By Steven Mihailovich
Angie Elsbury is the vibrant meat department manager at the La Jolla Vons. She dons a dazzling smile whenever possible and exudes enough energy to seemingly end the country’s dependence on foreign sources if it could be tapped. The 40-year-old Elsbury is the perennial “good” person; as jolly as old St. Nick and as sympathetic as a loving sister. Even her peccadilloes are inviting and adorable.
The ringtone on her cell phone blares a bubbly calypso rhythm. She can’t recall the store manager’s name because, as she explains it, she calls him “sir” so often that she’s forgotten it.
“I have a zest,” Elsbury said. “I have excitement all the time. Sometimes you can’t say I’m 40, but only four.”
But Elsbury wasn’t always this way. She’s living her Second Chance, as this story will reveal.
The Vons store manager, Jim Luft in case you’re wondering, dubs Elsbury one of his most-prized employees. Luft said that when he arrived at the La Jolla store eight months ago, he was ready to reassign a couple of meat department employees because of their lousy work ethic.
Instead, at Elsbury’s behest, Luft gave her a chance to improve the situation before taking sterner measures. “She turned around that whole department,” Luft said. “It’s upbeat now. She goes after a challenge with a positive, can-do, smile-on-the-face attitude. Her attitude is contagious.”
While Elsbury’s attributes are rare enough to be praiseworthy, they’re not so uncommon as to be newsworthy. Even Elsbury admits being an ordinary person, one of millions making her way through life, working her job and trying to help.
What makes Elsbury extraordinary is not where she is in life but how she got there. She was a runaway from a broken home with a drug addict as a mother until becoming one herself and spending almost two decades in and out of the prison system, losing custody of her only daughter in the process.
Elsbury acknowledges that her transformation is due in part to the recognition of the deleterious conditions under which she was raised in Pacific Beach. Yet Elsbury noted that it wasn’t obvious for a long time.
“It’s not that it was a traumatic experience,” she said. “It was just all I knew. I never had aspirations or dreams or anything like that. I just figured that was what life was about.”
In August 2007, Elsbury completed a three-year sentence for narcotics possession. While incarcerated, she said a religious epiphany provided the first necessary lesson, which was as simple as opening her eyes to see that she wanted out. Not just prison, but the whole mess.
Elsbury said she hasn’t used drugs, alcohol and cigarettes in the five years since the experience. To stay out, however, Elsbury said she required a bit more. She needed a second chance and she got one in part by keeping an eye on the original mistakes.
“My parole officer said, ‘You’re not going to make it. Only two percent make it,’ ” Elsbury recalled. “If someone says that to me, what am I going to say? FU? That’s how I was before. I told him somebody has to make it.”