I Don't Know How You Do It

From Lying and Stealing to Writing and Healing, Lara Love Hardin's Redemption Story

August 01, 2023 Jessica Fein Season 1 Episode 28
I Don't Know How You Do It
From Lying and Stealing to Writing and Healing, Lara Love Hardin's Redemption Story
Show Notes Transcript

Meet Lara Love Hardin, a true embodiment of resilience. Lara is a four-times New York Times bestselling writer, memoirist, mother, literary agent extraordinaire, and former drug addict and convicted felon. 

From a seemingly perfect suburban life to a journey through addiction and incarceration, Lara's story is one of enduring hardship and incredible redemption. With an uncanny ability to rebound from life’s most formidable challenges, she climbed the social ladder in jail, earning the endearing nickname Mama Love for the way she nurtured and helped fellow inmates. Now a prolific author and empathetic literary agent, Lara works on projects with the likes of Dalai Lama and Archbishop Tutu. Her Oprah Book Club selection, The Sun Does Shine, which she coauthored with Anthony Ray Hinton, depicts a powerful narrative of strength and defiance against all odds.

Lara's memoir, The Many Lives of Mama Love, takes us through her incredible journey from the picture-perfect soccer-mom life through her time in jail to rebuilding her life and claiming her voice.

In this episode you'll learn:

  • What it means to live in the power of now
  • Why real power is quiet power
  • What can happen when we own our story
  • Why we need to look beyond a single season of someone's life
  • And so much more

Learn more about Lara:

Personal Website
Business Website
The Gemma Project Nonprofit
TedX Talk

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Music credit: Limitless by Bells


Jessica Fein: Welcome. I'm Jessica Fein, and this is the I Don't Know How You Do It podcast where we talk to people whose lives seem unimaginable from the outside and dive into how they're able to do things that look undoable.

I'm so glad you're joining me on this journey, and I hope you enjoy the conversation. 

Welcome back to the show. I am really glad you're here for today's episode because my guest, Lara Love Hardin, has quite a story to share. Once upon a time, Lara lived in a million dollar, two story house in a picture perfect cul de sac.

She was a soccer mama of four, a member of the PTA, and a Little League coach. But Lara was hiding a huge secret. She was doing all this while taking up to 60 [00:01:00] Vicodin a day and funding a heroin addiction by stealing her neighbor's credit cards. Everything came crumbling down when Lara was arrested right in front of her youngest son and convicted of 32 felonies.

In jail, Lara found that she didn't need to pretend anymore, and that jailhouse politics aren't that different from the PTA meetings she used to attend. She climbed the social ladder to become the shot caller, earning the nickname Mama Love. When Lara was released, she had lost everything and needed to figure out how to rebuild her life.

And boy, did she. Lara became a literary agent and a collaborative writer, working on books with the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Tutu. She's now a four time New York Times best selling author, including the 2018 Oprah Book Club pick The Sun Does Shine, which she co authored with Anthony Ray Hinton about his 30 years as an innocent man on [00:02:00] Alabama's death row.

Nelson Mandela included Lara in the acknowledgments of his own book. There are well over a million copies sold of the books Lara has written, and today, Lara's memoir, The Many Lives of Mama Love, is being released. It is the ultimate redemption story and has been optioned for a TV show. Lara and I went to high school together and reconnected for this interview.

I am so excited to bring you Lara Love Hardin. 

Hello, welcome, Lara. Thanks for being here today. 

Lara Love Hardin: Thank you for having me. 

Jessica Fein: And this is a huge day for you. So congratulations, your book. The Many Lives of Mama Love is out, available for purchase today. So congratulations.

Lara Love Hardin: Thank you. Yeah, it's such a long process, like two years from the time you sell a book to when it comes out.

So it's exciting. 

Jessica Fein: Yeah, plus you had to live the whole thing first. 

Lara Love Hardin: Yeah, that was a lot longer.

Jessica Fein: Yeah, exactly. This has been a lifetime in progress, [00:03:00] this book. Yes. Let's start talking about high school, because you and I went to high school together. And in your book, you talk about pretending to be a lot of things.

I was so struck by this, because the first place you write about pretending was in high school. You were in the class ahead of me, and I looked up to you as this glamorous, athletic, you know, field hockey, lacrosse, this glamour girl, as you do, you look up. And so, when I read in your book, never once did you have a family dinner.

You spent most of your time escaping into the world of books, in fact, and you said you crossed social lines, pretending to be whoever people needed you to be. I read that and it really made me think this might be an extreme version, but it's so universal, particularly at that age that we're all pretending to be whatever we think people want or need us to be.

And so I was wondering, you were struggling so much on the inside. It was so different from what people [00:04:00] saw on the outside. Was there anybody at that point who knew the real you?

Lara Love Hardin: I'm not sure I knew the real me at that point, but I think, you know, like I had friends I was close to, they knew a little bit, I think, there's no one I can think that knew the full story.

There was little people who were a little closer to my home life, so they knew I was always at their house for dinner. They knew I was always on vacation with their family. I don't know if I had the language to convey to people what was going on for me or how I felt. But yeah, some people, even you know, were probably more in tune with it than others, you know.

Jessica Fein: So interesting. And I think even as we grow up to a certain extent, and for sure that's the case in your story. We see people and we have one idea of who they are and we have no idea what's happening behind the scenes. 

Lara Love Hardin: Yeah. Yeah. I remember in high school, like, being with different groups of friends and, like, my core group of friends at my grade or above and then your grade when they all left, you know, and I remember always feeling a little bit outside of it, always feeling a little bit not in, even with the group [00:05:00] of friends, like, if that makes sense.

Jessica Fein: Yeah, it does. I felt that way too. I wonder again if, you know, that's just the nature of being in high school. So you graduated high school. You went to Santa Cruz and you became the quintessential California girl, as you put it. Then you become a mom four times over. You wrote that you pretended to be the happiest woman alive.

You pretended to be the perfect mother. You pretended to be a beautiful, happy, shiny person. Which, by the way, is interesting, because I kind of would have described you in high school as a beautiful, happy, shiny person. 

Lara Love Hardin: I'm really good at pretending. Yeah. 

Jessica Fein: Must have been exhausting. 

Lara Love Hardin: It was exhausting. I mean, I think that's definitely an exhausting way to live.

And a really lonely way to live. If I think of the one word to mark childhood, high school, even college to a degree, or I was, you know, a little bit closer, like you are in college and, uh, and that time would be lonely, actually. 

Jessica Fein: Then thesecrets just continue to pile up. So you're now living in a picture perfect [00:06:00] cul de sac.

You've got the picture perfect home. And you're struggling. You're struggling with addiction, and you're funding the addiction through stealing your neighbor's credit cards. It all comes to a head when you're arrested right in front of your little boy. The police tell you, you will never see your son again.

You do not deserve to be a mother. I've watched your TED talk a few times. You talk a lot about the timing because that was the same day that President Obama was elected and that very day he gave a speech about the power of hope. When all of this was going down for you, did you have any hope at that point that you would get your life back?

Lara Love Hardin: I had zero hope at that point. And really that particular time in the book, which is like chapter three, I think, you know, it's like really originally that's how I started the book was that day of my arrest. I didn't have hope. I just really, truly believed that I had given life a try and I had failed.

Things were so bad that there was no way, nothing in me to get me through it. And also that [00:07:00] redemption's great, but I didn't even deserve redemption. Like it wasn't for me. I said this in the TED talk, I love a good redemption arc story. You know, like I'm a writer, I'm a literary agent, you know, but redemption is reserved for the good.

And I really truly believed that I was just bad. There was just no redeeming thing about my experience, about and really that thing of my son getting, you know, the time of my arrest, like I begged them to let me call a family member to take him. And they call Child Protective Services and, and that time I had no, cause I didn't know where he was, regardless of my situation, I was a, still a very protective mom, you know, which is hard to reconcile, but I was just like imagining these horrible things happening to them.

I didn't ever see myself as his dangerous thing, you know, but like, it was just too much. I did not have the inner strength to get through it. I just didn't. 

Jessica Fein: So at what point does hope come back for you?

Lara Love Hardin: So there's a difference between hope coming back and for me, you know, like I was in a really dark place and, you know, wanted to end my life.

So hope didn't come back, but I wasn't in quite in that [00:08:00] darker place anymore. So those are two separate things that wasn't like I had hope everything's going to be great. It just, things weren't as bad in my interior world. A couple of days later, after I. You know, not to give a spoiler wait, but I failed at my attempt to end my life.

It turns out okay. But, you know, hope didn't come back and it was just like a series of really hard things to get through. And I was someone like, I, you know, became addicted to opiates and so dependent on them to function for me to have a conversation with you and look you in the eye.

I need some opiate courage to do that. And so all of the hard things I had to get through with none of my coping skills in my body or, you know, no distractions was a really hard thing to get through. The only great thing about jail is that there's nothing incoming that you don't want. As someone who skews introverted, no one's calling me unless I call them collect, you know?

Jessica Fein: That's true, but there was, let's, you know, again, spoiler alert, but there was something that was incoming and [00:09:00] that's, there was an article that was published about you. I believe it was a picture of you on the front page of the paper that said the neighbor from hell. Because you had stolen from your neighbors and there were hundreds of comments on that article and somebody sent that to you.

Lara Love Hardin: That's true. That was definitely incoming. It was sent anonymously. So at the time of my sentencing, you know, there was a reporter in the courtroom and I was like doing the dodge. People are just listening, but I was like dodging my head to try and keep my picture from taking, doing, holding my hand up. And he still got the picture.

And, you know, at the time my sentencing front page of the newspaper, like above the fold, neighbor from hell, in my face. I committed crimes. I got sentenced. I should pay for them, but I'm not one to think that public humiliation is a great push towards rehabilitation. You know, my kids, my youngest was almost four.

My oldest was 17. I had everything in between. Like my son Ty's junior high, that paper was in every single classroom at junior high school, which is a hard age anyway. It was not only my own humiliation to deal with, but for my [00:10:00] children's. In that article, there's all kinds of online comments, like hundreds of them.

And someone printed them out and mailed them to me in jail. Really horrible things were said in those comments. And there's not a lot to read in jail. And I just read them over and over and over again and just internalized. this. And I carried those comments around for years, like way longer than I should have for almost a decade, really.

Jessica Fein: And you said that the feelings of shame can't coexist with hope. You're kind of immersed in the shame because not only of what you did, but the way that you've been publicly humiliated. How long did it take your kids to get over their own sense of humiliation, anger I imagine, or resentment toward you? 

Lara Love Hardin: I mean, kids are amazing in that they're super forgiving, super resilient.

It took me a while after jail to really talk to them about it. You know, I had them all read my book, and so we're still having conversations that we didn't have. But they said that they were mostly worried about their brother. where Kayden was, her little brother, because [00:11:00] they were all older, you know, 10 years older.

And that was their focus in that first week after my arrest, even more so than me.

Jessica Fein: The older kids were with their father. Right. It was their younger child who was taken away.

Lara Love Hardin: Yeah, because my older kids were all in school, they weren't part of Child Protective Services. Part of my journey is this fight to meet all the requirements to get my youngest son back and not lose my right to be called his mother under this clock.

You have a system that's like, you have a year to do this, and here's a year in jail. Like, how do you do those two things, right? 

Jessica Fein: How do you do those two things? How is that even possible? 

Lara Love Hardin: It's really, really hard. It's really, really hard. And 80% of incarcerated women are mothers. 80%. So when you look at the effects of incarceration generationally in the community, And, you know, a good, I think it's like 000 or something that women are in jail versus prison because you can do longer sentences in jail.

And, you know, that's a whole other topic. So you have a woman who's [00:12:00] incarcerated often for a drug charge, nothing violent usually. And the reasons women go to jail are almost always interpersonal related. It's very different reasons that women go to jail than men go to jail. But you have this system that's like, okay, you have 18 months and here's your two year sentence, you know, in the same county.

So it is really, really hard for people to do and it was really hard to do. There's a lot of women I was in jail with who were mothers or were in the CPS system. And so a requirement is this positive discipline class. So we found this woman to come into the jail and teach it so it would meet the requirements.

So it was really doing whatever we could do to meet those. Requirements and not lose your children.

Jessica Fein: And in fact, you end up helping a lot of the other women, which I think is how you get the nickname. You're mothering them and you get the nickname Mama Love. But before even that, when you show up at the beginning and you're convicted of 32 felonies, some of which you did and some of which you didn't, right?

But it's the nature of the plea. I love how you describe it as you've entered a new world that's somewhere between a teenage sleepover party and Lord of the Flies. Like it's a totally different world. And you [00:13:00] have to figure out how to fit it. How in the world did you do that?  

Lara Love Hardin: I mean, that high school training, I think helped like that ability to cross social lines and groups in high school and, you know, be other people and relate to people at their level.

I think that really helped me and those women really saved me in jail. The women really saved me because I had a whole community that I felt hated me. I was separated from my family. I wasn't a mother. I wasn't a whatever. So I got to put all of my mother energy in, but also I had women who were in there going through the same thing.

Some of them were like barely older than my oldest son, a couple of years older. And they taught me the ways either overtly or. Implicitly, and really were there at some of my darkest times, both when I was in the main jail before sentencing and then in the more minimum security facility that was adjacent.

Those women got me through some of the really ongoing hard times. There's one time when I got some really horrific news and I wanted to escape. I wanted to run. This is not in the book. And I was over at the minimum [00:14:00] security and I was like, I have to leave here. Like I have to leave here. I was like hysterically crying and I was like really gonna jump the fence, you know, and those women like really rallied around me and comforted me.

Also, on my oldest son's 18th birthday, I was in jail when he turned 18. He was a senior in high school when I was arrested. And so I missed his whole senior year and his graduation. But it was his birthday and I wanted to call him and I didn't want to go collect call and go through his dad and stepmom and all of that.

And so someone had a secret cell phone in jail, which there are. So I got to use the secret cell phone to call him directly on his cell phone and wish him a happy birthday. 

Jessica Fein: Do you feel maybe like you could be yourself with those women? 

Lara Love Hardin: All of my pretending got cured in jail. I wish I wasn't someone who had to learn things the hard way.

And I wish that I didn't have that experience. Cause it's kumbaya kind of as. We're talking about it was really hard. Last week I had this dream where I was like mistakenly being sent to jail and I was trying to explain to everyone, I didn't do anything wrong, you know? So I had these constant dreams and like [00:15:00] fears of going back, but at the same time, it made me, I say this in the book, a better mother, a more real mother.

I think it made it so my children could, as they're growing up, talk to me about anything. There's nothing they can say that's going to shock me. I think it made them all a lot more open to me. And then reading the book, I had no access to my mother's internal world. So my oldest son, Dylan, after he read it, he said, You know, Mom, I've always felt really close to you.

And he goes, but this book made me feel even closer to you. And I was like, oh. 

Jessica Fein: And in fact, I mean, again, spoiler alert, but you do even say at the end of the book that this was the best thing that could have ever happened to you, that going to jail was the best thing that could ever happen to you. 

Lara Love Hardin: Yeah. So that's true.

And I also have nightmares that I have to go back, right? So it's like reconciling those two things, but they're both true. 

Jessica Fein: You said there wasn't a lot to read when you were there. And so you read that article over and over. You read the comments over and over. And there's something else you read though, because somebody gives you Eckhart Tolle's The Power of Now.

And you devour it and when you finish it, you start over again and you start to live by the lessons in the [00:16:00] power of now. So first of all, what does that even mean, the power of now? Can you tell us about that? 

Lara Love Hardin: It's been a long time since I read it, but my takeaway for it was like really being in the present moment, just being in the now.

And learning to see the person you are, who's watching the person you are in the life. Right. If that makes sense. And that book helped me to stop my racing thoughts because look, in jail, it's just like constant replaying my arrest, replaying all of the bad decisions I made that led me to this thing. Like all of the times when I should have asked for help and I didn't replay in my thinking, like, Oh, I can't admit I have a problem with pain pills.

Cause then if I went to rehab, that'd be 30 days away from my kids. I could never do that. And so I didn't. And then, look, what happened, that book really helped me stop that ruminating, stop that worrying about the future. Like I was completely mentally ping ponging between the past and the future. Am I going to go to prison and never see my children again until they're in their 30s?

Oh, why did I do this? Regret, shame, guilt. So that book really helped me both quiet my own mind. [00:17:00] Learning to meditate in jail, like there's easier ways, but it's a really great place to do that. Highly recommend if you find yourself in jail, learn to meditate, but learn at home, it's a lot easier. But I think it also helped me sort of when I was going to like endless court appearance, court appearance, and it's an adversarial situation, you know, even though it was a plea deal, you know, the assistant DA.

Really did not like me and I like what people like me, but I would just sit there and send him love and light, you know, like a cartoon style. It just helped me mentally. 

Jessica Fein: And did those lessons in the meditating and being in the power of now stick with you? I mean, all these years later, are you still living that way?

Lara Love Hardin: Yeah, I don't meditate as much as I meditated then, you know, but like when I got out of jail and I was very much alone and still in fear of both going back to jail, how am I going to rebuild life? And in the early stages of recovery, in terms of not taking any drugs, I would meditate and it started giving me the same feeling that I used to get from opiates.

So the way opiates work in my brain is it perks me up. It doesn't make me sleepy like you [00:18:00] see, you know, maybe in movies. In my brain chemistry. It gives me energy. I thought it made me smarter and funnier and I could talk to you better. And you know, all of those things, it gave me a feeling what I would call joy for no reason, right?

Like this feeling of everything's going to be okay. That's the internal message I got on opiates. It's all going to be okay. And so I started getting that from meditation, especially when I got out of jail, I think I'd meditate for 10 minutes, it'd be like an hour and a half, you know, and it was the same feeling that same dopamine rush or whatever it is, you know, and then in my work, I got to meditate with the Dalai Lama.

Yeah, we have to get over that. We're not even getting to that, but like meditating, like in his private residence, they had a camera crew in there and I remember asking the cameraman, um, did you film that meditation? Like, Was I by any chance levitating? Cause it really felt like I might've been floating.

He was like, no, you were on the ground. I was like, are you sure? 

Jessica Fein: Oh my God. Okay. First of all, that is like the best endorsement for meditation I've ever heard. I have yet to succeed, and I know [00:19:00] it's the practice of meditation, and you just need to do it. And the act of judging in and of itself is against what it is we're there to do, but I would like joy for no reason for meditating.

Lara Love Hardin: It is great. Yeah. I mean, even the Eckhart Tolle trick I really learned, simple, it's in his book, is you think in your head, I wonder what my next thought will be. And every time you think that, there is nothingness. And even if it's just a glimpse, like that's meditation. Because I know for me when I'd be like, Oh, I'm not supposed to have any thoughts.

I have thoughts. I'm watching my thoughts. What's that thought? Oh, there I go thinking, you know, like that. But it's just that one sentence and the little glimmer at the end of that sentence. And it just gets bigger and bigger. Like that's meditation to me. I mean, I don't, I'm no expert, but. 

Jessica Fein: I think you are an expert because you devoured the book, you lived by it.

And then you also took another thing that came from the book that I wanted to talk about because in reading it, it seemed to me like this was a real turning point. This notion that real power is quiet power. Can you tell us about when you learned that and how you shared that with the [00:20:00] other women who were there with you?

Lara Love Hardin: Right. I don't remember if that was part of Eckhart Tolle's book or somewhere else I picked in life, I don't remember. But that I, basically it was chaos in, in jail and there's fighting and there's There's hierarchies and there's all kinds of chaos. And so there was the woman who was like the daddy was the leader of G Block at the time and she had stumbled down the stairs and everyone laughed and it was like chaos.

And I just kind of pulled her aside and said, and mostly because I wanted it to be quiet in there, you know, like I wanted the piece to, and I was just like, you know, real power is quiet power. And we talked about this and then she, I mean, there's a, it's a funny scene in there where she put this into practice through the whole day and it freaked everyone out because instead of raging and shock calling and everything, she just.

It's out there quietly, and it just freaked out the person she was most upset with who ended up what they call rolling themselves up, which is getting themselves taken out of G. But at the time, it was kind of more of like a tool to get some peace in there. But over the years, it's meant different things to me.

Jessica Fein: Yeah. And I mean, it is interesting, [00:21:00] right, that you then go on to work with the Dalai Lama and Desmond Tutu and these people who one thinks of as very powerful because of quiet power. Yeah. When you got to that place and you were with them, did you feel like, as you put it, full circle?

Lara Love Hardin: Yeah, their real power is also kind power.

And really the real power, quiet power, true lesson probably came from meeting Oprah. Like when she chose the book I co authored for her book club. That was kind of the full circle, most full circle moment, but really what I took, which was like really powerful for me at that stage from both Archbishop Tutu and the Dalai Lama was just like, they had joy for no good reason.

We were there working on the Book of Joy, but they were so silly and playful, despite the hardships they'd been through and the seriousness of their work and their lives and, you know, being refugees from your country or fighting apartheid. And so that joyful, silly play thing was something I had to bring into my life post jail.

Post many years out of jail to [00:22:00] really, I think, get to the point where even I could write this book. But I think that was the big full circle lesson from them. Because going through probation system and fighting to get your kids back and staying clean and all of those things, there's not a lot of joy and play in that, you know.

Jessica Fein: When you get released from jail, you are jobless, homeless, carless, friendless, and childless because you have yet to get your kids back. And you have to meet these criteria that we were talking about earlier. You have a set amount of time and there are these very complex criteria you need to meet while you're also dealing with all of the requirements of probation.

This is a huge problem in our society because people who have been incarcerated are 10 times more likely to be homeless. And people who are homeless are 11 times more likely to be incarcerated. And these two things just kind of feed each other because here you are with all these criteria and it's nearly impossible to, to get the job, to get the home, to do all of this because of what you've been through.

And I loved when you said how we take care of broken people [00:23:00] determines our humanity. I mean, is that not like the most gorgeous thing? Right? That sounds good. That sounds good. Somebody smart said that. So how do we do that? How do we begin to move the needle when the system itself is so broken?

Lara Love Hardin: Yeah. I mean, there's so many complex pieces to that system, right?

Because if you can't meet the requirements to get your child out of foster care, your child's now in foster care. Foster care children, I don't have off the top of my head the statistic, but are X number of times more likely to be incarcerated themselves for being in the foster care system. Like, so you can see how these generational things keep happening, you know, and like the jail system is really like the front door to mass incarceration, especially for women.

More women are in jail than prison. It's like a little bit even, but I think it's slightly more in jail. And the re entry system is such a setup for failure. Like when we talk about recidivism, there's so many barriers and obstacles. And it's so hard to navigate. In my case, I had three different courts, three different entities, all in the same county [00:24:00] with different requirements, even for drug testing for three different people.

They're all in the same county. They could share information. That would be like a first step to just coordinate. But as part of probation or to get your child back, you have to have a job. So it's hard to get a job with a criminal record, but then to get a job with a criminal record that then allows you to leave on a moment's notice.

Or within two hours, you have to test, for example. I think it's like, call a surprise drug test from any one of those three entities on any given day or all three, and you have two hours to get wherever in the county to get to that clinic to p test, right, and they have to give you a time limit so you can't fudge the test in any way, or you go back to jail.

Or you don't get your child back, but keep your job because that's a requirement to like, it's really impossible. If you have support. I am a white woman with a privilege that comes with that, right? I had a master's degree education. I had a little bit of family support and it was still almost impossible to not go back to jail.

You're constantly walking the high wire. I don't know if I had this [00:25:00] in the book or got cut it out, but at one point I was like, it's like walking at high wire in high heels in the wind. That's what navigating the probation system is. It's very broken and it doesn't actually help recidivism. To me, when I was in jail, I would see all these women get out and then come back in.

Even I was like, how could they do that? Because I was experiencing being in jail for the first time, but I never yet experienced being out of jail for the first time. So when I saw them coming back in, I was like, how could they do that? Like, you finally got out of here, you know? And then when I got out, I understood.

It actually sometimes felt like it would be safer and easier to be back in jail. And so I understood that. 

Jessica Fein: So how did you manage it? Because again, spoiler alert, but you do get the kids back and you do end up getting this job that changes your life. 

Lara Love Hardin: So how did I do that? I don't know. Doing that took a long time.

Like I was on probation for way longer than my sentence for probation because I didn't have the money to pay back my restitution and fees. That keep compounding interest every month. So that's a whole other thing. When I got out of jail, my first job was for this program, GEMMA program. That was the [00:26:00] first job where I was hired under a grant to help women with minor children who've been incarcerated, which are many.

And then my job was to get those women jobs in the community. So I was both hiring women under the grant, but I was also hired under the grant. So I did that for a year or maybe less than a year. And then I was doing some content writing, which was really ironic because it was like, I mean, it was great training because I had to write like 1600 words a day, SEO blogs for this company called Content Divas.

And they were like, write travel blogs about being in Hawaii. Well, I was on probation. I wasn't allowed to leave the county, but here I am every day writing about being a diamond head in Waikiki, you know, and I was like, I'll never get there. 

Jessica Fein: Are you just Googling what's it like in diamond head? 

Lara Love Hardin: I mean, yeah, I mean, basically, just you know, trying to use my creative writing skills, but then I answered a Craigslist ad for a part time literary agent assistant for a literary agency that worked with Desmond Tutu. And I was like, am I going to be murdered? This does not sound real, but I'll give it a shot. And it was literally a five to 10 hour a week hourly job.

But I was like, okay, this is what [00:27:00] I used to love. Writing books. That's what got me through my childhood, high school. That was when I majored in and got my master's degree. And here's what I love. This is part of that pretending anymore and not pleasing other people. It's like, I'm going to do what I love.

It's something right. And so I went to the job interview and I was in line with my son, Caden to get welfare and waiting there for hours and hours. And when you have a drug conviction on your record, you're not allowed to get any cash benefit welfare in this County. Anyway, you know, it's different County to County because.

I guess they think you'll spend it on drugs. So it's another one of those barriers. So I was appealing the decision to try and feed us and pay our rent. And so I was waiting for hours and I get the call cause I applied to the Craigslist ad and like, can you beat a job interview in an hour? And it was this moment of decision.

I'm pretty sure I'm going to get some help for me. Right now, if I stay here in this line or here's this opportunity, and I don't know if I'm going to go there and he's going to ask me if I have a criminal record and I'm going to answer honestly if he does. So it was really this moment of decision. Do I take a leap [00:28:00] of faith to the future or do I stay here and just try to get some food today?

And so I decided to leave and scramble childcare in and out. it and went to this interview and he hired me and had not asked about my criminal background, but did, you know, I won't give away in the book, but did Google me a few weeks in. And so that was a big crisis moment, but I ended up 12 years later as co CEO of the company and we built this huge literary agency and met amazing authors and worked with amazing people like the Dalai Lama and Desmond Tutu.

But the whole time I was keeping my secret. I was so afraid people would Google me and find that neighbor from hell. So you were still pretending because you were pretending. Yeah, I was still pretending like, you know, Doug knew, but I was so worried that like my reputation would hurt his reputation or our authors or our agency.

And plus, you know, I'm going to India, but I don't know if they're going to let me in the country with a criminal record or being on probation. It was just a whole constant living in fear and shame and keeping secrets. 

Jessica Fein: So, what made you decide it's time to stop [00:29:00] living in the secret?

Lara Love Hardin: When I worked on the book, The Sun Does Shine, we told the first author about my past as an incarcerated woman.

That was Bryan Stevenson. And he was like, great, that's going to help you work with my client. You know, on his book, as a literary agency, you pitch editors on books and then that book sold at an auction. And so I was listening to the calls and I hear Doug. Saying, do you know how hard it is to find an MFA who's been incarcerated?

We have the perfect co writer for this book. And all the editors that I knew and worked with for years, they're like, Oh, I didn't know that about Lara. Great. So it became a selling point. So that was the first little thing I was like, wait, what? Like in my imagination, the world was going to stop if people found out and I was going to be banished to misfit toys or whatever it is.

So there was a little bit, a few authors at a time I told, and then really the turning point was doing that TED talk. The woman who was the organizer came to my office. And she had asked me a few years before I was not ready and I was like, no, no, no, never would I do that. And so she basically came to my office, Irene, and she said, I'm not leaving here until you say yes.

And stayed for [00:30:00] three hours. And finally, I said yes. And I had like two days to prepare for it. And I did it. And there was such freedom. I felt after it, I felt lighter. And I was like, okay, one, I have something to say too. It really was a moment of holding my head up and owning my story. If I hadn't done that talk, I would not have done this book.

Jessica Fein: You also write that Doug Abrams, who's the person for whom you're working, the person who you had that interview with at the literary agency who you then became co CEO with, you said he believed in you. When you couldn't believe in yourself, what did he see in you that you didn't? 

Lara Love Hardin: I think he had the ability to put my past to the side.

He had to make that decision too. He had to say, am I going to walk my talk here? I'm doing these books on restorative justice and forgiveness and social justice, but here it is in my own home because we had a home office then. And it was like, am I in my family? You know, he had his son was same age as my son.

He had kids. Was he going to walk his talk? And that was a decision moment for him. And he decided to, and then he [00:31:00] really had the ability to just sort of put that aside. And we focused on the work and I started writing, you know, collaboratively writing a lot of the books we were doing. And he was able just to kind of look at my intelligence as a conversation partner and a thought leader with him and all of those.

Things. And he really just didn't judge me by that one season of my life. When everywhere else in the world, it felt like people were who I was before I was arrested, had disappeared. That was the defining who I am from that point forward. And he never did that.

Jessica Fein: You know, it is so powerful when you talk about, imagine if the whole world knew you and judged you by the worst thing you ever did, right?

And it sounds like he obviously didn't do that, and you were doing that. 

Lara Love Hardin: I was, yeah. I mean, what I found is, like, absolutely, I mean, maybe one or two people, but basically nobody was judging me as much as I was judging myself. Nobody was as hard on me, no one was as unforgiving of me as I was of myself.

The subtitle of the book is A Memoir of Lying, Stealing, Writing, and Healing, and the healing part was really just realizing [00:32:00] that it was about myself. Forgiving myself, just owning my story and not having shame. Shame is so sticky. I think like how many years I've wasted with that shame and that fear and how much isolation I still kept myself in.

The difference now is like, oh wow, look at that shame just popped in. I left Idea Architects last year and started my own agency. And I had a new author who signed with me as their agent and she read InBand's copy of the book. And I'd already signed with her and she sent a email that was like, Oh, I loved it so much.

And I'm just like, great to work with you. So it was a positive email, but still in my head, I went, Oh, what if she doesn't want me to be her agent now? Like, that's just this old shame thought. And I just caught it and I was like, she's literally saying the opposite. And honestly, I've had more authors want me to be their agent because of my past than the reverse that I thought, you know?


Jessica Fein: right. You said it was so many years of living with shame and regret. Now looking back, do you feel like there was some shift you could have done earlier to make you not live [00:33:00] through that?

Lara Love Hardin: I don't know. It's so hard to like reverse, you know, like Monday morning quarterback something. But I think, you know, like honestly, even before the TED Talks, I said that was really the point, but it was actually something earlier.

I started doing improv, improv comedy like a Saturday morning, you know? Playful and silly and meeting all of these really creative, artsy, wonderful, weird people. I was like, oh, these are my people, right? And I was keeping the secret from them too. I took the stand up comedy classes. We had to do like, you know, it's equivalent of a school play at this time, right?

And so I got up there and I did a stand up comedy routine. And I was like, so this one time when I was in prison, and then I just went on about like how you get a prison nickname and 32 felonies. And I turned my whole experience into a stand up comedy routine. I killed it. But after, um, a bunch of those people who knew me, they came up, they're like, was that true?

And it was again, one of those decision moments. And I was like, yeah, you know, I embellish for comedy, but yeah. And, uh, they were like, cool. Want to get lunch? You know, like it was just such a non thing. That was really the first step of, okay, this is just part [00:34:00] of my story. This is not who I am. It's just a part of my story.

Jessica Fein: It's so freeing and freeing to even hear about because whatever the thing is, and maybe they're not quite as quote unquote headline grabbing as yours is, but we all have those things, right? That we think like everybody looks at me and sees this thing and really nobody, nobody's thinking that much about you.

Lara Love Hardin: Yeah. Yeah. I had to go through all these old pictures for the publisher for marketing in case they want to use anything in it, the thing, and I was looking through tons of high school pictures actually. And even like looking back at those pictures, I was like, wait, I looked okay then. Or like I was a lot thinner than I, culture told me I wasn't, but you know, like whatever it is, you're like, wow, perspective is everything.


Jessica Fein: Yeah. One of the interesting things is you go from pretending and nobody knows the truth. Now you're meeting with Oprah. She's chosen a book that you co wrote. Mm hmm. To be one of her big selections. And you said that people were gushing over you. 

Lara Love Hardin: So Anthony Ray Hinton, who lived the story, I co authored it with him, he's an amazing man who spent [00:35:00] 30 years on Alabama's death row for a crime he didn't commit.

So his book got chosen. There's a clear glass green room at CBS Morning News where you sit. So he was on there with Oprah and Gayle and I was in the green room watching and then we all went to lunch after, you know, and she was saying nice things to me about the writing and giving me little real power lessons at lunch.

And so I posted pictures. from that lunch and from like her and Gail, like, you know, if you see the Ted talk, I shared one where I'm like, you know, my head's going to explode from smiling. And a lot of old people started like, hey, let's get lunch. Like, came up with that notoriety, but it was also me trying to prove to people that I was good.

Like here I am so good adjacent. You know, I'm Oprah good. Right. Dalai Lama, good. Um, Desmond Tutu, good. Adjacent, you know, like. 

Jessica Fein: I mean, that's kind of like as good as it gets too. I mean that's pretty good. But how much of it was you trying to tell yourself? 

Lara Love Hardin: Yeah, it was definitely me trying to convince myself and other people and now I'm not trying to convince anyone.

I don't think. [00:36:00] Mostly. You know, a little bit. You know, you have to go promote a book. So you're like, like my book, like me, which is not my most comfortable thing. Even as someone who's. It's admittedly been trying to make people like them their whole life, but having to overtly do it, it's not my thing.

Jessica Fein: Right. And now, I mean, as of today with the book coming out, everybody's going to know your story and we should say, by the way, that it's also been optioned for a television show. So double the ways people are going to know your story. What's that like to have your book out when it's essentially the worst thing you've ever done?

You talk a lot about, you know, being judged for the worst thing you've ever done. Now you're sharing it with the world, but the whole story and talk about a redemption story. I mean, it's unreal. But to have that out there and then to think about it coming out in a TV show.

Lara Love Hardin: Yeah, I mean, I'm excited to have it out there.

I think some people are going to read the book and their experience of me in real life, you know, I'm in a lot of mom groups or I used to be, you know, I can be the cautionary tale, like, Ooh, look what happens when a mom goes bad or look what happens with, you know, I'm a cautionary tale. And then other people find inspiration in it because it is a hopeful [00:37:00] redemption story.

And the thing is, I'm okay with both. I'm okay with being both things at once. So it's exciting. I mean, obviously, since I was a kid, I wanted to write my own book, right? Like this is what I studied in school. So I'm excited about that. And you know, that whole two year process, it's like waiting to have a baby, you know, like you're, you're doing it, you're, you're, it's underway.

There's no backing out. So it's happening. So I'm excited about it. People are inspired and positive and it's resonating with them in some ways, even if they can't relate to the extreme. Sport that I went through of my life. So I think that's good. You know, we're launching a nonprofit at the same time. So that's out also called the Gemma project.org with Cynthia, who's the former mayor of Santa Cruz, who used to run that program, my hope is that it's going to do a lot of good for currently incarcerated women and formerly incarcerated women. And the TV series is just weird. I mean, that's crazy and exciting. You know, I had to text my children and be like, Hey, they want to make a TV series out of this, but my life's also your life.

Are you okay with this? And they immediately started arguing over who would play them. [00:38:00] My older boys were like, which Helmsworth brother plays me? And I was like, it's you guys as little kids. Come on. You know, like, it was very funny. 

Jessica Fein: It's interesting because you say, even if the reader's lives aren't quite as dramatic as your story, that's what's so gorgeous about memoir, right?

Is that you're very, very particular and let's face it, unique story has this universal feel to it, right? Because there's something we can all relate to, whether it's the pretending that we're somebody else, whether it's the judging ourselves for the worst thing we ever did, thinking everybody else is thinking about us much more than they actually are.

I mean, there's so much in there that people can relate to. And then by the way, if you're going to relate to it. Relate to the huge success and inspiration of what ends up happening in your life, because that is surely both inspirational and aspirational. 

Lara Love Hardin: Yeah, yeah, yeah. My life has been messy, so relate to that, or feel great about your own un messy life, but everyone I know, and whose life isn't messy?

Jessica Fein: Everyone I know has a messy life in some way. Yeah, and the people who don't are boring as far as I'm concerned. 

Lara Love Hardin: Embrace the mess. 

Jessica Fein: Embrace the best. Okay, so let's end where we [00:39:00] started. If you now were talking to you back in high school when you were feeling like you were playing this role, what would you tell her?

Lara Love Hardin: Oh, that's a good question. I think I would tell her it's going to be okay. And I think I would tell her to be braver earlier to be herself. That's a good question. Got me all teary 

Jessica Fein: eyed. Well, your book is incredible. Everybody go out and get it, Many Lives of Mama Love. Thank you. And we'll just be waiting, waiting, waiting to see this actually come to TV so we can watch the story too.

Lara Love Hardin: Yeah, I think it'll be under TV under a different name. The original title of my book that it was sold under was The Neighbor from Hell and Other People I Have Been. So right now the TV series is still The Neighbor from Hell, so, which is a little more edgy. Yeah. You're good. You're like Oprah. You made me cry.

Jessica Fein: That's a terrific compliment. I don't think anybody's ever told me I'm like Oprah. On that happy note, let's end this. Awesome. So good to connect with you again. Thank you so much. 

Lara Love Hardin: Yeah. Thank you. 

Jessica Fein: Okay. My first takeaway from the conversation with Lara is watch her TED Talk. It's really [00:40:00] powerful and I'll put the link right in the show notes, but here are the other takeaways.

Number one, real power is quiet power. And real power is kind power, which I just love. Number two, meditating can bring you joy for no reason. Okay. You've heard me say it here before. I have yet to get to the place where I am meditating and finding joy for no reason, but I'm committed to keep on trying.

Number three, how we take care of broken people determines our humanity. Number four, don't judge people for one season of their life. Most people are more than the worst thing they've ever done. And finally, number five, Sometimes we imagine that the world will stop if people find out something true about us.

But really, nobody's judging us as much as we are judging ourselves. If you like this episode, share it with a friend. And please take a minute to rate and review the show. That's how more people get to hear the show and be part of this community. Thanks so much. [00:41:00] Have a great day.