From Pet Cemetery Owner to Identity Thief to Best-Selling Ghostwriter

Staring from the driver’s seat of her Tesla at her home on a sun-bleached cul-de-sac in Aptos, California, Lara Love Hardin recounted how a sheriff’s deputy handcuffed her and hauled her out the front door on a November afternoon, saying she wasn’t fit to be a mother.

“This whole street was filled with probably 10 sheriff’s cars. All the neighbors were standing here,” said Hardin, now 56. That day ended a six-year sobriety and long-term drug addiction that left her with custody of her four sons aged 3, 13, 16 and 17. Hardin’s second husband was also arrested. Their toddler went to an emergency nursing home.

“There was no more magical thinking,” she said. “It was no longer ‘I can speak for myself and get out of this situation, I can spin a story’. I had just finished.”

Hardin owned a pet cemetery before the catastrophe. She currently works as a literary agent and ghostwriter on several best-selling books, including those of Archbishop Desmond Tutu and the Dalai Lama. She is a professor at Stanford University. She had lunch with Oprah.

Most people would have a hard time executing such a dramatic turnaround. If it appeared in the novel, editors could flag it as impractical. Hardin instead wrote her memoir, The Lives of Mama Love, in which she describes in prose with her heartfelt humor how she built a bridge from her past life to her present. The book will be available from Simon & Schuster on August 1st.

The neighbors who were watching her arrest that day were the parents of friends of her sons who had brought her dinner when her youngest son was born. They were also her first victims. Hardin stole checkbooks, credit cards, gift cards, mail, and painkillers from his home, stole Wi-Fi while gambling and smoking heroin, and used one of his social security numbers to apply for an Amazon card, which he later used to buy a Kindle and parenting books. She was also roaming around hotel rooms and cars looking for things to fund her next repair.

“It was just survival mode. Without the drugs, I would have died,” Hardin said.

During the 90-minute patrol of the crime scene, Hardin, who was in his second visit to the old house since his arrest, remembered a kindergarten teacher who asked him why he was lurking in the far corner of the parking lot. There’s her mother’s depressed look, her slightly haggard, and then there’s the song, “I live on heroin and Reese’s peanut butter cups.”

She pointed to a window where her sons used to play and a yard where they played basketball and piled up in the bathtub. She talked about trick-or-treating in cul-de-sacs and how proud she was of her blue accent walls and carpeted master bath.

Her regret and remorse loomed over her that day, like a sequoia.

“I was an apartment kid, a poor kid with a single mother,” said Hardin, who grew up in a suburb of Boston. After her childhood spent escaping into her books, she was the first in her family to attend college. She fled to the University of California, Santa Cruz, after which she moved to the University of California, Irvine, where she completed her master’s degree.

Here’s what grad school doesn’t teach you. If he charges $500 for groceries on a stolen card and then realizes he forgot the milk, the second transaction counts as a separate crime. Hardin pleaded guilty to 32 felonies and was sentenced to 27 years in prison. Thanks to her plea bargain, she spent 10 months in county jail, but the sheriff’s office couldn’t verify the figure because California law prohibits disclosure of the criminal history of those not in custody, according to a spokeswoman.

The publicity copy for Hardin’s memoir promises a hilarious retelling of “her descent from football mother to opioid addict to prison shooter.” But when she parked outside the Santa Cruz County Jail, the creepy octagonal building in which she took her own life, the landscape was decidedly closer to Law and Order than Real Housewives. Even the rosebush, where Hardin once had the privilege of pruning, looked devastated. Green signs attached to walls and fences warned that “unauthorized communication with prison inmates is illegal.”

Hardin survived imprisonment by giving her voice. She began writing legal and personal correspondence to her fellow inmates, in addition to essays, poems, and short stories. “I’m afraid she’ll get into trouble by pretending to be someone else,” she wrote of the sideline, nicknamed Mama Love. “I didn’t realize yet that what I was doing was cultivating the superpower of the great ghostwriter: empathy.”

But the hardest part was yet to come. After serving time, Hardin had to tick boxes to indicate he had a criminal record and learned how difficult it was to find work and housing.

“We believe that more than two million people are currently in prison paying for their crimes,” Hardin said in a 2019 TEDx talk. “What many of them don’t realize is that they will pay for the crime for the rest of their lives.”

Hardin found a part-time assistant job at Idea Architects, a literary agency founded by Tutu and Mandela’s agent, Doug Abrams, the same week she applied for food stamps. He never checked her references.

“If asked, I am committed to revealing my background, but if not, I will not voluntarily provide information,” Hardin wrote. “It’s a don’t ask, don’t tell policy, but I still feel comfortable with my strict honesty policy.”

Abrams said he felt Hardin was “going through a rough time” but was immediately impressed by her talent. At her friend’s suggestion, he searched her name on the Internet.Article santa cruz sentinel She described Hardin and her second husband as “neighbours from hell.”

“He’s just hired to help run the company and help with banking and accounting,” Abrams said. He was working from his home office. His children were on the premises. He was (understandably) worried.

Abrams called Cynthia Chase, director of the re-entry program Hardin completed before he was released from prison.

“Doug said, ‘Can you guarantee that she won’t relapse?'” I said no. Anyone who says yes is lying. That’s not how recovery works,” Chase said in a phone interview. She is now Hardin’s partner at the Gemma Project, a nonprofit that helps incarcerated women reintegrate into society. “All I can say is that Lara has a lot to lose, unlike the average person who leaves town.”

After “Dark Night of the Soul,” Abrams kept Hardin on the payroll for 12 years, which he considers one of the best decisions he’s ever made. She eventually became co-CEO.

“Her identity theft crime was also her identity translation superpower.

Anthony Ray Hinton teamed up with Hardin to write the best-selling Oprah-supporting memoir The Sun Does Shine, which chronicled decades incarcerated in Alabama for three innocent murders.

“It’s been so much easier to tell Lara things I’ve never told anyone before,” he said in a phone interview. “Every time I cried, Lara stopped and said, ‘Wait a minute.’ Let’s take a moment.’ She didn’t rush me back. That’s when I knew this person was a kind soul.”

I wrote 12 books for others, 11 of them by men. Hardin was still unsure if she was ready to tell her own story. she said: “Shame is so sticky,” she said. “I was used to keeping my secrets.”

After her TEDx talk, Abrams encouraged her to implement the proposal, which won in a five-way auction, finishing in the high six figures. She used some of her advance money to pay off more than $15,000 in damages for her crimes.

In early 2022, Hardin rented a house in Thailand and spent seven weeks drafting her memoir. she said: “As I was writing the darkest chapter, thunder shook the villa.” She appreciated its symbolism.

When Hardin sent the manuscript to Simon & Schuster editor Eamon Dolan, he noted that “I would” occur 43 times.

“I didn’t commit to what I was trying to say. It was a hedge,” Hardin said. “I dived in again.”

In a phone interview, Dolan continued, “I don’t want memoirs to be a way for writers to understand themselves, and they often do. Lara practically understood herself.

“The Many Lives of Mama Love” contains the notes “Wild”, “Orange is the New Black” and “Catch Me if You Can”. Hardin delves into her difficult childhood (her earliest memory is of her mother banging her head against a wall). The second marriage failed. Her addiction escalated from opiates to Valium to heroin. and her determination to rebuild a stable home for her sons. All four of her sons lived with her first husband until she recovered.

She also addresses twister-like demands of the criminal justice system. For example, according to her discharge terms, she had to undergo drug court and her job release program at the same time. This was difficult even for people with cars (even those who don’t like hills).

“I was a white woman, middle class, educated and from a privileged background,” Hardin said. “Still, it was almost impossible not to be sent back to prison. You are ready to fail at any moment.”

Hardin’s son, Ty Love, now 27, said in a telephone interview that he remembered the first time he visited his mother after her arrest — “the glass plate, the orange jumpsuit, the phone on the wall” — and “I remember her putting on a brave face for us.”

Love said reading her mother’s book reminded her of those difficult times. But it was also healing because she was able to “see her mother’s point of view,” she said. She was happy to see her using herself as her light a little more. She is definitely one of my heroes. ”

Hardin said he still dreams of his children being taken away as he drives across the bridge into downtown Santa Cruz. Pointing to a house on the hill across the San Lorenzo River, she said: “I remember being in prison and looking up there. I just wanted to be a man at home.”

Now again, she does. Hardin is married to “her third attractive husband.” She doesn’t use drugs. And last year she set up her own agency. It is called true literature.

“I chose the name because I like real stories that you wouldn’t believe are fiction,” Hardin said. “And because I want to do what’s true for me.”

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