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October 1, 2014

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Former prostitute turns life around with court’s help

Former drug-addicted prostitute celebrates triumphant day in Las Vegas court

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Steve Marcus

Kimberly Landrum, left, laughs with Latosha James, a Municipal Court employee, after graduating from WIN (Women in Need), a city of Las Vegas specialty court, Tuesday at the Regional Justice Center. Landrum has a criminal history that began in 2000, with charges ranging from embezzlement to drugs, credit card fraud and prostitution. Today, she has successfully completed her recovery programs, is employed and is an inspiration to other program participants.

WIN Graduation

Kimberly Landrum gets a hug from Las Vegas Municipal Court Judge Cynthia Leung as she graduates from WIN (Women in Need), a city of Las Vegas specialty court, in 2010. Launch slideshow »

The woman shown in a Las Vegas jail booking photo and the woman who appeared before a city judge Tuesday hardly looked like the same person.

In the mug shot, Kimberly Landrum had scraggly hair, sunken eyes and an expressionless face. But now she was appearing in court, in a sharp blue dress, hair nicely coiffed and a smile filling her face.

The judge gave Landrum a copy of the booking mug. Tears streamed down Landrum’s face as she looked at her old self: homeless, addicted to drugs and prostituting herself on the streets of Las Vegas.

Today, Landrum, 35, who grew up near Sunrise Mountain, has a good job with a collection agency. In the past year, she has reconnected with her 15-year-old daughter, who was raised by Landrum’s mother while Landrum struggled with addiction and homelessness.

She is no longer the person who got herself into trouble by hanging out with the wrong people at the wrong places.

“I’ve been out of my mind for 10 years,” she said. “I was a monster. I didn’t care about life — I didn’t care about what I did, where I lived. I didn’t care about anything. I was this person who was just completely dead inside. I gave up on myself.”

Then came a turning point — an arrest for solicitation of prostitution that led her to the courtroom of Municipal Judge Cynthia Leung.

Leung presides over the Women in Need specialty court, a prostitution prevention program aimed at chronic offenders.

And on Tuesday she was celebrating Landrum’s successful completion of the program. Not everyone makes it. “These are career prostitutes who almost always have drug and alcohol issues and who have nowhere to turn,” Leung said. “By the time I see them, they’ve been coming into the system repeatedly like a revolving door.”

The program takes aim at the underlying issues that propel the cycle: addiction and homelessness. Landrum enrolled in WestCare, a drug-treatment program that helped her kick her crack-cocaine habit, as well as Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous and Cocaine Anonymous.

The court program also helps the women learn practical skills, get their high school equivalency diplomas and find counseling services.

“All of these ladies have some kind of trauma, either physical, mental or both,” Leung said. “By the time I see them, they’re at the end of their rope.”

Landrum is the eighth woman to graduate from the program since its 2007 inception. Dozens have tried. None of the graduates has re-offended.

Leung said the program works because of its team-based approach.

“The ladies feel the energy and the support that’s behind them if they want to do it,” she said.

Click to enlarge photo

Kimberly Landrum displays her certificate of graduation to friends and family as she graduates from WIN (Women in Need), a city of Las Vegas specialty court, Tuesday at the Regional Justice Center. Las Vegas Municipal Court Judge Cynthia Leung applauds at right. Landrum has a criminal history that began in 2000, with charges ranging from embezzlement to drugs, credit card fraud and prostitution. Today, she has successfully completed her recovery programs, is employed and is an inspiration to other program participants.

Attorney Heidi Almase has been representing the women in the program pro bono for about a year. Formerly a lawyer in both the city attorney’s office and later the attorney general’s office, she said that as a former prosecutor, she finds the work rewarding.

“You sit there and think, ‘Oh, I’m helping them out.’ But really they’re helping us out. All of them have a story,” she said.

The women in the program — right now, 11 are active participants — have suspended 180-day jail sentences hanging over their heads as they complete self-improvement tasks and check in with the judge at regular sessions. It takes one or two years for them to complete the program.

But the jail time isn’t always a deterrent.

Sometimes women want to get out of jail so badly they get involved in the program, only to fail and wind up serving the six months in jail anyway, said Melanie Fedraw, the city’s specialty courts coordinator.

On several occasions when the going got rough, Landrum walked into Leung’s courtroom and said she was ready to go to jail. Four of the past 10 years of her life were spent behind bars for crimes she committed to support her crack-cocaine habit, so she knew she could do the time.

But in the end, she said, the program taught her to embrace having structure and direction in her life.

On Tuesday, Leung officially closed out Landrum’s cases as the courtroom erupted in cheers and applause. Leung presented her with a framed certificate of completion. Fedraw gave her a book of inspirational sayings. As a symbol of her transformation, Councilwoman Lois Tarkanian presented her with a butterfly necklace.

“I had hit rock bottom where I had nowhere to go, no one to call, nothing to eat, nowhere to live. I was homeless,” Landrum said. “Today, I have a place to live. I have a job. I have an excellent support group. I have my family — and I have my dignity.”

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