Sam Hardy likes to say he and his wife, Anne, are in the business of cheating the penitentiary out of some customers, teen-agers who would probably end up there if they didn't kick their alcohol and drug habits.
Hardy should know. Once an alcoholic given to violent rages, he ended up serving eight years, three months and 29 days in prison for second-degree murder, a crime he committed while drunk. He says now that society did the only thing it could do with him in the shape he was in, "either lock me up or kill me."
On a dusty piece of acreage just off the main highway to Desert Hot Springs, the Hardys run a nonprofit recovery house for hard-core teenage alcoholics and drug abusers, ages 12 to 18. It is called Turnoff Inc.
Both Hardys are recovered alcoholics and drug users, as are their assistant directors and staff members.
These days, though, the couple are not just battling drugs but bureaucrats who want them to conform to rules that the Hardys say are written "for hospital-type institutions."
Because of a change in state regulations governing their kind of live-in rehabilitation home, officials from the Department of Social Services' Community Care Licensing Division in Riverside County had told Sam Hardy he must vacate the premises because a convicted felon could not run a group home for minors. But Hardy successfully fought back.
"Can you imagine?" Anne Hardy said. "They told him what he's been doing for 14 years he's not fit to do?"
Hurt, Then Anger
"When I first heard it, that I had to leave, it hurt me so much I wrote a resignation," said Sam Hardy recently, sitting on the tree-shaded patio of the main Turnoff complex. "I pouted for two days, then I got mad. I said, 'I ain't going to leave.'
"I think they probably would have just had to come and throw me out."
But, since moving their Turnoff operation to the desert from Venice in 1973, Sam and Anne Hardy have made some pretty high-powered friends who support their nonprofit home and enlist contributions from several well-known charitable foundations.
"We have simply done what we said we'd do here with the kids," Sam Hardy said in his Alabama drawl. "And enough people believed in us and put forth an effort to help. We've met President and Betty Ford personally, and their daughter, Susan, did the photography for the slide presentation that we show people to tell them what we do. And Dr. Joe Cruse, Mrs. Ford's doctor (an ex officio member of Turnoff's board of directors), he's been a marvelous friend to us."
When threatened with closure of the home unless Sam left the property, the Hardys went to the people who had helped them get Turnoff started at its desert location.
Among Turnoff's annual contributors are the Bob Hope Desert Classic, the Bill Demarest Golf Classic, the Fred Waring golf tournament in the Palm Springs area and the Associates for Troubled Children in Los Angeles. The home also receives contributions from individuals.
The McCallum Desert Foundation in Palm Springs bought the 15-acre Turnoff property and donated it to the Hardys. The foundation recently built them a classroom, complete with computers for the young residents.
Awed by Response
"People said that we could get me a pardon," said Sam Hardy, 53. "We talked with people on our advisory board and they talked to everybody. I was awed at the number of people who went to bat for us. I didn't much expect it to work."
But it did.
Sam Hardy went into the house for a minute and returned carrying an official-looking paper in his hand.
"Here," he said, showing his two visitors the document--a "full and and unconditional pardon" for Samuel Leslie Hardy from Gov. George Deukmejian. It is the only pardon for murder ever given in the state of California.
"My dad and mom came out for a visit (from their home in Alabama) just before Christmas and I got to show this to them," Sam Hardy said, explaining that he keeps his pardon and a personal letter from the governor in a safe in the house.
Although Sam Hardy's troubles as a former felon seem to be ended as far as Turnoff is concerned, there are others still to be solved.
"There are still ridiculous things we have to do," Anne Hardy said. "I have administrated the program for 14 years. Now we're having trouble meeting regulations.
"They want me to have a college degree, they are making us put in a buzzer system so every youngster can buzz at any hour. That's going to cost $4,000. We have people available 24 hours here," she continued.
"And they want us to have a full-time social worker. We have a teacher, Phillip Ferranti, who has been with us 11 years. He's a counselor and has a social work background. He teaches school here every day. We're still waiting to see if he can qualify as an exception."
Turnoff has applied to the state licensing division in Riverside, which covers state-licensed facilities in Riverside and San Bernardino counties, to make exceptions for the educational experience requirement for Anne Hardy and to allow Ferranti to serve as their social work counselor.
Benjamin Cano, district manager of the Riverside licensing division, said this week that he would be making a decision on the Turnoff matters "very shortly now. Certainly by March."
Triggered by Changes
The problems for Turnoff arose, according to Cano, when changes in state licensing regulations went into effect in 1984. Turnoff currently has a provisional license as a group home.
"The regulations are quite different for a group home and for a rehabilitation facility," Cano said. "Under regulation 1184, there is no category for serving minors in a rehab facility. Therefore, they would have to be under group home regulations. The only way Turnoff could be licensed as a rehabilitation facility is if they switched and started serving adults instead of minors."
State licensing regulations do allow for a licensee to submit a written request, applying for an exception, which Turnoff has done.
But both Anne and Sam Hardy readily admit they are easily upset when it comes to talking about licensing problems with the state.
"Greg (Corbin, Anne's son by a previous marriage) handles the licensing for us," Anne Hardy said. "He's real good with bureaucrats. Sam and I get crazy about licensing."
Greg Corbin, a recovered alcoholic, and his wife, Crystal, and Danny and Colleen Levitoff live on the premises and serve as assistant directors. They are all graduates of the Turnoff program, as are the other staff members.
"These things wouldn't present any problems for people who set up hospital-type units as group homes," Sam Hardy added. "But we try to keep a family-like setting here. If we paid salaries on a par with salaries paid in those units, it would triple the cost.
"Our overall budget is $36 a day per person. If we hired the kind of people they're talking about, the cost would jump to $150 a day. That would in effect, make us non-effective. The majority of people here can't pay."
Several of Turnoff's youngsters said that they had already used up thousands of dollars in insurance at other drug rehabilitation facilities. Others are wards of juvenile courts who are sent to Turnoff. Most can't pay the full amount it costs to care for them.
"I was in a care unit that cost $700 a day and I ended up with $30,000 in hospital bills," said a teen-age addict named Carlos who is originally from Boston. "I spent more than $100,000 in insurance, and I didn't do any good till I came here. I'm trying not to involve my family in my recovery, because they don't understand the feelings of an alcoholic and addict."
Turnoff does not turn away youngsters because they have no money. The desert facility, which is adequate but not fancy, is licensed for 15 teen-agers and usually has a few more who are graduates of the program and return once in awhile to visit.
All of the youngsters are required to do their share of work at the Turnoff complex, feeding animals--there are pigs and chickens raised for food, and horses and dogs and cats as pets--and caring for the grounds, doing repairs and cooking and cleaning.
"We are still the only recovery program in the country that will take youngsters with no money," Anne Hardy said. "We get some with parents who can pay, and some from the courts. But the kids we get are pretty far to the end of the line. That's not how we intended it to be when we started, but that's how it turned out."
About 500 teen-agers--their youngest resident was 9 years old--have been through Turnoff since 1973. Most stay three months to a year, some have stayed as long as four years. Eighty percent of the youngsters stay a full year.
According to Anne Hardy's figures, 300 of those graduates are "still clean. Sam and I try real hard not to play the numbers game. We work real hard with the youngsters. I'm required to do some figuring, and I say if they've been out on their own a year, and clean, they're a success."
So far, Turnoff has been the scene of eight weddings, Anne Hardy said, including her son, who met his wife there. The couple are expecting a baby this spring. The Levitoffs have two children, Joseph, 4, and Summyr, 3.
"I always cry at the weddings," Anne Hardy said. "It's really something to see the girls who came in the way they were standing there in white gowns."
Hardy, 49, a recovered alcoholic and heroin addict and a former prostitute, met Sam Hardy at an Alcoholics Anonymous convention in Bakersfield in 1970. She had been sober and off drugs about five years. Sam Hardy had gotten out of Vacaville prison a couple of years before.
While talking with Anne at the meeting, Sam Hardy asked her if she could do anything she wanted to do in life, what would it be? She answered: working with kids. She said he replied, "OK, let's do it."
"She said I was crazy," Sam Hardy said. "And I said I already knew that, but let's start a program for kids anyway."
Anne Hardy smiled at her husband's recollections and said: "I like working with crazy kids. I was a crazy kid myself. So was my husband."
Saved by Love
Anne Hardy, an abused child, credits her turnaround to a woman in Los Angeles who took her in to live with her family. "She gave me unconditional love," Hardy said, "and convinced me that I was a worthwhile person with a good brain. That took a lot, just to do that."
Sam Hardy, who got onto hard drugs while in prison, also discovered Alcoholics Anonymous there and began his reformation. Today, the Turnoff program is based on many of the AA principles, but is not officially affiliated with AA.
"The streets are a rough place for a woman to be," Anne Hardy said. "There is still a double standard for women and men alcoholics and addicts. The self-forgiveness for women is a long time coming. People still look at women as worse than men. Even women forgive men what they don't forgive women."
Anne Hardy glanced at a young girl sitting in a corner of the patio. "She has come back after being gone for three months," Hardy said. "She was here for five months and left. We don't usually do that, but we feel there is so much to her and she's too good to waste."
The pretty teen-ager, Hardy explained, was an incest victim at the age of 4. "She has been severely damaged," she said. "She hasn't ever had a chance since the day she was born. She's had every kind of abuse you can imagine. I always tell my kids I will try to help them and if I can't help them, I won't hurt them.
"I always say, and it needs to be said, 80% of my girls are incest victims, and 10% of the guys. We deal with incest very seriously here, an intense program we go through fast. These kids have many other serious problems to get by, too."
Michael, 15, sat in a chair near Sam Hardy, watching Hardy give Dennis, another teen-age resident, a haircut outside in the afternoon sunshine.
A Turnoff family member for eight months, Michael seems typical of the type of youngster the Hardys regularly deal with. He started doing drugs nine years ago when he was living in New York with his family.
"I started getting loaded when I was 6. My parents didn't find out until I started getting loaded with other people. I got drunk with my brother. My mom found out. She said I was 'experimenting with alcohol.' But she always denied I had real problems up until the time I came here. She caught me fixing up my works (drugs) once, and she still denied it."
Michael admits he spent all his time for the last few years "loaded," ended up on probation for stealing a car. Then for petty theft. "I was living up north, and I got four more violations," he explained. "I was loaded all the time. I went to AA, I was in therapy, I was in three hospitals. Two and a half years ago, I came here for a screening, but I didn't stay."
In Trouble Again
Michael ended up in Los Angeles in trouble again. He came to Turnoff on a recommendation from authorities at Juvenile Hall.
"It was kind of funny after I came out for a screening again," he said. "I was thinking this is for sick people. I'm not coming back. This is for people at the end of the road. I didn't come here willingly. I came here to get placed and to please my parents. Then something happened. I'm still here."
He said Sam Hardy scared him "because he can see right through me. And he wouldn't take my (dishonesty)."
"I liked drinking and living on the streets and taking drugs and burning people," Michael said. "But here, these people are showing me a better way to go. I don't have to live like that anymore. And my relationship with my parents. It wasn't real. But now I'm starting to get to know them and they're starting to get to know me. I even enjoy being with them now for a little while."
"Michael," said Sam Hardy with a smile, "is 15 going on 90. We've got some of the oldest teen-agers in history right here."
Hardy contends that alcoholism is a disease marked by three-fold symptoms: self-pity, self-righteousness and self-deceit.
"I put myself through them. I was out there doing what psychiatrists call 'acting out my hostilities.' Nine psychiatrists saw me. Seven said I had seven different things. The other two didn't know what I had."
Sam Hardy is not in the habit of mincing his words. Nor of writing poems. But he has composed a special one, for his kids, who seem like a big family. One of the young residents made a needlepoint of Hardy's poem and it hangs on a wall in the living room of the main house.
If you're sick and tired of running.
From them and it and you,
If you're sick of getting sicker,
On fear and drugs and brew.
Turn off the silent madness,
Turn off the fearful still.
Come in, sit down, and rest awhile
From falling up life's hill.
"The strength of what goes on here is the youngsters," Sam Hardy said.
"We have three rules here: If you get loaded, get out. No in-house love affairs. And if somebody is a constant pain to everyone, we have a group rap session and vote them out. That doesn't happen very often."
There also are other rules about studying, about keeping rooms clean and doing a fair share of chores. "If they don't pick up their clothes, they're confiscated and they have to buy them back."
He explained that some of the Turnoff residents work for nearby businesses or neighbors. Some also work at the Turnoff thrift shop, called the Class Act, in North Palm Springs. When they graduate from the program, they must have a job and place to live lined up before leaving.
"Rules without consequences are foolish," Hardy said. "They don't mean anything. It's like a law with no teeth is no law."
Hardy continued: "These kids are awfully strong. They have to learn to put their strength toward something worthwhile. You give them unconditional love, no strings, that's what Anne and I have, and show them there's another way to go in the world. And when they do, it's a dynamite payoff, the finest youngsters in the world."