Nearly 40 hours after getting arrested for civil disobedience, Christine Crowther stepped out of prison and into the arms of her ex-boyfriend. She felt more committed than ever to Occupy Wall Street and to reuniting with her partner.
Just a few months earlier, though, she was pretty sure that she and Haywood Carey had said their final goodbyes.
Crowther, 23, and Carey, 29, met, fell in love and broke up while working the North Carolina Democratic campaign circuit. The pair initially bonded over their desire for economic justice. But, after two years of trying to make a meaningful impact, they felt disillusioned with the stifling political scene and it took a visible toll on their relationship. Crowther moved out and decided to pursue a psychology degree.
"The reality of what traditional politics was hit me pretty hard," Carey told The Huffington Post. "I went into a little bit of a dark period trying to figure out what I spent the last 10 years -- and all the hair on my head -- doing."
When Occupy Wall Street sprung up, Carey knew that he had found the thing that would reinvigorate his sense of purpose.
"A people-powered movement -- something that was leaderless, something that was decentralized, something that anyone could pick up and replicate -- is exactly what I thought we needed," he said.
So Carey packed up his life and said goodbye to his home and to Crowther, knowing it was unlikely that she would make the 500-plus mile trip to New York City.
Carey started working at the Occupy information desk, connected with likeminded protesters and became enthralled with something he saw as "larger than any candidate or campaign."
And when he called Crowther to tell her about the experience, she heard reignited optimism in his voice.
"He was talking about how beautiful it was to see everybody coming together and creating the society they wanted to see," she said.
Bolstered by his words, Crowther decided to take a short trip up to New York in October, just for a week or so, to see what Occupy was all about. She planned to return to Greensboro just after Halloween.
But when she got to the park at 5 a.m. on a cool fall day, she said she was intrigued by a mission that seemed to ask for more than just espousing the beliefs of one candidate and adjusting messaging for donors.
"It truly was people getting together to work to change this system that is fundamentally broken," Crowther said.
She was equally as moved by the new side she saw of her ex-boyfriend.
She marveled at the way Carey stayed up through the night on security watch, diffusing fights with coffee and jokes. She appreciated the way he never complained, even when he had to take on the dry accounting tasks.
"He really stepped up and done a lot of the hard work that a lot of the people don't want to do," Crowther said. "It was good to see him in action in something he really believes in."
Crowther tried out the role of greeting and orienting new Occupiers. Carey became smitten with the way her once quiet disposition developed into something much more fiery.
When she was arrested with about a dozen other protesters outside of Goldman Sachs, Crowther said she was the last to get let out because she had demanded the corrections officers bring them water.
"She's feisty," Carey said. "She used to be much more reserved, much more non-confrontational. I'm just impressed by her every day, especially by her strength."
After waiting outside of 1 Police Plaza for almost 40 hours, Carey took Crowther into his arms and knew he couldn't let her go home.
"School can happen in a year or two years," he told her. "This is a one-time opportunity. This isn't going to come around again."
But at that moment, Crowther said she didn't need much coaxing. While sitting in her cell, her thoughts kept circling back to what she had found in Occupy -- a reason to commit to politics and to Carey again.
"He was the person that I wanted to talk to. He was the person that I wanted to see," she said. "When I got out, he was there, right outside. He just scooped me up in his arms."
The two marched off to find noodles at 1 a.m. and settled on staying in Zuccotti Park, together.
"Occupy gave us both a fresh outlook," Crowther said. "It gave us this strength and information to reconnect with each other on this really positive and hopeful level."