Jeff Erno

Everyone has a journey, and we all face a variety of different challenges. I don't pretend my situation is the worst in the world, and I'm not ungrateful for all the blessings I've had in my life. For one thing, I had amazing parents who were neither wealthy nor incredibly successful in the professional sense, but they loved my brother, sister, and I to the point of making tremendous sacrifices to ensure our happiness. They went through some very difficult times starting around the time I was in middle school. My dad suffered a rather serious stroke, then my mom had a major heart attack and heart surgery.By the time I graduated high school, they were both disabled.They also divorced when I was in the eleventh grade.
I was very close to my maternal grandma my entire life. I loved her as much as my mom, and in many ways I was even closer to her than I was my mom. She also suffered health problems starting in her sixties with a heart attack. When she retired, she and my mom lived together.I went away for a couple years to Bible college, studying to be a minister, but dropped out when I fell in love with another boy and realized I was gay. My orientation wasn't conducive with the doctrine of my denomination. I went back home, attended community college for awhile, but ended up pursuing a career in retail grocery as a front end/office manager.
I met my first long-term partner at the age of 25, right around the time my mom suffered a severe stroke. We took both Mom and Gram in to care for them and focused on Mom's rehabilitation. She was confined to a wheelchair and told she would not likely walk again. But she made tremendous progress. She got to where she could walk around the house with a cane, climb steps, and she regained independence in many small ways.Unfortunately, after three years, she suffered another stroke that took her life. After which, we had Gram another three years and she too had a stroke and developed Alzheimers.
Around the time Gram's dementia started to advance, my father passed away. He had suffered kidney failure and was on dialysis. My sister took him in and I was involved as much as possible. I actually started to get close to him before he died. These deaths occurred like stairsteps, one after the other, and during that time I also lost another close friend who'd been like a second mom to me. She passed in her sleep with heart failure.Add to that, one of my close friends stopped over to visit me, then left my house and committed suicide.
I took in my nephew around this time. Had custody of him while he was in high school.
But I kind of had a meltdown. It was so much loss to process.My relationship with my partner was collapsing. We split up. My nephew left, went back to his Mom's. And I was overwhelmed with debt and grief. I slipped into a very dark depression. Finally, when I got word that the company for which I was working was going under, I attempted suicide.I tried to do it the same way my friend had, with a hose in tailpipe of my car. I did not succeed. Instead, I pulled through and vowed to start over.
I then finally went back to school and completed my degree, moved downstate to take a job managing a large convenience store, and started writing books. I met a new boyfriend. We were together five years before he met someone else in Chicago and left me. And I then took my brother in to live with me. He was disabled and facing homelessness.
My books did well for me those first few years, so much so that I ended up quitting the job at the store. But over the years, the industry changed quite a bit. With the increasing number of new authors using Amazon, the market became flooded and sales declined. I decided to take a job working at a small gas station/convenience store to supplement my income.
I worked at that job for three years, and things were beginning to level out for me. I was struggling with depression and loneliness, and I was becoming more and more reclusive, but at least financially things were stable. Then my world was suddenly flipped upside down one day at the end of April when I was called to the store for a meeting with the manager. Our gas station was actually owned by a supermarket chain, and our particular store was considered a department of the main store, thus under their management. At the meeting I was accused by the company loss prevention department of stealing.
The accusation was both shocking and absurd to me. I have worked in management most of my adult life. I've handled hundreds of thousands of dollars every week, and have never stolen. But at the meeting, which was really more of an interrogation, they tried for two hours to get me to confess to something I did not do. I refused. Finally, they called the police. The police officer, when he arrived, asked them about the amount, and they said it was fifty-three dollars. He let me go, said I would get a ticket which I could either pay, admitting my guilt, or contest. He did not view any evidence. The Loss Prevention specialists claimed to have a video but refused to show it to me, and when the officer asked to see it, they were unable to pull it up.
When I walked out of that office that day, I thought to myself, "Boy, they have made a big mistake. They're going to be in so much trouble." I did not have money to hire a lawyer, but I thought I could just state my case and the truth would come out. I eventually did receive the ticket to which I pleaded not guilty and returned to the court. I then received a summons for an arraignment. I requested a public defender attorney. When I showed up for the arraignment, the prosecutor did not have my case file, so they had to reschedule it for the next week.
The following week, I returned, and the public defender called me in to a conference room where he did not even bother to look at my case file. He just instructed me to plead guilty. I said no, I can't lie and say I stole something when I didn't. So he read part of the file. That was the first time I found out exactly how the loss prevention department had arrived at their conclusion that I had stolen. They had found ten times where I'd used a refund key in my three years of employment. Since there was no customer present at the time I used it, they assumed I was using it to steal money. But their problem was that they never saw me take any money from the register. They had to somehow link evidence that I had removed money from the register with the use of this refund key. So they went through all of the transactions where I had rung up my own purchases.
At the time I started working for the company I was instructed to ring up my own purchases. Every employee did so. We often worked alone.So after reviewing these transactions they found one transaction out of hundreds where it appeared I took out too much change. I can't say if I did or didn't. I doubt that I did because I was very fastidious about my till accounting. But since I was never shown the video, I can't really speak to that. Even if I had overpaid myself, it would not constitute stealing unless it was deliberate. And there was no link to the refunds.
The refunds, ten of them over the course of three years, were legitimate. Often we had to do refunds in order to accommodate errors that occurred through the company point system. They had a rewards program where customers earned points they could use to lower their price of fuel. Sometimes they inadvertently lost points due to system failures. We would allow them to get their gas then give them a refund. Often we issued the refund, then when we had time went back and rang them off on the register. And there were other times we also used the refund key to correct errors or ring off paid outs for store supplies. Those were the only times I ever used that key. I never once used it and then removed money from the register.
The attorney I had did not understand what I was telling him. He saw on the prosecutor's notes that the police had a video. That's all he cared about, even though he had not himself seen the video. He told me I would go to jail if I pleaded not guilty. Having no one to defend myself, I had no choice. I still refused to confess to the crime, but I entered a plea of no contest, so I was convicted of the crime I didn't commit.
Well, that was the true beginning of my nightmare. After being fired for the first time in my life, my anxiety really did kick into high gear. I became so depressed and suicidal I could hardly leave the house. I wanted to go out and get another job but was terrified. I had never been unemployed in my life, usually having worked at least two jobs at a time. And when I went back to court for sentencing, I was fined 1700 dollars in fines and court fees. And I was put on probation for a year during which time I have to take a criminal behavior course, see a counselor, do community service, and submit to drug testing.
What I tried to do since this happened was to focus on my writing. I have completed three novels so far, one which has already been (self) published. I also wrote a Christmas story which will be out later this year. And I've been trying to find freelance editing jobs. But my anxiety and depression are nearly crippling. The dark hole I was in after my family members died has returned. It is even worse now, because I no longer have anyone to lean on for support. My family lives far away. My sister, to whom I was always close, has end stage cancer.
I'm in a desperate situation now. I'm behind a month on my rent. I have this fine to pay off or go to jail. And if that happens, I don't know what will happen to my brother. I haven't started receiving royalties on the books I've recently written and released. I'm praying for a miracle.
I'm not asking anyone for a handout, but if anyone knows of a resource I can turn to for help, I would appreciate it. A loan would be wonderful because I do expect to earn some decent royalties and will be receiving a lump some of money after the first of the year. I don't have credit cards to rely upon. And without a steady paycheck (and with a criminal conviction) I don't know how I could get a bank loan. I don't know if I could even get a job, to be honest, even if I could force myself to venture back into the world.
That's my situation. I have debated long and hard what to do. The clock is ticking and I have less than three weeks to come up with the money.I did not want to post a sob story on the internet, but I am so despondent at this point that I've become desperate. I feel crippled emotionally, like I've been drop-kicked.
If you've taken the time to read this, I thank you. And thank you for your continued support by reading and buying my books.


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Jeff Erno 
Oxford, MI
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