When Amy came to us five years ago, she had experienced far more than her share of pain, betrayal, and loss. She was a very angry woman and found it hard to trust anyone. After obtaining her nursing degree and working for several years as a registered nurse, her life began to unravel. Her husband had betrayed her, leaving her in a state of great financial difficulty. She and her daughter had been in a near-fatal car accident that robbed her of enough of her hearing that she would need hearing aids for the rest of her life. The accident also led her to seek relief from her constant pain in the form of marijuana. Eventually she would lose her career, her home and her marriage. As many women do, she thought she had found the answer in the form of another relationship, only to find out that this man had been molesting her children. The final blow was committing her young son into a treatment program after he committed a crime that resulted in her family losing their housing.
After attending classes at A Hand Up For Women for a few weeks, Amy had to retreat when she found herself wanting to open up. Her walls were starting to come down, and she was scared. She disappeared for a couple of weeks and even wrote the staff a scathing e-mail, hoping to put them off. When the reply came back to her full of love and encouragement, she had to come back.
Today Amy is living a life she never imagined. She is employed as a Clinical Assistant at a halfway house for women, her family is back together in their own home, and she and her son were baptized together in 2006. Amy has also learned how to stand strong on her own and will only enter into another relationship if she knows it is something that the Lord has brought her way. Amy has served as an instructor in the program, teaching Anger Management, ironically enough. She is also the first graduate of our program to serve as a mentor and on the A Hand Up For Women Board of Directors.
Angie Booker was a cheerleader at Rule High School in Knoxville, TN; the same school where her sister Sonya became the first female athlete to earn a full college scholarship. Their mother was a strong woman with a career as a caterer. She was determined that her two girls would grow up and have a good life. And they did…for a while.
After graduating from Rule, Angie attended Morris Brown College in Atlanta to pursue a degree in Social Work. Later, she got married and joined her mother in her catering business. She had two beautiful children, a house, and a nice middle-class lifestyle. However, Sonya’s life had taken a dangerous turn into addiction. One day, the drugs took their fatal toll when Angie lost her only sister. Then, seven months later, her mother died suddenly from a combination of chronic health problems and grief. Well into her 30’s, just when she was most vulnerable, Angie was introduced to crack cocaine as a way to ease the pain. In short order, her marriage fell apart, her children went to live with relatives, she lost her house and had no job. By the time she landed in the back seat of a Knoxville Police Department cruiser, all she could do was think, Thank you, God. Now I can get some help. When I interviewed Angie, all I could think was, Oh Lord. This woman will never make it. She will chew us up and spit us out. Then she’ll disappear back to the streets. Angie was full of anger and attitude, and she made it clear that no one would tell her what to do. So, we didn’t. We loved her and gradually chiseled away at that stone exterior until the Lord revealed the tender, hurting woman underneath.
When Angie surrendered her life to the Lord, He began restoring back to her all that she had lost. She and her husband Perry reconciled and purchased a nice home where both of her children came home to live. Her daughter Yasmine is now in college in Alabama, and Angie has opened a catering business with her son, York. They named it Angelouise Catering and Confections, in memory of her mother, Eloise Battle. She now has 9 years clean and sober, and serves as a mentor and sponsor to women just beginning that journey. Angie is well-known in our program for the stern, uncompromising, yet loving way that she confronts women who are wavering in their resolve to change their lives. She became only the second A Hand Up For Women graduate to be asked to serve on our Board of Directors.
My life is so different now; you’d never know I used to be a prostitute. I’m not ashamed of my past anymore because I know God has forgiven me. Shame and guilt, keeping secrets”that just keeps you down.
My street name was Shorty. I started prostituting when I was 28 years old. I had four kids, and I was on drugs. I knew it was wrong, so I gave them to their father to raise. I’ve been in jail for prostitution, drugs, theft and robbery. My rap sheet is two or three pages long.
Typically I’d have five or ten customers a night, working the motels first before the streets. You could stand all night in the pouring rain and make $5. Other nights you could make a couple thousand.
A lot of times I’d pretend to prostitute. I’d get them in a motel room, earn their trust, and then steal their money. I used different colored wigs to change my identity. It was dangerous.
I kind of took care of the other prostitutes. I’d rob someone to put them in a motel for a night. I’d steal a car, pick them up, and buy us pizzas. Other times, we lived out in the woods.
I pretty much raised myself growing up. My father left when I was a baby. Mom worked and had to be both mom and dad. When I was 14, my little sister’s father molested me.
I started drinking to make me feel better, so I wouldn’t have to think. Three years later, I started smoking wet daddy, or embalming fluid. Then I started smoking crack and opium.
I went nine years without seeing my family or my kids. I always knew my mama was praying for me. She never gave up on me, and eventually her prayers brought me home.
Even when I was strung out on drugs, sometimes I’d say out loud in the dark, Lord, I know you protect me.
Four years ago, I turned my life around. I was in jail when, all of a sudden, I felt the presence of God for the first time. I grew up going to church, but it wasn’t real to me. A lawyer I didn’t know visited me in jail an offered me an alternative: rehab instead of back on the streets. I was ready for help.
I went to Serenity Shelter, part of KARM, and met Cynthia Russell there. I did the 12 Steps, starting with admitting I was powerless. I had to work hard to be honest– I was hardheaded. You aren’t going to tell me what to do!
In rehab, I had to do devotions daily, go to church weekly, and start surrendering. I had to get discipline over my mouth. I cleaned toilets, did laundry, and started finding my way.
I also went through A Hand Up For Women with director Eva Pierce. They gave me job training, life skills and most important, spiritual training. I learned you can trust women and love them. You have friends who have gone through the same thing. Ms. Eva felt like the presence of God”like a mother holding her babies.
My counselor in drug court made me start looking back on my past and I started to feel again. I got my kids back and have had to work hard to build back the relationship with them. They still have some walls up.
I got married to a man who graduated from rehab too after developing a friendship for two years. We are renting to own our house. I’m a team trainer at a restaurant, a job I’ve held for three years now. I’d dropped out of school in 7th grade but now I’m getting my GED and want to go into nursing. I also attend Narcotics Anonymous, and I’m a sponsor to several teenage girls who are struggling with the same things I did.
People who are in the situation I was in don’t need to be judged; reach out to them and give them a chance. Be sincere and real. If you say you’re going to do something, then do it. Let them know it’s because of God that you can offer them some guidance. Don’t give up on them.
I’m still a friend to the ladies and I still know a lot of them. I’ll pray with them. I tell them, If I can do it, you can do it.
I wish I had a big building for the women to come and stay in as soon as they got out of jail. They need to experience the love and spirit of God. They need someone to wrap their arms around them, pray with them, and teach them how to live again. A lot of them prostitute because they believe nobody cares about them and it makes them feel good. They’re searching for love. Prostitution is an addiction of the flesh. It makes you feel pretty and wanted.
I thank God for what I went through, because now I am the strongest woman I could ever be. I’ve learned how to deal with the flesh, and not to judge other people. Life is a blessing. I’ve learned how to be humble. I’m not perfect but I am living to the best of my ability. All my dreams are coming true. I’m no longer Shorty now I’m Cassandra.
(Adapted from a story written by Karen Hamilton for The Compassion Coalition)