Model Behavior: Reality show contestant on life after prison

Palm Springs crime spree landed model in prison

Model Behavior: Parts 1 & 2

PALM SPRINGS, Calif. - Dozens of women have cycled through the popular reality competition America's Next Top Model.  Very few are household names.  But one finalist got her 15 minutes of fame, and then some, when she went on a crime spree in Palm Springs in 2013.  CBS Local 2's Brooke Beare spoke with Renee Alway from jail four years ago before she headed to prison.  Alway agreed to sit down with her again in late August to explain what's happened since she was released.

"Everybody loves a fall from grace.  Hopefully, people love a comeback more." -- Renee Alway

Renee Alway would never have scripted what did happen when her reality show run ended.  The glossy headshots from America's Next Top Model and the Tyra Banks produced Modelville replaced by mugshots.

"People love to watch the trainwreck," says Alway, now 32, speaking to CBS Local 2's Brooke Beare in late August in Indio.
"Do you feel like you were a trainwreck?" asks Beare.
"Yeah," Alway responds.  "It was bad," she reflects.  "It took a whole SWAT team to take me down.  That's horrible.  Horrible."

Alway was arrested in Palm Springs for crimes including stealing people's property, their credit cards, even a gun.  Covered in sores, toting syringes.

"What was I going through?" Alway asks.
 "Yeah, what were you going through?" repeats Beare.
"I was using.  Drugs," Alway responds.

Alway spent four years incarcerated at the California Institution for Women.  Three weeks out of prison, she wanted to explain the profound changes that took place there.

"People were really shocked to see what you looked like when you were arrested," says Beare, referring to the mugshots that plastered the internet in the days after she was taken into custody.  "Do you think people are going to be shocked to see you now?"
"Yeah of course," says Alway.

In a January 2014 interview from jail in Riveside, Alway described her newly shaved head in court as part of "a metamorphosis."

"What people are going to see now, is another kind of transformation," remarks Beare.

"Right, yes, ok," says Alway.  "So you want to talk about the coming out?" she laughs.
"Is that what we're doing?" asks Beare.
"Yes. Yes," laughs Alway.  "I've came out already.  A long time ago.  But not publicly.  Just with my family."
"I don't want to make any assumptions," offers Beare.
 "Yes, I'm gay," says Alway.  "Yes. That was hard.  That was probably one of the main reasons that I hated myself so much. Because, especially in the fashion industry, and in the modeling world, you're expected to-- I'm sorry I'm going to cry about this--You're expected to be a certain physical type."
"And now... and now I can reflect back on that, and I can still feel the pain I felt during that time. And that is why I cry now. Because I feel so much sorrow for that person.  For that girl that I was," Alway wipes away tears.  "And I know that there are so many girls who are dealing with the same thing and that hurts too."
"But people are going to say, 'But she talked about how she was married, and she had kids...'" questions Beare.
"Anybody who has come out late in life knows what I'm going through," says Alway.  "And it's a struggle.  It's not something that was accepted in my family, or in my circle at the time.  My family is so supportive now.  You know, anything is better than where I was at."

Alway says she feels terrible for those she victimized along the way.
"So many regrets," she says.  "And so much remorse for the people that I hurt, and for my lack of... my lack of morals, really."
Life after prison, she insists, will not be about hurting, but healing.
"I would love to encourage and support. Because I wouldn't be here if I didn't have people in my life who believed in me and said, 'You are not your mistakes, and we believe that you can be that person that we believe you are.'"
Alway says when she left the relative comfort of Riverside County jails and went to prison, she did as many programs as possible.  Leading groups, going to therapy, even trying a medication assisted treatment program to kick the drug cravings she says were behind the dozens of crimes we was accused of committing.

Now she claims she's "four years clean and sober.  I'm really proud of that.  I'm really proud of that," Alway smiles.

Because for a long time, "I honestly think that suicide would have been-- the next step."

"It was that bad?" questions Beare.

"It was very bad," Alway responds.

She says prison saved her from the drugs, and three weeks out of prison and on parole, Alway can start to see the whole experience from a distance.

"Was it everything you expected prison to be?" Beare asks.

"It is literally the 'Orange is the new Black," Alway quips.

She rubs the scar on her lip and explains what led up to the injury.

"It scarred because I didn't go get any stitches because I didn't want to report it. Because you don't do that (in prison) either."

Even about something so serious, Alway can smile now, but says about prison, "There is a deep fear of going back.  Absolutely." 

The structure of prison provides a map for how to stay sober, and routine to keep a person's head clear, but outside of the walls, life can present challenges.

"Getting out, all of these responsibilities, and all of these people that I don't want to let down again, and," Alway says, "you know that is what broke me last time."

When asked who she hurt the most, Alway doesn't hesitate.

"My children and myself."

She says she has only seen her children through video chat.

"I have not been able to see them (in person) yet.  And I want to get on my feet.  I want to be very stable for them.  I want to know where I'm going, I want to know where I'm at.  I don't want to pull them into my life while there's still so much uncertainty right now."

Right now, Alway is cherishing the support of her family and making amends with people she says she stepped on during her darkest days.

"I stepped on everyone that tried to support me and I stepped on them all the way to the gutter.  Just to get to the gutter...  Making amends," she says.  "That's part of my redemption.  And I'm still not done."

Once a fan favorite, photographed around the world, the former fashion model is now living in a sober living house in the Coachella Valley, working through the stumbling blocks a felon and parolee must deal with in getting their life together.

She's taking the bus to go to meetings, or getting a ride from local pastor. 

"Even though I'm an atheist," says Alway. I'm still working a 12 step program now.  And Pastor Rick Saldivar.  Who is a pastor who is helping an atheist, who is a felon.  And a parolee get her life together.  So there are some really amazing people out here who really want to help, and once I get on my feet I want to be one of those people."

Alway is also going on job interviews, eager to start earning a paycheck.

"Hopefully (prospective employers) can see the dedication. Even though it's 118 degrees outside I still made my way over here to meet you just to ask you to give me this job, so hopefully we can show the determination."

Alway says she learned a lot in prison, and despite the challenges, is now exactly where she needs to be.

"I really want to use my story to help reach people who might be struggling with the same thing.  whether it's coming, out, or whether it's addiction. whether it's former incarceration.  Everybody loves a fall from grace.  Hopefully people love a comeback more."

Watch Renee Alway's full interview with Brooke Beare from jail in 2014.

What's next?  Will she model again?

WATCH: From 'Top Model' to Most Wanted Part One (2014)

WATCH: From 'Top Model' to Most Wanted Part Two (2014)

Local resources for addiction recovery and mental health services:

Medication assistance treatment and residential treatment programs in Riverside County: (800) 499-3008

ABC Recovery Center, Inc.
44-374 Palm Street
Indio, CA 92201
Call for Assessment
(800) 499-3008

Casa Las Palmas Recovery Home
83-844 Hopi Ave.
Indio, CA 92201
Call for Assessment
(800) 499-3008

The Ranch Recovery Center Inc.
7885 Annandale Ave.
Desert Hot Springs, CA 92240
Call for Assessment
(800) 499-3008

Soroptimist House of Hope
13525 Cielo Azul Way
Desert Hot Springs, CA 92240
Call for Assessment
(800) 499-3008

WCHS, Inc.
Desert Treatment Center 

1330 N. Indian Canyon, Suite A
Palm Springs, CA 92262
(760) 322- 9065

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