From ‘Top Model’ to Most Wanted, Part Two
In June 2013, a young woman holed up in a Palm Springs home with a loaded gun and a purse full of pills and needles, sparking a six hour standoff with police. That woman was a former model and reality show contestant.
“I can’t even remember what was happening then,” says Alway. “That’s how bad it was. I have bits and pieces of broken…broken memory about it.”
Looking back now, 28-year old Alway says, “I was trying to become lost in a world that didn’t know me. That world just didn’t know me.”
For a few years at least, people knew Alway, or at least paid attention to her.
The daughter of a police officer from Michigan made it to the top three of America’s Next Top Model in 2007, and appeared as a finalist on the Tyra Banks show Modelville. But for the last year and a half, Alway’s only appeared before a judge.
Alway spoke to CBS Local 2 anchor Brooke Beare from outside the Robert Presley Detention Center in Riverside, where she had been transferred after a long stay at the jail in Indio. The Riverside County Sheriff’s Department agreed to allow the interview because officials felt Alway had a powerful story to tell about the dangers of doing drugs.
“For the first time,” Alway reflects, “I’ve been sober, in I don’t know how long. Since I was 13, 14 years old when I first started meddling with drugs.”
Alway hedges on whether the drug use was a side of her that fans on Top Model didn’t see.
“No, I can’t say this was happening then.”
Like a majority of contestants, Alway never landed the big jobs.
“Just for America’s Next Top Model, and let’s not look at any other reality TV competition. How many of those girls do you see working today?” she asks. “Very few. Even the winners, most of the winners are just on doing their regular life, or just barely making it in the industry.”
And as time went on, Alway says, “I felt like a failure because I couldn’t get past the reality TV stigma that had been put on me…and then there’s the pressure of the fans. ‘Where are you?’ ‘What happened?’ It’s almost like a setup for failure. Once you’re out the door, you’re out the door, and they look on to the next. And you can’t hardly blame them because that’s their job… But there are plenty of girls who were eliminated and they’re doing just fine, so obviously I made choices that brought me here as well.”
Choices that included serious drug use. In an interview with police in April 2013, Alway said when she was younger, a back injury led to painkillers, and eventually heroin “made all the pain go away.”
“Well, once you’re on that downward spiral, it’s nearly impossible to stop.”
Alway says she came to Palm Springs to try and get sober, but it didn’t work out so well. “A little irony there,” she jokes, half-heartedly.
Police reports describe Alway as a “homeless lady…who was living in her car with two children.” When she felt she might be putting them at risk with her behavior, “I dropped them off with my sister. And the idea was I would go get help, but the minute they weren’t there, it was… addiction is a very dark, abyss. It was like I fell down the white rabbit’s hole, and I kept falling.”
Ultimately, in search of money for drugs, Alway went on a crime spree throughout Palm Springs, and relinquished custody of all her children, including a boy, born just weeks before her final arrest.
“Once (drugs have) you in its grips, it takes a life-changing event, something that brings you to your knees before you can get away from that. For the rest of my life I will feel the effects of what drugs have done to me,” she says.
Alway says she can’t really say if she would have ended up in jail without her 15 minutes of fame.
“My choicemaker is broken, or damaged in some way…I would never tell anyone not to go for their dreams, ever…but I would give a word of caution that regardless of what the forums (of these types of shows) say, and the chat rooms, and whether or not you win, you have to recognize the strength in yourself, and be proud of who you are regardless of what other people think.”
Alway says she has extreme remorse for the pain she caused her victims, including friends and family. She hopes when she gets out of jail to take the stigma off of felons who want to break free of the cycle, and maybe, that will help her stay out of trouble herself.
Click Here to watch the full unedited interview with Renee Alway.
Reporter: Brooke Beare
Photograher / Editor: Timothy Kiley