By Steve Helling Jill Smolowe
October 03, 2011 12:00 PM

During her three years behind bars in Florida’s Orange County jail, a time when Americans across the country were demanding justice for her 2-year-old daughter Caylee, Casey Anthony kept her gaze squarely fixed on a future filled with what she believed to be attainable goals. According to one of her former guards, among the career options she considered were paralegal, dental technician and fashion buyer. The pleasures she dreamed of were modest: good food, manicures, haircuts. “She always talked about how she wanted to do normal things,” the guard says. “She had a lot of the same dreams of most girls her age.” As for Anthony’s notoriety as an accused murderer, she “had a love-hate relationship with it,” the guard says. “Part of her was thrilled that the people were paying attention to her … but she really hated that the media would choose the ugliest pictures of her.”

Since her release from jail on July 17, following her controversial acquittal by a jury that found the prosecution had failed to produce enough hard facts to nail the case, 25-year-old Anthony-described by a Department of Corrections spokeswoman as “one of the most hated women in America”-is now finding that notoriety is not her friend. In a series of exclusive interviews with several people in touch with Casey (for which PEOPLE, per its usual policy, did not pay), PEOPLE has been able to create a portrait of Casey’s state of mind and her life in hiding. Sources say that, estranged from family and friends and shunned by strangers, some of whom have issued threats against her, she now has a love-hate relationship with her lonely freedom. Ordered by a Florida judge to remain in the state for one year as she serves probation for writing fraudulent checks, Anthony has been hiding from public view in northern Florida, helped by her team of attorneys. She is seeing a counselor but otherwise has little contact with anyone else. “She knows that there are people out there who hate her,” says one of the few people in contact with her. “She would love to go out to meet friends and do public things, but she knows she can’t.” This source says she feels conflicted now that she is completely estranged from her parents, Cindy and George Anthony, whose recent three-part TV interview with nationally syndicated Dr. Phil McGraw has left her feeling betrayed. “The relationship with George is over,” the source says. “She struggles with her relationship with her mother.”

Out of sight of cameras, Casey, who never graduated from high school and held only entry-level jobs, is trying to rebuild her life. An avid photographer, she has resumed shooting pictures, training her lens on landscapes and wildlife, and away from people. She has plans to take online courses and hopes to learn a new language because, the source says, “she realizes she may have to live in another country.” Her fear of attack is not another of the lies for which she is notorious. “All of her lawyers have received angry e-mails and letters, and some of them are really vicious,” says a female source who has frequent contact with Anthony. “There are people out there who would like nothing more than to beat her up-or worse.” Last Aug. 9, when Caylee would have turned 6, she says, Anthony received a batch of birthday cards featuring colorful balloons and cute kittens on the front. Inside were vitriolic hand-scratched messages, including one that read, “Caylee will never be six because of you, you horrible bitch.”

Many of Anthony’s detractors feel that she is reaping what she sowed. “Anything bad that happens to her, she brought it upon herself,” says an Orange County police source. “I’m not going to shed any tears for Casey Anthony.” The fact that a jury could not find sufficient grounds for conviction does not erase Anthony’s outrageous behavior and the multiple lies she told following her daughter’s disappearance. Anthony’s failure to report Caylee’s absence for a full month-during which she hung out with her boyfriend and partied at clubs-continues to infuriate people who passionately want to see Caylee’s death avenged. “Casey’s not stupid,” says the female source. “She knows why people feel the way they feel about her. She also understands why she was prosecuted.”

Since the trial, Anthony has grown up a bit, according to the male source. “She has started to learn and recognize her lies and what they did to people,” he says. “She has a lot of regrets.” She has been seeing a grief counselor for about a month, and in late September, says the female source, “she’ll start seeing a female psychiatrist, who has cleared her schedule for the entire day.” Together they will determine how often both of them can afford to meet. “A lot of people are donating their services at this point,” she says. “Casey is not rich; she is not working. She is relying on others’ kindness.” This source admits that “Casey gives me the creeps” but regards Anthony’s interest in therapy as genuine, not a publicity stunt to burnish her battered reputation. “She was clearly an inexperienced, immature mother,” she says. “Her problems almost destroyed her, and in some ways they destroyed her entire family.”

Her parents’ appearances on Dr. Phil further strained relationships already badly damaged by Anthony’s defense-team’s accusation that George had sexually molested Casey as a child. On TV Sept. 13, George, who firmly denied the charge, echoed his damning courtroom testimony almost verbatim. “The last time I saw Caylee was with Casey,” he said. “In my book one and one adds up to two.” Cindy, who’d testified that it was she, not Casey, who’d searched for the term “chloroform” on the home computer-thus casting doubt on the prosecution’s theory that Casey had killed Caylee by knocking her out with chloroform, then suffocating her with duct tape-again tried to shield her daughter, this time floating a theory to explain Casey’s chronic lying: a history of seizures. “I know there’s something wrong,” Cindy said. “She had a grand mal seizure after she came home [from jail after posting bond].”

Casey was unimpressed. “What hurts her now is how Cindy continues to seek the spotlight,” says a male source. “She wants Cindy to be her mother, not a public person.” As Anthony keeps her head down and steers clear of Orange County, home to her parents and some of her most vehement detractors, she is finding support and sympathy in short supply. One person who knows her sees hope for Anthony’s future. “She’s young, she’s optimistic,” he says. “She knows that she can’t change the past, but she can move forward.” But even he acknowledges that her past may always hold her back. “She wants to make friends, but how is she going to do that now?”