Sweet, sweet freedom!
In the wee hours of Wednesday morning Real Housewives of New Jersey star Teresa Giudice was quietly released from the Federal Correctional Institution in Danbury, Conn., after serving nearly a year locked up.
“She is thrilled that she is finally going home,” a source close to the reality star tells PEOPLE exclusively.
Following mandatory release paperwork and procedures, Giudice was released at 5:01 a.m., but was still at the prison as of 5:30 a.m., her lawyer James J. Leonard, Jr. tells PEOPLE. “She is free,” he says.
The Real Housewives of New Jersey star was found guilty of fraud charges and sentenced to 15 months in jail in October of 2014. She entered the minimum-security satellite camp for women, made popular by the hit Netflix show Orange Is the New Black, on Jan. 5 of this year.
“Prison was tough for her,” says the source, “but she made the best of it.”
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As the hours, days and months slowly ticked by, she suffered through the harsh realities of prison life, all the while longing for the day she’d be able to return home to her husband Joe and their four young daughters Gia, Gabriella, Milania and Audriana.
• For exclusive images and details of Teresa Giudice’s first days home, pick up the upcoming issue of PEOPLE, on stands Dec. 29
Now, that day has finally come, and it couldn’t be a better time of year. “She couldn t wait to get home to Joe and the girls from the minute she set foot in prison,” says the source. “She is so happy and grateful that she is able to be home with them, for Christmas, no less.”