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What Standing In Line For Food Stamps Taught Oprah's First Book Club Author About Judgment

"That was, in part, when I started to be free again," says Jacquelyn Mitchard.

When Oprah's Book Club first launched in 1996, it was an instant phenomenon -- and so was first-time author Jacquelyn Mitchard. Her debut novel, The Deep End of the Ocean, was the club's first pick and its success turned her into a millionaire.

As Mitchard explained to "Oprah: Where Are They Now?" recently, a Ponzi scheme orchestrated by a financial advisor who was hired by her husband led to the family's financial ruin. Things got so bad that the best-selling author even found herself waiting on line to receive food stamps, judging the very people she stood alongside.

"I was looking around me and thinking, 'These are people that have made a career out of making bad decisions,'" Mitchard tells Oprah.

That's when Mitchard got a closer look at one of her fellow food stamp recipients, a nurse.

"This woman's jacket slipped. She had a nametag on and it said, 'RN,'" Mitchard says. "I thought [to myself], 'What a fool you are. This woman does good work every day, and she slipped on the ice, just like you did.'"

I started to recognize that this was bad luck and not necessarily something that I needed to assign blame to.

When it was Mitchard's turn in line to receive her card for food stamps, she had another eye-opening experience from the government worker.

"The woman gave me my card and in a moment of supreme irony, took a stack of my books out from under her desk and said, 'Would you please sign these for me?'" Mitchard recalls. "I cried hard that day."

It may have been difficult at the time, but Mitchard realizes how much those moments opened her up as well. 

"That was, in part, when I started to be free again," she says. "I started to recognize that this was bad luck and not necessarily something that I needed to assign blame to myself and my husband for the rest of time."

"Oprah: Where Are They Now?" airs Saturdays at 10 p.m. ET on OWN.

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