Graduate Highlight: Yancy, Class 70

When I first met Kristi and Andy who are with WorkFaith, I was in a terrible place in my life. I told them my whole story of how I ended up across from the two of them. My career was in banking, and in 2014 I told the bank I worked for that I had been embezzling money from them. I suffered with such anxiety and depression and I could not live with the fact that I was doing what I was doing to the bank. My job was to protect the bank.   

The story of your life as you’re telling it to yourself, always starts with you as the main character, usually the “good guy,” and headed toward a straight-forward life of happiness and success. However, as you might can relate, that narrative rarely pans out the way you expect it. Sometimes even, life takes you an entirely different direction that you would’ve never imagined. That’s where I found myself--a position I would’ve hoped to never be in, desperate to explain to the outsider looking in that there was more to my story than what was visible on the surface.

Born in Georgia but raised in Alabama since the third grade, I attended Kingwood Christian School until I graduated. I had been working in the hospitality industry for several years after my schooling when I took my first job in the banking business as a Proof Operator in 1999.  As I moved into different positions at several different banks, I took every chance I could to cross train and learn more about banking. Over time, I learned about the Bank Secrecy Act (BSA) and was promoted to BSA Coordinator.

Also known as the Currency and Foreign Transactions Reporting Act, the BSA is a legislation passed by the United States Congress in 1970 that requires U.S. financial institutions to collaborate with the government in cases of suspected money laundering and fraud. The purpose of the BSA, aside from making money laundering more difficult to propagate, is to prevent banks from becoming unknowing intermediaries in illicit activity.  

In 2005 I took a position as Operations Manager for a small family owned bank when the bank I was working for was acquired by a larger company. They promoted me to BSA officer in 2011 where I became the liaison between the bank and the auditors, and although it required a lot of responsibility, I took my job seriously by attending multiple BSA certification classes and really excelled.  

Around that same time my personal life was beginning to take a turn for the worse. After being married in 2010 with a sizeable nest egg that I had saved up for myself, my husband and I divorced in 2012, leaving me with hardly anything left of my savings and a severely bruised self-esteem from the emotional abuse I endured.  Feeling alone, financially stressed, and as though love from others could only be bought, I began taking advantage of my position at the bank, stealing money for myself.

Years went by that I kept this to myself, and in early in 2014, I was so full of anxiety and depression from my own little secret that I decided to sign up for a Small Group at my church, Church of the Highlands.  About 5 weeks into the quarter, one of the leaders in the group asked to pray with me privately. Before she began, she told me that she was caught embezzling by her employer and became a convicted felon. Needless to say, I was shocked--this woman whom I hardly knew, prayed with me about something so specific in my life that she could not have known. When she had finished, she looked up at me and said, “Yancy, you need to make whatever is going on at work right.” Immediately I felt defensive, but after seeing her pray and speak life to so many other women, I knew she was right.  For weeks I struggled with deciding what to do; telling the truth seemed far too intimidating, so I decided I would sell my house and leave the bank to find another job. However, God had other plans.

When I couldn’t find another job and my house wasn’t selling, my depression deepened and my anxiety grew to be greater than ever before. In an attempt to manage my mental state, I visited my family doctor (who also happened to be in the same LIFE Small Group I was attending) to ask for medication. Hesitant to write me a prescription, he unknowingly joked, “It isn’t like you are embezzling from the bank! You just need to let God be in control of your life.” Somehow through my internal freak out, I managed to hold in my secret and assure him I was trying. I left his office with several prescriptions for anxiety, depression, and sleeping aide, but they were no help. Sleep evaded me and I continued to spiral downward. Looking back, maybe it was God encouraging me not to run from this any longer.

After attending a week long, BSA certification class in Nashville, I resolved to tell the President of the Bank I had stolen from, the truth.  Knowing I would need support, I called my parents and told them everything. I could hear the hurt in their voices, but they showed me their unconditional love. Although they were over 800 miles away from me, it would only take them two days to get to Alabama.  It was the first time I had ever spoken out loud what I had been doing and dealing with the last few years. One might think some relief might come with speaking my truth, but after I told them, so much guilt and shame washed over me that I didn’t think I could face my parents, the bank, or anyone else for that matter. The weight of confronting the barely 20 employees that I spent ten years working with, getting to know, attending their weddings and baby showers, etc. was too much. I knew the minute I told the truth not only would I lose my career, but my entire network of friends as well.

Convinced I could not weather the losses, I brought my dogs up to my room, turned my radio up to maximum volume, and took a bottle of muscle relaxers with a liter of vodka.  Next thing I knew, the entire town was in my house: the EMT’s, the coroner, the police, and even the mayor. Apparently when I hung up with my parents, they immediately started praying. My mom kept hearing God telling her, “Don’t give up!” Later when she called and I didnt answer, she contacted the neighbor to check on me at my house.  When my neighbor couldn’t get an answer at the door, she dialed 9-1-1. I got a second chance to come clean, and there wasn’t any way around it.

On September 29, 2014, I called an attorney to meet with him at the bank, and together we sat with a full audience: the President, the Vice President, and the head of the Human Resources department. I told them everything through many tears. They promised to not press charges, but I knew they were required by law to file a suspicious activity report to the Financial Crimes Enforcement (finCEN). I remember leaving the bank feeling lost. What was I supposed to do now? It was one of the darkest times of my life. Instead of seeking another job, I sought my own isolation.  

The next few years were a blur. Before my confession, I was debt free, but by 2016 I maxed four credit cards, cashed my 401k, and spent the rest of my savings. I rented out my house just to keep it, used that rent money to get an apartment, and then spent a lot of time just sitting at home. Even though the bank wasn’t pressing charges, I was constantly looking over my shoulder waiting for the call that I had been caught by the Feds. My friends and family urged me to get back into work or church, but it was as though I couldn’t even put one foot in front of the other. After an unexpected dentist visit, I started volunteering at the Foundry Dental Clinic, which got me out of the house and motivated me enough to start applying for other jobs.

After hundreds of applications, I finally got call back from Office Depot, and shortly after, I was hired as their Customer Service Manager. For a second I thought things might turn around until I got a phone call from my attorney two weeks after Office Depot ran my background check. My heart sunk as soon as I saw his name on the caller ID. He explained that because the amount laundered was less than $100,000 that the legal consequences of my actions would not be severe, but my paranoia would not let me go.  A court date was set and with each step closer to sentencing from court attendances and DNA testing to fingerprinting, my fear grew. My attorney even postponed the sentencing because the DA was pushing for six months of prison and six months of house arrest that he was not about to settle for. Best case scenario I knew I’d be labeled a felon for the rest of my life and worst case scenario I’d be sent to prison. Overwhelmed is an understatement, but I tried my best to focus on the job I knew I was lucky to have.

From that moment on, things moved so fast I could hardly catch my breath. My renters moved out of the house leaving me to fall so far behind on my mortgage I had to sell (the sale closed eight days before my house was reacquired--talk about a close call). Before moving, I listed all my possessions and everything I had worked for on Facebook and other online markets for sale and watched as people came in and out of my house taking paintings off the walls, sheets off the bed, dishes out of the cabinets, etc. Not only that, I knew the day after closing I would be facing homelessness. It was more than I could bear, but at the last moment, my mom found a friend whose mother had passed and was now living alone. She was kind enough to let me live there for only $200 a month.  

At this point, I felt so much shame, guilt, remorse, and self hate I no longer thought I was worthy of love from my family or friends or anyone. Consumed by thoughts like, “My life is over,” “I screwed up so bad,” “No one cares,” “Why am I even alive?” “Why did I do what I did?” “Why am I still not turning to God?” I somehow thought that I had messed up so bad that not even God could love me anymore. I mean, I couldn’t even forgive myself! So why would God forgive me? Pushing myself further away from God, I kept trying to take care of things on my own. Eventually, I sabotaged my job at Office Depot like a professional that had been practicing my entire life to mess things up for myself royally. I was fired April of 2017.    

Now jobless, my next court date rolled around where I was supposed to address the judge. Even though my thoughts were completely disorganized, the Judge said that if I could return in ninety days with a full-time job, he would not sentence me to prison. Well for someone with two felonies, this would not prove to be an easy task. So I reached out to my church for the first time since 2014, where I joined a Freedom group, and then found a part-time job as a janitor. Compared to my previous corporate work life, scrubbing toilets for nine dollars an hour was exhausting and humbling to say the least.  Over time and with hard work, both physical and spiritual, my heart softened. I learned from my Freedom group that I had no right to withhold forgiveness from myself when Christ had already given His life that I could be saved from that guilt; It was okay to forgive myself! My self love swelled a little, and I began taking pride in my janitorial work. Wouldn’t you know? I made it my craft, and two pay periods before my final court date, I was promoted to full time Janitor. I wish I could tell you that I thanked God for this, but instead I took the credit for myself in my heart.

November 28, 2017 was my third date for sentencing. I could see the jury section filled with young law students and soon-to-be judges, and I wanted to run as fast as possible out of the court doors. As I listened to the judge harshly sentence the criminal in line ahead of me, my head was spinning. Usually prayer was the last on my list of lifelines, but standing there feeling like I might throw up from all the knots in my stomach, praying was all I could do. Interrupted by judge loudly addressing my name, I watched him turn to the jury and explain my situation--that I had come clean on my own, unlike any other case he had previously seen. He then directed me to proceed in my address to the judge and the jury one last time.

My nerves were so shot, I barely remember all that I said. I can recall quoting a scripture I read a few days earlier about obeying the laws of God and man. I explained to the court that I knew I had  personal and spiritual consequences to face from my actions, and I apologized to the bank, my parents, to the FBI and DA, and lastly the judge. Admitting my fault, I took responsibility for everyone being there to begin with. When I went to sit down next to my attorney, it felt like I was floating, or like I wasn’t really there. I was hoping it was all a dream; that at any second I would wake up in my house, in my bed, with my alarm going off telling me to get ready for work at the bank, but the thought was intercepted by the Judge’s sentence handed down to me. It read one year of home detention, 5 years of probation, and thirteen weeks of Cognitive Behavior Therapy classes.

As a BSA officer, not being sent to prison given the circumstances was an impossible feat. I briefly entertained the idea of running out of the courtroom faster than the judge could change his mind. Although some would say I got off too easy, I knew being a felony under house arrest wouldn’t exactly be a walk in the park. As my attorney and I stepped into the elevator to leave, he assured me, “You know your sentence was fair and good right?” I swallowed my pride with a quiet, “Yes sir.”

I continued my job part-time as a janitor knowing it couldn’t support me for long. So I started applying for jobs again and went on over sixty interviews only to be turned down for my “record,” which was very discouraging to say the least. When I was least expecting it, I showed up to work for cleaning one day, only to be told my services were no longer needed and for no given reason. Later I found out one of my co-workers there had found out about my situation and probably cost me my job, but she also started telling everyone who would listen to her at my church. Enduring that isolation, I still was finding temporary employment through odd jobs here and there for the next couple months which made things almost bearable until I could no longer collect unemployment or even food stamps.

Things grew worse in my home environment; my roommate constantly tore me down, cussed me out, and yelled at me, and her brother would steal my things, expose himself, and I even woke up from sleeping to find him staring at me. Angry, depressed, and feeling stuck with nowhere to go, I decided to reach out through email to the Church of Highlands Riverchase Campus. I held nothing back. Not knowing or caring who would read my darkest secrets, I sent my cry for help ending the email with “HELP!”

When John Paul from the Pastoral Care Team at Church of the Highlands called me in response to my email, I had been crying for several days straight. He probably didn’t understand much of what I said through my wailing, but he understood enough. At the end of our phone call he asked me to do two things: to call a certain restaurant that he had given my resume to, and to call Hope Inspired Ministries (H.I.M), a non-profit organization job training program. Nervously, I complied and called the restaurant who had unfortunately already filled a catering position they were considering me for. So then I called H.I.M., and after telling me I was overqualified for their program, they referred me to an organization called WorkFaith Ministries, a two week workforce enrichment course, and Urban Housing, another organization who could provide me another home once I found a job, started WorkFaith classes, and joined a Small Group at my church.

My first orientation class for WorkFaith started June 11, 2018, and just that weekend before I sent an inquiry for joining a Small Group named Fresh Start that already began meeting. Normally I wouldn’t join a group that already started without me, but I was committed. God kept putting “obedience” in my mind, and when I stuck to this plan, I started being provided for through the church: gas to get to my classes, money for food, etc. Before I knew it, John Paul invited me to another woman of the church’s house, where she sat me on her couch and described that God put it on her heart that I needed a safe place--specifically an emotionally safe place--to live. Not knowing want to say, I would take the evening to pray about it and went home.

That night, I opened my Bible for the first time in a long while, and found the verse in Romans 8:28, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” Suddenly it hit me that God has been by my side this entire time.  He used so many people to get through to me because He wants to use me. We don’t all have a testimony that has tragedy, convictions, addiction recovery, deaths and just the bad things in life. Some of us have maintained close relationships with God their whole lives, but I knew then that He was telling me in that scripture that ALL things GOOD or BAD, God works out for the good. I instantly felt a love for Him that I’ve never felt and can hardly describe. That night I stayed on my knees letting it all out to God and grew closer to him than ever before.

June 17, 2018 I moved in with Ms. Norma, the woman who had offered me the safe place to stay, after things almost got physically abusive with my roommate’s brother. I attended my small group more regularly and grew stronger, more confident, and more excited about what God had planned for my life. I finally was gaining a sense of freedom from my circumstances and my depression.

During the final two weeks of my classes at WorkFaith, I did mock interviews and practiced presenting my conviction to future employers. I went on several interviews, even though all the failed interviews from the past couple years were looming over me. Ms. Norma and I prayed that God would open and close the right doors to bring me to exactly where I needed to be. Next thing I knew,  I got a call from WorkFaith about a job at Christian Brothers Automotive in Hoover. I interviewed with the owner a week later and was hired shortly after. It’s been only a couple weeks now since I started that job here, and part of my responsibilities includes shuttling customers which has already given me plenty of opportunities to invite those customers to church. I have peace that I am exactly where God wanted me to be.

I can’t describe the thankfulness I feel towards all those who have helped me on my journey to freedom. Not only have they withheld their judgment, but they encouraged me to grow each day. Every single person from my parents, my best friend Jason, to each person and friend in my small group at Church of the Highlands, everyone at WorkFaith, Urban Housing, Brandon Fisher with Christian Brothers Automotive, and oh so many more who were uniquely instrumental in not only helping me accept my own story, but teaching me how to thank God along the way.

 Yancy, with all of Class 70 on graduation day. 

Yancy, with all of Class 70 on graduation day.