By Leanna Moore
Alternative Custody Program participant
Never in a million years did I think that one day I would be a prison inmate. A prison term was never part of my life plan, but today I am so grateful that it was. The people I’ve met and the lessons I’ve learned about myself, have brought me a place of self-realization that I didn’t know was possible. On Sept. 24, 2014, I was sentenced to 10 years in prison for embezzlement and forgery from my previous employer, a community services district.
No one in my family has been in trouble with the law before. My parents have been happily married or 46 years. I was born into a hardworking, conservative, ranching family. Before 2014, my criminal history consisted of two speeding tickets.
My husband and I have four sons. At 1 year old, Michael was diagnosed with autism. Being the mother of an autistic child has been challenging. Our family life always revolved around him, and was filled with occupational therapy, physical therapy, every kind of therapy imaginable.
In 2003, I began working for the community services district as a bookkeeper. The district is a local government agency encompasses two water departments, two sewer departments, two fire departments, a park and a campground. By 2006, I had worked my way up to being the general manager, but because of budget cuts, I was also still the bookkeeper. I was responsible for two full-time jobs that I had to fit into one work week. I lived in Nevada, but worked in California, so I was driving a four-hour commute and was away from my family for days at a time.
After several years of this high stress life, I began to be very resentful of the time I was spending away from my family but I didn’t have the communication skills to be able to say no. Instead of having an honest conversation with my bosses and tell them that I didn’t want to keep taking on more responsibilities at work, I kept saying yes to everything they asked of me. That’s when I began rewarding myself by taking money that didn’t belong to me, even using the company credit card to buy my sons tablets.
As the general manager, I had a lot of power to make decisions involving large amounts of money. I had been a trusted employee for years, so no one ever questioned anything I did. In my mind, I justified taking the money as only taking what I should have been making all along.
I was spearheading a multi-million-dollar project to build a new water treatment plant and I was receiving a lot of attention for being a woman in a man’s world. At that time, I couldn’t take a step back and make an honest evaluation of my life. I had lost my compass. When I look back at the stress that I was under and the inability I had to take back the power in my life, it makes me sad. I feel like I wasted years of my life striving for a lifestyle and a successful career that was not worth the loss of time with my family once I had achieved them.
Spiraling out of control
I am not sure how much longer I would have been able to keep up this juggling act, but on Nov. 7, 2011, my world changed forever.
I woke up that Monday morning to discover that my oldest son, Michael, passed away unexpectedly in his sleep during the night. Everything spun out of my control. I was consumed with guilt over the time that I had lost with Michael while I was working, time that I couldn’t ever get back or make up for because he was gone forever.
After Michael’s death, I lost my ability to care about anything and I resigned from my job.
The path to prison
In the summer of 2012, I read in the newspaper that the District Attorney’s office had started an investigation into the finances at the district. I knew immediately that it involved me. Throughout the next year, while my case was making its way through the courts, I couldn’t summon the energy to become properly involved in my defense. I had lost myself and had no idea how to begin the journey back.
My prison journey began on Oct. 8, 2014. I made the long trek to the Central California Women’s Facility in Chowchilla.
The 12 weeks I spent on the receiving yard were some of the darkest in my life. Prison was completely foreign to me and I struggled with the idea that no one at the prison cared. To them, I was just an inmate number.
On Dec. 23, 2014, I was transferred to Folsom Women’s Facility (FWF).
After being confined to a room for 12 weeks, I was delighted at the relative freedom of being in a dorm facility. Immediately upon being at FWF, I began programming. While I was at FWF, I was an honor roll student at Lake Tahoe Community College. I was also a student at Lassen College and was taking business classes from Folsom Lake College.
I was accepted into the The Urban Ministry Institute (TUMI) class. The Lifescripting program was just getting underway and I was fortunate enough to be in the second class. I attended church every Sunday and numerous Bible studies.
Puppies provide hope
The program that far and away had the most positive impact on me, was being accepted into the Puppy Program. Training dogs for Canine Companions for Independence was very rewarding and fulfilling. I loved everything about the program. I loved having a dog that was mine, that lived in my cell, that I took everywhere – to the chow hall, to church, to class and to visits with my family. I was so proud of being entrusted with the training of the dogs and of having the opportunity to show that to my family during visits.
On March 29, 2016, I left FWF for Centerpoint in Fair Oaks as an Alternative Custody Program client. After 18 months in prison, it took me awhile to make the adjustment to living life on the outside.
My first trip shopping at Walmart was an overwhelming experience. I used to love to shop but now shopping had become an overloading sensory experience. One decision I made was to continue my college education.
From Centerpoint, I received permission to turn vocational status early, so that I could begin classes at American River College in the summer.
I had one mission – to graduate from college. My next semesters were jam-packed with 18 units. My grades were great, I am a devoted student, I only received one “B” during my career at ARC.
During my time at Centerpoint, I have learned many things about myself. I have become strong. I can advocate for myself. I can say “no.” I have learned to take care of myself, to put myself first so that I don’t get worn down to the point where I make bad decisions. I have learned to spend time every day in self-reflection, in order to keep focused on my internal compass. Today, instead of being motivated by money and what material things I can buy, I am motivated by being of service to others.
Looking to the future
My release date from ACP is Jan. 10, 2018. My goal is to stay in the Sacramento area and become part of the Project Rebound program at California State University, Sacramento, and to earn my Bachelor and Master degrees in Social Work. My prison experience has awoken a passion in me to work with incarcerated woman and help them through family reunification.
These days, I look at the decisions I made back then and I am horrified by my actions and that I strayed so far from my upbringing. I wasn’t raised to embezzle money from my employer. I was raised to be an honest, trustworthy, and hardworking employee and a contributing member of society. I was raised to be a wife, a mother, a daughter and a sister.
It is my privilege to belong to a family who has forgiven me for my mistakes. My husband has not wavered even once even though I have been gone from home for three years. I lost sight of those goals for a short time but I have them firmly in my sights today.
I feel incredibly grateful for all of the help that Parole and specifically the Adult Programs Unit PA II’s have provided to me. Also, I’m grateful for the encouragement that I have received from the Northern and Southern Adult Programs Unit PA III’s Mr. DeWitt and Ayala to continue my education now that I have received my AA degree as well as to tell my story in the hopes that my words can help someone else.