DESERT HOT SPRINGS — 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."