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ASBURY PARK, N.J. — A day after her early release from the Monmouth County Jail, topless rights proponent Phoenix Feeley issued a brief but harsh summary of her stay at the Freehold Township lockup, along with a photo of herself in the free world — cleavage prominent, naturally.
Feeley, 33, thanked strangers and supporters alike who she said helped her survive a nine-day hunger strike at the jail. She was released a little less than a week early for good behavior, said Cynthia Scott, spokeswoman for the Monmouth County Sheriff's Office.
"I didn't shed a single tear in their cage, and no they couldn't break me," she wrote on the Facebook page of gotopless.org, a group that advocates for equal topless rights and has offered support — plus the guest-speaker honor at a topless rally in New York City next weekend — to Feeley. "Not even the guards' violent threats could stop me, and that is because of everyone who loves and believe in me."
Feeley was originally arrested and fined for refusing to cover herself on a Spring Lake beach in 2008. She claims that it is discriminatory for women to have to cover themselves while men can bare their chests just about anywhere.
Feeley was sentenced Aug. 8 to 16 days in the county jail for refusing to pay $816 in fines. She had been jailed since Aug. 12, so she had 12 days left to serve.
In a quick hearing before the sentence, Feeley, who lives in New York City, described a hellish existence at the jail, in which a guard abused her, the food was "crap," the water was dirty and undrinkable and, outside her cell, a bloody message read "help me." She called the judge's decision a "death sentence."
The jail has denied her assertions. "The comments that Ms. Feeley made against the Monmouth County Correctional Institution were false. She was not mistreated while at the facility," Scott said.
"Throughout Ms. Feeley's stay, the correctional and medical staff continued to ensure her safety, health and well-being," Scott wrote in an email. "Ms. Feeley's vitals were checked regularly, she was offered three meals per day and an organic supplement, all of which she refused. However, she continued to drink water and remained in good health while at the facility."
In the Facebook post, Feeley wrote: "Out of jail. After 48 hours of no food or drinkable water and telling the Judge I'd never survive 16 days like that, they began to give me water and consequently I live to tell the tale. The warden let me out early. I haven't eaten in 9 days since I was put in custody but am going to soon."
She continued, "Nine days naked in a filthy cell in lock down, on a hunger strike, not allowed visitors, mail, phone calls, or anything besides a couple of blankets and a tiny window to the outside world while on 24 hour video surveillance was a new experience that I am happy is over and wouldn't have been able to live thru without your love."
Nadine Gary, president of gotopless.org, said she has not spoken directly with Feeley since her release, and that an email from Feeley said she would be incommunicado for a couple of days.
"After nine days of fasting, there is a toll on her body and on her health," Gary said. "I'm so glad she's out."
Feeley's post also thanked a donor who offered to pay her fines for her release.
That potential donor, Ron Taft, a Manhattan lawyer who vacations in Upper Freehold, said a jail representative told him that Feeley passed on his request because "she wanted to make a point."