After he was released from prison and pardoned for drug trafficking last year, Richard Paey looked forward to many freedoms.
He could eat when he wanted, sleep past 4:45 a.m. and enjoy a face-to-face conversation with someone besides a convicted murderer or a prison guard.
But rejoining civilian life has been harder than anticipated for Paey and his family, which includes three teenagers. His son was recently diagnosed with a form of autism. One daughter is learning to drive, and another just started college.
A lifelong Republican, Paey, 50, also learned recently that not all of his civil rights had been automatically restored by the pardon he received from Gov. Charlie Crist and the state Board of Executive Clemency last September.
"When I was convicted in 2004 I was removed from the voter roll," Paey said. "When I went to [vote early] it was too late to register to vote in the presidential election. The [elections worker] kept saying I was a convicted felon.
"As of now, I can't vote. I'm very disappointed."
Paey was removed from voter rolls before he was pardoned, according to the state Division of Elections. Under state law, it was his responsibility to re-register to vote after his release, though.
Brian Corley, Pasco County's supervisor of elections, said records indicate Paey could have voted in this year's elections had he re-registered to vote by Oct. 6. He was a day late.
"He still has to submit a new application," Corley said. "Once he does that, we'll get him back in the system."
Don't get Paey started.
Accident Altered His Life
A law school graduate, Paey's life was rolling along smoothly until he was involved in a serious traffic accident in 1985. A botched back surgery left him in near-constant agony. He was forced to use a wheelchair all the time and later developed multiple sclerosis.
In 1997, Paey was arrested by Pasco County Sheriff's deputies after a three-month investigation into the large number of prescriptions he was having filled. At a 2004 trial, his attorney argued that Paey had obtained the painkiller Percocet legally and that the pills were used solely by him.
No evidence was ever produced that he distributed the drugs, but a jury nevertheless convicted him on seven counts of drug trafficking. The volume of pills involved triggered a mandatory sentence of 25 years for drug trafficking. Paey served more than three years before being pardoned.
In prison, his pain was treated with a morphine pump that delivered in just two days more medication than Paey was incarcerated for obtaining.
The transition from closely watched prisoner to free family man has been turbulent.
"It's been a year of adjustments, different transitions, just getting back in synch with family life after prison," he said. "I was more or less a stranger. My kids said, 'Dad's changed.'"
Linda Paey also noticed the changes.
"It took much longer than I thought" it would for him to adapt, she said. "When I was visiting him in prison he seemed like the same man, but he couldn't handle the freedom, the distractions with the kids and everything. Everything was not on a schedule."
Not that the pardon wasn't an unexpected blessing.
He was able to attend daughter Catherine's graduation from Hudson High School; now 18, she is a freshman at the University of South Florida. And he could see his beloved mother, Helen, outside of a prison.
There were pressures, though -- some typical, some not.
When her father was released, Elizabeth Paey, now 17, was learning to drive, a nerve-wracking experience for almost any parent.
With son Benjamin, 15, the issues are more complex.
Linda Paey said her son always has been socially awkward and physically clumsy. Sometimes, he was antagonized by classmates. Benjamin was recently diagnosed with Asperger's syndrome, a form of autism, and the family doesn't know what his future will hold.
"We're probably going to have to set up a trust for him," Linda Paey said.
Back In the Fight
Besides family issues, there have been money problems. The Paeys have gotten notices from their homeowners' association because their grass is too long.
Immediately after his release, Paey lobbied on behalf of other chronic pain sufferers through organizations such as the Pain Relief Network, the November Coalition and Families Against Mandatory Minimums. But juggling independence and an urge to fight for others' rights soon became too much.
With more than a year of freedom under his belt, Paey now says he is almost ready to start working with the groups again.
In some ways, his own fight still isn't over.
"Linda went to the pharmacy the other day, and the pharmacy refused to fill my prescription for oxycodone," he said. "The pharmacist said that even if he called the doctor and the doctor verified the prescription, he still wouldn't fill it.
"I'm in a contract with the doctor to go to that pharmacy. We called the state pharmacy board, and their advice was to wait until a different pharmacist was on duty."
Paey sighed and shook his head, pointing his outstretched palms toward the ceiling.
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