These days reality television makes nearly everyone feel like they can make it big. One thing is certain. It brings exposure, but fame and money don’t always follow. It was the mugshot seen around the Internet. Fashion model Renee Alway was almost unrecognizable in a photo snapped after a six hour standoff with police in Palm Springs.
And when she appeared in court days later, head shaven, pale, and with dark circles under her eyes, it was even harder to believe she’s once looked much different. She was glamorous and glowing on the catwalks of the world, and on the televisions of all who’d eagerly wanted to see who would become “America’s Next Top Model.” Alway was just 20 when she auditioned to become a Top Model, placing third in cycle eight of the popular reality TV competition in 2007. She became a finalist on the Tyra Banks show “Modelville” the next year, scoring some small print ads, and features in magazines, as well as a small role on the show “Shark.”
But despite a few odd jobs after that, Alway says “It was just closed door, after closed door, after closed door. And it was just really hard to take.”
For the first time, the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department granted a television station an interview with an inmate. Alway spoke with CBS Local 2 anchor Brooke Beare from just outside the jail complex in Riverside just a few days after she accepted a plea deal with the District Attorney’s Office.
“Nobody ever thinks they’re going to,” says Alway. “I can’t imagine thinking well, you know, eight years from now I hope that I’ll be doing this (interview) in custody.”
So how did she get here?
“I can’t even pinpoint it, but it was a matter of about a year, where, I didn’t even recognize me anymore.” she says.
Alway might not have recognized herself, but Palm Springs police certainly did. In the months before Alway’s final arrest in June of 2013, they amassed dozens of reports about a tall, thin woman with “sores all over her arms and face” committing burglaries all over the city.
A never before released mugshot shows what Alway looked like in the weeks before that standoff, when she was identified as a “tweaker” who broke into people’s homes and cars, stealing valuables from family, friends, and total strangers.
About the day in June 2013 when Alway was arrested for good?
She smiles, and pauses. “I remember bits and pieces of it. I remember SWAT. I remember having guns. I remember this. I remember feeling, like ‘come and get me.'”
When police did, Alway was lying on a loaded handgun and a purse containing hypodermic needles, a bag of pills, stolen house keys, garage remotes, plastic zip-ties and handcuffs.
“You get to the point where you’re like, well, you kind of get of like, forget it then, ‘I’m just going to do whatever I do,’ and you’re numb to it, and you just go for it. You’re like, no holds barred.”
Despite the dramatic ending to Alway’s crime spree, she says it wasn’t her lowest moment.
“It was that point when I sobered up and looked around me, and I said ‘This is my life. This is the path I chose.'”
Regarding her physical transformation, she says: “Shaving my hair. All of that. A metamorphosis. I’ve done that. I’ve been through this part. Now I’m ready to shed the old, and let’s start anew.”
That’s one reason she says, after sitting in jail for a year and a half, she took a plea deal. To spare her loved ones.
“I’ve already put them through so much, but to continue to drag them through this, it’s unfair and it’s cruel.”
Alway hasn’t seen her three children since she’s been locked up, but even before then, she gave up custody.
“When (my children) were no longer right there with me, and I no longer had that purpose,” she pauses. “…It’s one thing to fail your parents. It’s one thing to fail your fans and your friends, it’s something completely different to fail your blood, your children.”
On Christmas Eve, Alway was transferred to Chowchilla, the Central California Women’s Facility near Fresno to start serving a 12 year prison sentence.
Reporter: Brooke Beare
Photograher / Editor: Timothy Kiley