who's sincere and who's genuine – I'm all about real relationships, I'm not about TV friends." As for her relationship with Giudice, it truly does seem to be love/hate. "I've been friends with Teresa for 13 years, so there are definitely things that I love about her or I never would have been friends with her that long ... but there are also things that frustrate the crap out of me," Laurita admitted. She also told PEOPLE that prison didn't seem to change her pal. "People don't change who they are overnight. You might want to change and you might try to change but you are who you are, and Teresa's Teresa!"
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JOE GOES TO PRISON
Her husband, whom she married in 1999, began his 41-month prison sentence in March 2016, after turning himself into the Federal Correctional Institution at Fort Dix for fraud. Giudice's primary concern has been maintaining stability for her four daughters – Gia, 15, Gabriella, 11, Milania, 10, and Audriana, 6. "I think about it like there's people in the military that are not there for everything," she told PEOPLE. "Of course he would be there if he could … as long as we have our health, that's all that matters. When you have your health, you have everything."a But it hasn't been easy: While discussing her husband's prison sentence in a July ABC News interview, she teared up and turned away from the cameras. "I'm getting emotional," she said. "No, I think our future is not uncertain," Giudice added, after gaining composure. "He's gonna be home, we're gonna be together, and that's that I'm looking forward to."a