Sex Trafficking – Speechless No More!

There are very few people who would use the word “Speechless” to describe me. “Loudmouth” – “Inappropriate” – “Opinionated” – Now those words I would recognize. But as I explore this whole prostitution and human trafficking underworld I am nothing short of speechless. Speechless because so few seem to recognize the damage being done to our entire world by this insidious and sinister pandemic that preys on women and children. Our whole society is threatened by either ignoring these practices or glibly claiming it to be a victimless crime. Some of the victims don’t even know they are victims…they live in a world where they believe this is their destiny and that this is all there is.

I was touched by several stories I heard this week. One woman stopped into a local shelter – just to chat – and talked about how she was working to “get her man out of jail.” He had been arrested for a drug trafficking crime and is going do a minimum of 10 years in prison – this was not his first time around the “wheel of justice”. She only had to raise another $4000 and the bondsman told her he would get him out. So she was street-walking and soliciting strangers – the victim of a man held behind bars who called her collect regularly to check her bail bond progress, complain about the food and tell her he loved her. We all said a silent prayer that he would be sentenced quickly so that she would be able to get enough freedom to have a chance to let us lead her towards a different path.

Another story was told to me about the proliferation of human trafficking in the Central Florida area. Many of the big cities up north have made it difficult for the traffickers to operate and they have found our tropical climate and our ever widening ethnic and cultural framework to allow them to work their evil trade with very little interference from law enforcement. They make themselves difficult to identify and have surprisingly innovative ways of laundering their ill gotten gains through Hair, Nail and Skin Care Salons, Dry Cleaners and Laundromats, Hotels and Motels, Restaurants and Bars. The women – many under the age of 15 – are told that the police will kill them if they find them or they will be deported to their country of origin where their families will disown them because of the shame they have brought on themselves by living a life as a prostitute. Victims not once, but twice.

Two completely different stories of Human Trafficking converging – not thousands of miles away – not in another country – not in another city – but right in front of me. Within blocks of where I live. I was rendered speechless.

As I drove home to my upper middle class suburban condo with a beautiful view of a lake, I was overwhelmed and saddened by my blindness to my surroundings. That cheap pedicure? Not so cheap. My smart attitude with the maid at the four star resort not getting my extra pillows to me quick enough? Not so smart. My annoyed whine about the spot not coming out of my cashmere sweater? Not so annoyed. My judgmental disapproval of a street walker who wanted to get the man she loved out of jail – no matter what her personal cost. Not so disapproving.

How could I be so blind? How could I not see what might have been right in front of me? I’m a smart girl with lots of life experience and I should know better than to not look a little deeper into the eyes – the windows of the soul – and see the pain and the fear and the desperation. I have to give these girls a voice to express their pain and offer more than the copy of a book they may not know how to read. I have to become UNSPEECHLESS and use the things I have known and seen to teach those who don’t understand and to shine a really bright light into the dark corners where this abomination occurs…first in my own community and then in the rest of my state and then into the rest of the world.

There are three kinds of Human Trafficking. The first is the kind that we call “Prostitution”. Prostitution is the result of one person paying to use the body of another for sexual purposes. Doesn’t matter if it is consensual or not. Some prostitution is that of an independent person soliciting for another independent person to pay them for the sexual services. “High Class” Human Trafficking is where a service (Escort Service or Pimp) takes a cut of the money gained from the sexual service in return for making the service available. Many times this is an agreeable relationship because the Escort Service or Pimp promises to protect the service provider from danger. It may or may not be consensual. Escort Services are notorious for holding back appointments from service providers who they suspect of not following the services rules or failing to be available when they are called to “go on a call”. Pimps use intimidation, drugs, violence or the threat of violence and a variety of other coercive methods to pressure a girl into performing sexual services with his customers. Many times the Pimp even uses “love” to compel a woman into an act of prostitution. As in “I love you baby – do this for me – do this for us!” Sinister, isn’t it?

The second kind is a little more familiar when speaking of Human Trafficking. This treacherous practice is very well organized and very international. And don’t think America is NOT international because it happens here too.

Poverty and lack of economic opportunity make women and children potential victims of traffickers associated with international criminal organizations. They are vulnerable to false promises of job opportunities in other countries. Many of those who accept these offers from what appear to be legitimate sources find themselves in situations where their documents are destroyed, their selves or their families threatened with harm, or they are bonded by a debt that they have no chance of repaying.

In some cases a girl is promised an opportunity to model or become an actress. Someone posing as a designer or talent agent will promise the moon to a young girl and many times secure the permission of her parents. They are then whisked off to another city or state or country and forced into prostitution. Some escape but most don’t. In many third world countries the parents are promised a better life or an education for the child and they readily consent, completely unaware of the dismal future of their daughter. In these same countries, parents knowingly sell the girl to the trafficker because they are starving and female children have a much smaller value than the male children. A United Nations report recently stated that less than 40% of 150 countries studied for Human Trafficking statistics had NEVER prosecuted a single human trafficking case which allows the traffickers to operate with impunity across the globe. Many countries refused to even provide their own statistics – even some of the really big ones like Saudia Arabia, China, Libya and Iran. What was even more surprising in this report was that 60% of the traffickers were women – once victims and now perpetrators.

The third kind – really frightening, this one, is the kind where children are snatched off the street and – once again – forced into prostitution. This happens in every country in the world and is devastating to parents who wonder forever if their child is alive. I’m sure most of them pray they are dead rather than living in this existence. Every time I hear a story of a missing child, I am silently praying for their quick and safe return but at the same time I fear for their safety and the likelihood that they are being trafficked. While women and children are particularly vulnerable to trafficking for the sex trade, human trafficking is not limited to sexual exploitation. It also includes persons who are trafficked into ‘forced’ marriages or into bonded labor markets, such as sweat shops, agricultural plantations, or domestic service.

The United States of America is principally a transit and destination country for trafficking in persons. It is estimated that 14,500 to 17,500 people, primarily women and children, are trafficked to the U.S. annually. We Americans – as a country – have enhanced pre-existing criminal penalties, afforded new protections to trafficking victims and make available certain benefits and services to victims of severe forms of trafficking. We have also established a Cabinet-level federal interagency task force and a federal program to provide services to trafficking victims. The U.S. Department of State began monitoring trafficking in persons in 1994, when the issue began to be covered in the Department’s Annual Country Reports on Human Rights Practices. Originally, coverage focused on trafficking of women and girls for sexual purposes. The report coverage has broadened over the years, and U.S. embassies worldwide now routinely monitor and report on cases of trafficking in men, women, and children for all forms of forced labor, including agriculture, domestic service, construction work, and sweatshops, as well as trafficking for commercial sexual purposes.

Our commitment to abolishing the practice of Human Trafficking is far from complete. Each individual who remains silent on the subject or considers prostitution to be a victimless crime, should reassess their position by research and soul searching and then act by telling a friend, a family member, a neighbor about what you have learned. Only through education and continuously pointing out the dangers of prostitution and human trafficking can we begin to stop it.

Be SPEECHLESS no more!

To report an instance of suspected trafficking, please call the HOTLINE: 1.888-373-7888

No Refunds. No Returns.

All Sales Final!


No Refunds No Returns!

Shopping after the holidays is a little depressing.  Everywhere you turn, there are raggedy boxes of Christmas lights and once cheerful holiday bulbs where one of them is sadly broke into a million shards.  The pre-wrapped gifts that once held such promise are tossed in a bin marked CLEARANCE with little pieces of tape and torn wrapping paper – obviously returned or exchanged for something more desired.  Sure – the deals are great but there is a feeling of desperation in the air that is just now being shaken off by the exhausted retail sales people who have probably just gotten their first two days off in a row after 90 days of insanity.

I am reminded of all of the women who come in and out of mylife – some are ready for change and some are not.  Some have the support of family and friends and some do not.  Some don’t know that change is even possible and have never even explored the idea that there is the possibility of possibility.  Some know that change is possible but think that it can’t happen for them.  Some are trapped in toxic relationships and some are trapped in jail.  Some are trapped in the Social Service System that limits their thinking to believing that they are only deserving of what the government will give them.  Some are trapped in a Justice System that has already pre-determined their culpability in their life decisions and focus only on punishment.  Some are convinced that society somehow“owes” them something although they can never define what it is.

  I beg for clarity – for them and for me.  And I always get it to at the last possible moment.  My life was never intended to change the whole world or to feed all  the hungry or to house every homeless woman.  I only desire to accept them “As Is”, offer hope where there is none and then assure them know that the door is always open and the zone is always judgment free. 

What a relief.  But being judgment free is not as easy as you might think.  Sometimes things are clearly wrong and there is simply no excuse for it.  And yet – it is important to me to remember that they are brought to me in the exact condition they were supposed to be when they got there.  The Universe brings women into my life that are ready for change and it is not up to me to decide what that change is, only to present and idea that there is indeed the possibility that there is possibility.

Time and time again a girl who sits in front of me –rejected, alone and hopeless – who suddenly sees the light goes on when I tell her that she deserves to be happy.  That she has worth beyond measure and that all she has to do is learn to love herself.  It flickers for a moment and then is usually quickly extinguished.  Of course at first they don’t believe that it’s true.   But since the Universe has prepared her to be exactly where she is in that pre-determined space and time, she ready to receive it within a few minutes because it is not thier hand that is on the light switch.

The emotion in that moment is raw and very often it takes a few attempts before they get it.  We announce that “I accept love in abundance” to the Universe and put emphasis on different words as we say it again and again. A little bit of joy starts to creep into the room a little bit at a time and suddenly, these beautiful, broken women find their voice and they experience – many for the first time –the well of love they have inside just got “tapped” and they glimpse the other side of their own personal hell.

They come to me “As Is”. No Refunds.  No Returns.  And I am to meet them where they are.  They bring their raggedy lives in old bulging boxes, barely held together with packing tape and rubber bands and – together – we start to open the box and get all the pain and the shame and the despair pulled out, put aside and work from right there in that moment.  We don’t try to brighten it up with pretty ribbon, or disguise the contents with overused clichés and platitudes.  We don’t try to pretend that some of the contents don’t still have power over them.  We don’t ignore the shattered pieces in the bottom. 

The relief is palpable. This CLEARANCE is so much different than what was expected.  It reveals the possibility of possibility that life can be very different but we have to clear out the old and rewrite the future with different rules.

It’s a beautiful thing and I don’t always get to see the end result. But it is for that single moment of clarity when the Universe switches on the light in her darkened mind for the first time that makes me keep going. 

There is no turning back from that moment.  The moment when  ALL SALES ARE FINAL!

No Turning Back…

     We all get a chance – some of us many chances – to walk through the door of new opportunity.  Or maybe renewed opportunity.  Sometimes it may be a new view of the old opportunities.  Sometimes it’s just the culmination of all the information we may have gleaned from our life experience shaped into a doorway with the door open.
The doorway will look different to each of us but the experience will be pretty much the same.  We assess our situation and we either choose to walk through the doorway or hover back – lingering in the comfort of “Christmas Past” – a little in fear of taking that next step into something we aren’t sure of.
The last four years for me have been many doorways…most of them with doors that were locked and bolted.  I have found that in the past few months a few of these doors have been unlocked.  Some were opened.  And some were just nothing more than doorways that I could have walked through any time.  But because I was afraid – I held back…I lingered in the comfort of my old ideals and core beliefs…taking comfort in my fear.
Comfort in my fear, you say?
Yeah – comfort in my fear that I would never fit in.  Or that no one would ever love me the way I was.  Or that I was too old.  Or that I wasn’t smart enough.  Or I didn’t have the right education. Maybe I wasn’t strong enough.  That I didn’t matter enough.  That what I thought wasn’t important.  That I had no right to feel the way I did.  Mostly it was a wave of inadequacies that threatened to wash me out to see.
The past few months have been different.  At first I thought it was everybody else changing their perceptions.  Of course I thought this.  But this past week I realized it was me who had changed.  Everyone else have remained the same.  The universe – in it’s infinite wisdom – gave me a different view of the lay of the land and I saw the piece I had been missing all along.
Self acceptance.  I can preach self acceptance and the importance of loving yourself, but I wasn’t living it.  I was letting old beliefs and old habits and the way I thought other people thought about me to block my ability to move forward.  But this week – a week where nothing happen – everything happened.  This week the locked, bolted and boarded up door to my future was revealed to be nothing more than a mirage.  It wasn’t real.
And – as always happens with my AHA moments…there wasn’t a lot of fanfare – no fireworks or bolts of lightening…no breaking down…no tears…no screams…no sac-cloth and ashes…just a quiet voice in my head that said…”Once you walk through that door – there’s no turning back.”
It’s taken me a week and a half to fully embrace the idea that my old life is over and my new life holds promise I never imagined.  I’ve got some cobwebs to sweep out…and some housecleaning to do.
I need to finally take that college algebra class that scares me so much and has blocked my ability to get a degree.  I need to commit to regular and intensive therapy…not just pleasant conversations with somebody I like.  I need to quit expecting my fairy godmother to fill my bank account with enough cash to take care of my girls…and I need to just let go of every comfort that isn’t good for me.
Ordinarily – just saying the word “algebra” would have been enough to send me scampering back behind the “curtain of ignorant behavior”.  I always thought that it wasn’t so much that my left brain didn’t work – I thought I might not even have one.  But somehow – all of the past years came down to simply seeing the truth.
I’m a little scardy cat.  Big talker I am…but just for show.  I secretly wrote a poem after my first relationship with a boy didn’t go so the way I wanted.  We were together for about three weeks but I had already planned our wedding and shopped for a house, furnished it and named our kids.  But now I’m reading it to myself because I am my own advocate.

I don’t want to be your Friday Girl.
Shower Fresh…Perfumed.
A Girl for All Occasions.
Don’t you want to know my Mondays?

OOTL – The Stories – Andrea

Andrea has come through Out Of The Life twice so far and has such promise to really make it outside of the life.  Each time she has returned to the familiarity of the streets through a man that promises her love and security when he has nothing to offer.  Once in early April of 2011 with Ashley and again in June of 2011 from Savannah, GA. Ashley and the pimp, “Successful”, had initially coerced her into his car by promising protection and increased revenue and Andrea was weary from her independent hustle on the streets.

            Andrea had been working for a janitorial service and was living in public housing with her 5 year old daughter in Savannah.  The father of the child and Andrea had never been married and he had never really been a part of their lives and did not pay any child support.  The child didn’t have a birth certificate or a social security number for reasons never disclosed.  Its not uncommon for these under insured women to give birth to children at home and many of the kids don’t begin to get their paperwork until its time to apply for more public assistance.  Andrea worked nights and her mother usually watched the child but this arrangement conflicted quite often because Andrea’s mother was involved with a married man and also worked nights as a security guard.  When her mother was unable to watch the child, Andrea had no choice but to miss work and this was the reason she had given for her dismissal.  It wasn’t a very long fall to hit bottom and Andrea was evicted from public housing and she sent her daughter to live with the child’s father while she roamed Savannah looking for quick tricks and temporary shelter.

            She was coerced into a car by Ashley, another prostitute and “Successful” with promises of better revenue and better working conditions and they drove to Ft Lauderdale where all three girls worked 20 hour days on street corners and being driven to out calls in “Successful’s” white Escalade.  He denied them food and medical care and regularly beat them and raped them in order to maintain control.  After 6 months or so Andrea and Ashley made their escape to Orlando by Greyhound with the help of OOTL and went to live in a shelter.  It was only 12 days before Ashley talked Andrea into leaving the shelter and Andrea was back working the streets.  She called Successful and he brought her back to Ft Lauderdale by bus and she continued to work for him under the same deplorable conditions as before. He promised her he would take her to Savannah to see her daughter but the trip was delayed time after time.  He remained suspicious of her for the duration of the time but continued to abuse her – punishing her for her betrayal.

            He eventually drove her and another girl to Savannah and dropped her on the corner by her brothers home. She called her mother and the child’s father and made arrangements to see them.  She maintained contact with OOTL through facebook and texting on the throw away cell phone the pimp supplied and pleaded to return to the shelter for 90 days to get herself together.  We again made arrangements for her to travel to Orlando and to return to the shelter. 

Andrea did well for the first month of the program and even into the second month.  She got her birth certificate and studied the drivers manual fervently until she earned her Drivers License learners permit.  She was studying to pass the math portion of the GED so that she could consider furthering her education.  Andrea had her bad moments too.  She had a seriously bad temper and would explode with very little provocation. She would diffuse just as quickly but watching her physically unload her anger was a little terrifying.  She was very sly and easily distracted by events that went on in the safe house involving other staff members or volunteers. She would relentlessly interject her opinions about situations that had no bearing on her but when asked to share feelings or thoughts about her own life and experiences she would clam up and say she didn’t know or couldn’t remember. She had horrific night terrors when she went to sleep and she made the staff crazy in her desperate attempt to get out of going to bed where she tried to stay awake so she wouldn’t have the bad dreams.  The staff was untrained and ill-prepared for assisting women from the sex industry into overcoming their various issues and when another, younger victim came to stay at the house, Andrea completely unraveled and begged to be removed.  We made arrangements for her to stay at a local hotel, arranged for food for a few weeks and got her a cell phone so she could stay in touch with her family. We started her with a private tutor for her GED lessons, provided her with a bus pass and tried to encourage her to look for a job and get enrolled in school.  She had met a young man on her way to Orlando from Savannah in June and started contacting him – even leaving and going to Tampa to visit him.  She tried to hang on, but her social awkwardness made it difficult to get employment and when she finally did land a job at a telemarketing firm, it was impossible to get her to ask the boss about the pay scale and she worked therefor two full weeks before delightedly picking up a check with a $50 bonus for being the third highest in sales for the week. She actually told the employer that he didn’t have to give it to her. Once she started talking to the young man from the bus, she started to lose interest in everything.  Getting an apartment and a car so that her daughter could come and live with her became a distant memory as this man began to require more and more attention and began to tell her that everything she was doing to better herself was not as important as their opportunity to be together.

He was supposedly in school and she refused to disclose details about him or even discuss the nature of their relationship. He talked her into getting on a bus from Orlando to Tampa the day after her disability check hit the bank and when she returned three days later, she had burned through all of her money and didn’t have enough cash to get to work the following day. Eventually she left Orlando for good, leaving everything she owned in the motel room, including all of the clothes, her prized identity documents, scores of paperwork, her GED study guide and a pile of jumbled notes to herself.  I found out later after reverse tracing a number she had called me from, that they were staying in a$23 a night motel room in one of the worst areas of Tampa between a adult movie arcade and a low end strip club.

            Andrea was victimized in several ways.  There are the more obvious betrayals.  She had been born into a dysfunctional family with no father as the eldest of three with two younger brothers. All three children have different fathers and none of the fathers names are listed on the children’s birth certificates.  Andreas mother always denied knowing who her father was but she eventually confessed that he had been married at the time of her birth and didn’t want to risk losing his marriage by having a child with a mistress and her mother had agreed.  He had promised to pay child support but that promise went unfulfilled and Andreas mother did not have the resources to take him to court and admit that she had lied when applying for an official document.  The married lover had told her she would go to jail for that offense. Another of her mothers long trail of boyfriends molested her and she was removed from the home and into various foster care families until she was in her mid teens.  The unstable childhood,coupled with the sexual abuse, the betrayal of her mother and the other environmental elements that contributed to Andreas first steps into the sex industry were textbook in the inevitable deconstruction of her life.  Andrea had dropped out of school sometime during all the shuffling around between foster homes and her mothers house.  Following her mothers example from childhood, she had short term relationships with men who not only took advantage of her and were emotionally unavailable, but were unable to provide for her and her child. She usually chose relationships with men where she was the wiser of the two so that she could manipulate him but it usually turned out badly because of her explosive temper. The birth of her daughter set off a variety of abandonment related issues and she felt helpless to manage her life.  She never turned to drugs or any kind of substance abuse but she was as abusive to herself as she could possibly be.  She had no confidence and she wore her feelings on her sleeve.  She was visibly afraid of most men and easily intimidated by service providers and counselors.  She would imagine slights and threats and even tried to invent a racial battle so that she could summon up her courage to argue and fight.  She was never at peace.  She was always ready to do battle.  She trusted very few people and always seemed to doubt her ability to do well at anything.  She didn’t know how to address and envelope or set the table for a simple lunch.  She had never worn anything but a sports bra and a trip to the department store lingerie department for a proper fitting was like opening a whole new window on the side of the house she had never been to.   

            But every step in that house was fraught with fear.  Fear of the unknown is one of the biggest battles the human being has to face. Although many of us don’t have the same fears that Andrea experienced because we have had the benefit of better parenting, leadership and a different lifestyle, her fears were very real.  She lived her first 27 years in constant crisis and she had grown accustomed to surviving in that environment.  When the chaos was removed and she was forced to listen to the quietness and was told that it was peace she was feeling, she came undone. Peace was the one thing she didn’t think she could trust.  She had known so little joy in her lifetime that just the lightness of being alive stressed her out to the point she actually sought out another dangerous – but comfortingly familiar – circumstance where she could display her adeptness at surviving in spite of her environment. She would survive to live another day but what happened the day after that would always be a surprise because her ability to plan beyond the very nearest of futures had never been explored.

            Andrea did have a very real and powerful experience with God during her time with us and she took a great deal of pride in learning how to pray and learning the secrets that were told in the bible.  She didn’t always understand the words that she read but as she began to study she discovered that much of it was meant for her.  As she was spiraling downward the last few weeks she remained in Orlando, I would encourage her to go to church or call someone for spiritual counsel. She would reject the idea that she should make the effort to make the call, but when one of the blessed counselors would call and speak to her, she would be grateful and attentive. 

And when she felt the cards were down and she couldn’t come up with solutions on her own,she did the thing she was familiar with. She returned to a life she knew. She refused to accept a life where love and peace and joy were the norm and forgiveness was only a prayer away.  

God continued to make his presence known to Andrea in the most unexpected ways.  Knowing I was  emotionally unprepared for Andreas next crisis, God took her to Tampa where she told me He almost immediately intervened and put her in front of some God fearing people who took her in as their own.  Within three months she met and married a good Christian man who clearly loves her and is unafraid of her past and the ghosts that sometimes try to overtake her.  They attend church together three times a week and his mother – a retired teacher – tutored Andrea in math until she successfully passed the math portion of her GED and received her diploma.  She enrolled in a local job training program to study to be a certified nursing assistant. For the first time in her life she wakes each morning with a spring in her step and a song in heart, knowing God has her under His mighty wing and He protects her from her own fear and leads her into each new day with hope thats he never thought she would have.

OOTL – The Stories – Ashley

     Ashley came to OOTL as a referral from a Law Enforcement Vice Officer who had arrested her on several occasions and we assisted her with contacting the Victims Advocate to press charges on a violent pimp who was a Person Of Interest in the homicide of an Orlando Police Office. Although he had “sold her contract” to another pimp that she had been with before and had gone on the lam to avoid arrest he was still an ever present threat in her own mind. Ashley was a product of her environment with little opportunity to even consider that she might have other options. Her mother had been involved in prostitution and had married one of her pimps. Both of Ashley’s sisters had been involved in the escort/modeling game and they were all in denial that prostitution was indeed – the “Family Business.”
     The new (or rather new this time around) pimp had given himself the name “Successful” and had dreams of becoming a player in the hip hop music industry. He supposedly owned a record label and was constantly “in the studio” and insisting that his girls work to fund his project. Successful was not what his name implied with the promise that they would live a life of privilege when he achieved his goal. He had 11 children from 11 different mothers and had never paid a dime for child support. Most of the women who had borne his children had worked for him as prostitutes and he was well known to law enforcement as the worst of the Romeo pimps.
     A Romeo pimp is a man who snares a woman by convincing her that they are in love. They target a woman who is looking to be loved and tell them they will fill the void in her life. They usually start off as just being friendly – then escalate the relationship with romantic elements – and then finally – “turn her out” when the couple is faced with a real or imagined financial crisis. He tells her that any financial considerations she provided and for the support of his dream to become a famous rap artist, a world class entrepreneur or the father of her children – would be repaid when he eventually made his fortune. It is not at all unusual for a Romeo pimp to be actively working other girls in the presence of the “new” recruit and
Successful was a mild mannered character that would only become violent if he had too much to drink. He was known to treat his stable as well as can be expected but when it was crunch time and the rent was due, he could pressure them into submission using all means necessary. Successful monitored all the girls weight and would send them to the school playground to exercise if he felt they were putting on a few pounds. He gave them new working girl names and allowed them to make one phone call home to family once a week.
In order to ingratiate herself to the pimp, Ashley took on a role that is not uncommon and she became his procurer and trainer of new girls that he would bring on. She would tell girls he was interested in that he was a great guy and very protective. She would say he was kind and generous and would make sure they were taken care of when he inevitably became wealthy and famous. Ashley was an excellent recruiter and she had gotten Successful several new girls while they were out touring the country in his rented Escalade. It was Ashley and another girl who recruited Andrea during a trip back from Atlanta. They had purposely made a stop in Savannah because the deplorable economic conditions there were an excellent opportunity to get good looking girls at a discounted price. The Savannah girls were more desperate and were more likely to get in a car with a stranger than the more experienced Atlanta girls. Ashley had out done herself on this latest trip and had returned to the cheap motel room in the most desolate of Savannah city limits with a half-starved Andrea and another young scared blonde girl who had just been dumped on the street because she had come up pregnant by a trick, She had already had three abortions in her short 20 years.
    The three girls and Successful set off south to Ft Lauderdale where the Sex for Sale trade was particularly proliferate among locals and tourists. The girls became close on the way back and- without Successful becoming wiser – Ashley shared her experience with OOTL and told them that she was going to run when they got back to Florida.
     Within a matter of weeks of being in Ft Lauderdale Ashley called and stated that she had stolen Successfuls laptop – with all of their contract information on it – and were seeking safe haven. There was a dramatic hideout in an abandoned school yard and several desperate phone calls to OOTL and the initial law enforcement officer that had referred Ashley to us.. They eventually slipped into a convenience store and awaited rescue by a police officer who took them to a local shelter to await the next bus to Orlando.
     Sometime in the night the blond girl took off and went back to Successful, leaving both Ashley and Andrea fearful for their safety. They made their way to Orlando and stayed in a hotel until the safe house was ready to accept them.
     They were at the safe house for an emotional 12 days before Ashley persuaded Andrea that they were in danger and they should run. Andrea – having been recruited and trained by Ashley – had little opportunity to make her own decisions had did as she was told. Ashley returned to her mother’s house where her 3 young children lived and Andrea worked streets until she had enough money to call Successful and beg him to take her back.
     Ashley stayed at her mother’s house with the blinds drawn until the case worker for Childs Services came and informed her that she was in violation of a no contact order of protection with her kids. She contacted OOTL again asking for assistance and we worked once again to assist her by taking her several trade schools and letting her imagine a life that didn’t involve selling her body.
     Ashley is the poster child for women who grow up in an environment where prostitution is not only accepted, but almost encouraged. The poverty stricken, low income, project style atmosphere breeds gangs and drugs and guns and anywhere that those elements are present there will also be prostitution. It has been this way for generations and the offspring of pimps and prostitutes brought up in foster care or by exhausted grandparents who have lived similar lives continue a cycle of impoverished existences where education rarely continues past the 8th grade. Few can read or write well and the importance of education escapes them because they only know what they see and the best they can hope for is a low paying job behind the counter of a fast food drive through window. The only successful people they see are the drug dealers who prey on the meager government assisted living that only further traps them by denying them the ability to excel – or even the knowledge that they could do better.
     Imagine that you woke up tomorrow with no skills – and no knowledge that you didn’t have any skills. No opportunity – and no knowledge that you had no opportunity. No education and no role model to show you an example of what a normal day might look like. In fact – in this very real example of how life in the projects is. The best opportunity you might have as an attractive young woman is to go to work as a lookout for a drug runner or hold onto weapons for gang members, or, already at high risk just by the nature of the environment, become the girlfriend of the “Romeo Pimp” so that you won’t risk being attacked by all the others and then – just like Ashley, you find yourself trading sex for money and giving it all up to the one who promised to protect you.
     To those of us who work with these women, it seems crazy that they don’t leap at the first chance they have to get out of that environment and get an education or a good job or learn new skills that will enable them to provide for their families. But life on the streets is measured in milliseconds and being in what any normal person considers a safe place is like being set on fire. They have never considered a future because one has never been offered so thinking in terms of anything other than what is going to come about in the next few hours is practically impossible. When confronted with an opportunity to enter a year long program, they go immediately into survival mode and survival means fight or flight, and because we refuse to fight they take flight and head straight back to the chaos of the street. A year to them is like an eternity. They have a hard time committing to a single day.
     We call these girls runners. We call them runners because no matter how close we come to considering them as “rescued”, the instant they sense a chink in the armor they take off. In hindsight it could be funny if it weren’t so tragic. What are they running from? A comfortable bed with clean sheets in an air conditioned home with hot running water and a full refrigerator? They would rather stand on a corner for 20 hours a day, having sex with strangers, risk contracting a venereal disease, being beat by a pimp or a trick or even being killed and dumped on the side of the road.
     A prostitute has a 20 percent higher chance of being murdered than any other human being on the planet. Her life span is considerably less than what the average person could expect if they ate nothing but fried processed fat and smoked cigarettes from morning ‘til night. And even when she’s in her prime and highly sought after because of her youth, the life will age her beyond her years and her eyes will become dead. As lifeless as the life she only pretends to live.
     Ashley fears that should she take a leap of faith and embrace a life beyond the confines of what she knows, then all of the time she has already wasted will taunt her every day. She doesn’t consider that her destiny could be one where she shows others that are trapped by their circumstance that there is surely a way out. Her past could be such an example of a God that loves and forgives all to take a shredded and tattered mess of several generations and repair it beyond her greatest expectations. If she could consider that there is the possibility of possibility, her life could account for the salvation of her own generation and for her children’s future, which if history indeed repeats itself, surely will score a similar outcome that she – and her entire family – has already dictated.
     Today Ashley is a well-recognized recruiter for yet another pimp in a house on “The Trail” and continues to draw new women into a life of prostitution. She is estranged from her three children and regularly sneaks into her mother’s house and leaves money to care for them. Her mother knows what she is doing to leave the cash but does nothing to stop it. She is currently married to a pimp who was convicted of murder and is serving 20 years in Florida State Prison. She grieves for him and I wonder sometimes if she doesn’t think back to her brief 12 days where she had a chance to break the chains that bound her and chose instead to fulfill her destiny. She told me once in a rare quiet moment when she wasn’t trying to shock me or find a way to manipulate me into complying with a ridiculous demand that she wished she would be murdered because she didn’t have the will to commit suicide and she thought that somehow if her life were taken in violence that God would forgive her of all her treachery and she would be able to go to heaven.
     All I could tell her was that she was already forgiven – that it had always been so.

OOTL -The Stories – Maggie

     I was so excited as I entered the courtroom today.  I had just returned to teaching my class “Live A Life You Love” at the jail after a six week absence to honor some other commitments I had made and Maggie – one of the girls I had been working with for about a year over two separate incarcerations – had agreed to enter the Safe House if I would go to court that afternoon and ask the public defender if she could be released on probation.  Otherwise she faced a one year sentence.  I could tell over the past few months she had gone through a lot of self reflection and that she was ready to give up the life and take the opportunity that was offered.

     This wasn’t a decision I was making on the spur of the moment or a result of being glad to be back teaching at the jail…I had been holding a bed open at the condo for several months in anticipation of Maggie’s arrival.  I had talked it over with someone whose judgement I have come to trust and after a quick stop at the office, I headed back to the Seminole County Courthouse and up to wait in the courtroom and waylay the public defender to plead Maggie’s case.  It was serendipity that he was standing outside the courtroom with her file practically waving at me.  I introduced myself and proceeded to pitch him on the idea that Maggie was really ready and she had a;ready agreed as long as the court would go along with it.  I gave him my card and briefly went over the program objectives and gave him a copy of the case management plan.

     I told him about the fact that she was most definitely sex trafficked and her more serious charges were the result of trying to avoid the act of prostitution.  I told him about her identification being missing and how OOTL was willing to help her with drug treatment, career counseling, housing, transportation – whatever she needed to make her life a life she loved living.  He conceded that he has seen her demeanor change over the past few months and after a few minutes of over-informing him about the dynamics of sex trafficking and prostitution, he was on Team Maggie and ready to take her case to the prosecutor.  He asked me to stay and I happily agreed.

     The doors opened and I took a seat in the second row.  The inmates that were first to go before the judge were led into the courtroom chained and I saw that Maggie was not among them.  I looked around for the public defender but he was already deep into his extensive file folders heavily laden with cases that he was due to represent.  One of the court officers was telling another officer that there were another 20 inmates waiting in a holding cell after this group was done.  The second officer groaned and turned to those of us in the courtroom to give us the rundown on courtroom etiquette.

     I had just turned my cell phone to silent when I felt a chill in the air and the hair raise on the back of my neck.  I looked up and a man sat down next to me – not giving me a second look – completely absorbed by his iPhone.  I had never seen this man before but a panic rose up in me like I hadn’t felt in years. 

     He was her pimp.  I knew it.

     A thousand thoughts ran through my head.  I didn’t want to be offering her safe haven with this man in the courtroom.  They would make me identify myself.  He would know where the safe house was.  He would know who I was.  He would know about my secret little project.  He might be dangerous.  He was a drug dealer.  He was an abuser.  He was a PIMP!  My arch enemy!  I started to break out in a sweat.  I had to get out!  I had to get away!  Any thought I had about being some kind of Joan of Arc for prostitutes was the farthest thing from my mind in that moment.

     And to add insult to injury…he stunk something horrible.

     I gave him a sideways glance but he was so wrapped up in whatever was going on with his phone he didn’t notice.  I got up to leave and I suddenly realized that there was no way I would be able to help Maggie get away from this guy if I couldn’t come up with a way to manage this situation.  As I was entering the aisle, I decided I would stay a little longer and moved into the front row…as close to the armed deputies as I could get.

     The judge entered and began calling cases.  She accepted a guilty plea from the first defendant and made him aware that he could be sentenced to 150 years for having child pornography in his possession.  Many other cases were continued and many cases were plead out.  Finally Maggie entered the courtroom, chained and handcuffed and was directed to the jury box to await her case being called.  The public defender left the courtroom and the pimp followed him out.  He came back shortly after and went to talk to Maggie.  The pimp didn’t return to the courtroom.

     The public defender spent a good ten minutes talking to Maggie and finally came over to me and whispered that she wanted to take the year that was being offered by the state attorney. 

     I blurted out that the guy who had been sitting behind me was her pimp.  I was almost in tears.  The attorney was clearly at first surprised and then suddenly realized that Maggie had been afraid to do anything but take the jail time while the pimp sat in the second row of the courtroom, talked to her lawyer and confirmed that she was not going to try to escape his manipulation, turn evidence against him or ask for mercy from the court.

     And there it was.  Human Sex Trafficking in his own backyard.  The fear.  The intimidation.  The coercion.  The fraud.  Everything he had seen on TV, he had suddenly – unknowingly – become a party to.

     At first he tried to talk me into the idea that having Maggie out on probation was a bad idea and that it would be better if she just served her time.  But his words got tangled in his throat and he gave up trying to convince me that this was what was best for Maggie.  He tried not to hang his head but he knew – he KNEW – this girl was the most common kind of sex trafficking victim. 

     The kind that no one cared about.

OOTL – The Stories – Alana

               Alana’s story began in Albuquerque New Mexico where she was literally kidnapped from a nightclub and transported across many state lines, eventually landing in an upscale hotel in the tourist district of Orlando.  There, among exhausted parents with small children, world class theme parks and the busy convention center business travelers, the fast growing criminal enterprise of Sex Trafficking grows at an alarming rate.  It is also one of the few areas in the United States where the local police department vice unit has accepted the challenge of treating prostitution as Sex Trafficking and have successfully prosecuted several cases where long prison terms have been imposed on pimps. 

               Alana was actually living in Tampa with her pimp and had accepted an escort service call off of a website called backpage.  They frequently made trips to the Orlando tourist district and set up an in-call situation at one of the hotels where families stayed while they were vacationing at Disney. 

               The pimp – known as Boogy Fox – was already under investigation by a federal task force because he had been known to force other young women into sexual slavery.  His last girl had run from him but was too afraid to make a statement and had disappeared from the radar.  They had made several attempts to set up a sting in Tampa but were unsuccessful.  After noticing that the pimp was posting ads in Orlando, they reached out to the local law enforcement and requested cooperation.  It was at short notice and on a Friday, but the officers immediately made arrangements with Alana by phone to meet her at the hotel they had booked through  After agreeing on a price for sex, they immediately let Alana know they were police officers and that they were not looking to arrest her – they only wanted to arrest the pimp.

               At first she denied any knowledge, but after assuring her they would be able to protect her and assist with getting her home, she allowed the detectives to call OOTL for extraction.  While they waited for us to arrive, she showed them the meticulous records she had kept, detailing every phone call, every client and every transaction.  She also showed them her bible which she obviously read regularly while highlighting passages – making exhaustive notes in the margins.  At the request of the federal officials, they did not arrest Boogy right there and then.  In fact, they went down to the car where he was waiting and told him who they were and what was happening with Alana.  They told him they were confiscating her laptop, her cell phone and that she was being arrested.  While he was obviously surprised, he didn’t say much and drove away.  The federal officials that had been tailing him when he left Tampa easily picked up his trail when he drove back into town and followed him to his home where they watched him “sanitize” his home and dispose of any incriminating evidence that Alana had ever been there.  He contacted friend who came and picked up a large amount of cash which was also confiscated by law enforcement.  Later, after obtaining a warrant to search his home, they found that he compulsively kept all of Alanas identity documents and her dental records in a safe hidden in the wall of his closet.  Alana confirmed that he had told that since he had her dental records there would be no way anyone could identify her body if she didn’t comply with his demands and he had to kill her.

               During their search, they broke down the door and removed nearly all of his personal possessions as they had been purchased with illegally obtained from the proceeds of prostitution – including his car, cell phone, televisions, stereo equipment and most of his clothing.  He was quite put out by the officers actions and angrily asked one of them what he was supposed to do now.  The officer pulled a quarter out of his pocket and tossed it on the now empty nightstand and told him to “call someone who cared”.

               I arrived at the hotel and faced two exhausted detectives who had been on duty more than 72 hours.  I quickly helped her put together what little possessions they were leaving with her and we loaded up my truck and headed to the OOTL house.  Alana was extremely nervous about what was going to happen to her and didn’t really seem to believe that she was not being taken to jail until we actually entered the condo.  We set her bags down and I showed her her bed and the bathroom as well as the generously stocked kitchen and told her she had access to anything she wanted.  I let her use my cell phone to contact her cousin who immediately offered to come and get her.  We agreed upon a time and place to meet and I left her to enjoy her newfound freedom.

               I came back about two hours later to make sure she didn’t need anything and found her fast asleep – fully dressed – on top of the covers.

               When I picked her up to go to breakfast the next morning, she was rested and much more relaxed than she had been the previous day.  And she was ready to share more of her story.

               Alana had met Boogy at a nightclub in downtown Albuquerque New Mexico.  He had wined and dined her.  Been flattering and attentive.  Told her she was beautiful and the kind of girl he could fall in love with.

               This was music to Alana’s ears.  Her relationship with the father of her two children was hopelessly deadlocked in a battle over custody.  Since Alana had no education, she was unable to provide a stable living environment and her Ex rarely allowed her to see the children and constantly told her she was a bad mother.  In fact, he told her she was a bad wife, a bad woman and a bad person in general.  Eventually she believed it and became reckless – a party girl.  And the perfect prey for a monster like Boogy.

               Boogy convinced her to return to Florida with him. He told her about his house and his job as a club promoter.  He promised her he would help her get custody of her children and they could all live together in bliss – away from the prying eyes of her family and friends and especially the controlling ex-husband.  It sounded like a dream come true and Alana packed a few things – Boogy said not to bring too much because he would buy her everything brand new! 

               By the time they drove through Houston, Alana knew she had made a mistake.  The clothes he bought her were nothing more than skimpy lingerie and he would take pictures of her and post them on a local website offering sex-for-sale.  At first she said no, but Boogy became menacing and violent so she eventually complied.  After Houston, they moved on to a rowdy New Orleans right before Mardi Gras and the pictures and ads started again.  It was in New Orleans that Alana was nearly killed by a client who wanted to play domination games with her as the submissive.  When Alana didn’t return to Boogy at the appointed time, he knocked on the clients door, and found a tearful and terrified Alana tied up in a closet.

               They made their way to Florida and before Alana knew it – she was trapped.  She was too ashamed to call her family for help and Boogy closely monitored her phone calls and computer access. Her days and nights became a single ongoing nightmare.

               It was four months before the sting in Orlando finally freed her from Boogy.  He was later convicted of various trafficking charges and Alana now lives back with her family and has reconciled with her children and is in school studying to be a nurse.

               It was her willingness to testify about Boogy’s brutality that brought about a ten year sentence and sex offender status for Boogy.

Out Of The Life – The Stories -“Sandy”

  In January of 2008 I met a prostitute inside the walls of the Seminole County Jail during my “Out Of The Life” Life Skills class who I will call Sandy.  She was 46 years old and this was her 78th arrest during her adult life.  She was only sentenced to a few months for a minor felony drug possession charge and had very seldom spent more than 6 months in jail at any one time.  All of her charges between the two local counties ranged from Lewd and Lascivious to Open Container and a couple of Solicitation charges in addition to countless drug and drug paraphernalia charges. 

              She was disconnected from her family – elderly parents and 3 children who were grown and lived out of state.  In fact, she was disconnected from her own self and was well known for being a belligerent and demanding inmate.  She was not well liked by her fellow inmates and had all the hustle of getting coffee and snacks from them for performing various chores and trading the small comforts one is allowed in jail.  An extra pillow can be traded for three instant cups of decaffeinated coffee and the willingness to take over other inmates daily chores could get her a few snacks and candy from another inmates bi-weekly canteen purchases.  Sandy was always on the lookout for someone who was new to the system and would befriend them with full intention of getting them to assist her in making three way calls to the outside and helping her garner information about what was going on in her “hood”.   Not that it mattered.  When Sandy was sober she was one of the nicest most generous people I had ever met, but when she was using, she was hell on wheels.  She knew all of the frequent flyers in this relatively small jail system and she didn’t like them any more than they didn’t like her.  Her relationship with other inmates was usually strained because she was combative and confrontational.  She didn’t fight enough – or in front of anyone important – who could send her to solitary – but she certainly didn’t try to keep any peace either.  She slept with one eye open and always had her ear tuned for an opportunity to hustle.

                Sandy was about as institutionalized as a girl could get even though she had never been to prison. She had spent enough time doing time she felt comfortable in jail even while swearing she hated it.  She was on a first name basis with the women’s chaplain who had been there more than 28 years.  She knew every correction officer in the building and kept a meticulous mental note of the ones she could manipulate and the ones she couldn’t. 

                Sandy was not anyone’s favorite person.  She would feign illness to get to the medical unit just for a little peace and quiet.  She didn’t have any friends, inside or outside the jail.  She had failed at nearly every drug program in the Central Florida Area.  She hadn’t done much better at transitional houses.  She had been to several and they all not only kicked her out, but refused to even consider letting her back in.

               At first she denied being a prostitute.  She liked to think of it as hustling for drug money.  To her, it wasn’t prostitution – it was commodities trading.  Much like a Wall Street stock trader would negotiate the price of wheat, Sandy would negotiate a sex act for drugs or money to get drugs.  She loved to drink, smoke crack or marijuana, snort cocaine or shoot heroin when she got the chance, and she never wanted to party with other people.  After she had negotiated her transaction she would disappear into the woods or under a bridge and get as high as she could stand for as long as she could stand it until her body demanded more drugs or alcohol and she would reenter society almost as a lioness would hunt for food.  The cycle was continuous with brief interruptions of sobriety forced upon her by the justice system.

               Every time Sandy was arrested, she would get prescribed anti-depressants and sleeping medication by the jail facility because she would answer the classification questions as if she were likely to harm herself or someone else.  She would discontinue them as soon as she was released.  Sandy lived in hell and she felt perfectly comfortable there.  She expected nothing better. 

                Sandy was only a little taller than 5 feet.  She was slender but in horrible shape.  She had a pasty complexion that was a result of poor nutrition and her color was exacerbated by the cold jail environment.  She had natural blond hair that was a bit stringy and unkempt and green eyes that could be very dark when she was agitated and very bright when she laughed, which was seldom. Sandy had been pretty at one time before all the drugging and drinking had ravaged her body and her mind.  She had lost all her teeth to the fist of a pimp she refused to work for and had been raped and beaten on so many occasions by street gangs she had lost count.  She was constantly outrunning one drug dealer or another to whom she owed money.  Just a few months before this latest arrest she had been dragged into an alley by a group of young men who were initiating a new member into their street gang and she was beaten and raped repeatedly, losing all of her identification as well as the cheap and broken dentures that were held together with super glue.  The boys – all under the age of 14 – crushed what was left of them with the heel of his boot as they left.  Sandy had managed to walk to her parents house over the next couple of nights, hiding in the woods and under bridges during the day out of fear of being arrested.  She had several fractured ribs and was bruised from head to toe.  She never reported the beating or the gang rape…after all she reasoned – with more than 50 arrests for prostitution, who would believe her?

                Her decent into hell had begun when she was young.  She had been sexually molested by her father from the age of eleven until a few days before her arrival at jail for this current charge.  Her mother was terminally ill and she routinely stole her mothers’ pain medication in addition to having her father regularly supply her with drugs so she would continue to have sex with him.  Sometimes she would beg him not to make her do it – and sometimes her wish would come true because he would be too drunk to perform – but in the end, she was complicit in her relationship with him as she was both his daughter and his lover.  After all – cheating with Sandy didn’t really count to him as a violation of his marital vows.  The sexual misconduct had gone on so long, neither of them was able to consciously delineate between the rightness or wrongness of the action.  Sandy knew it wasn’t necessarily right to have sex with her father in exchange for drugs, but the alternatives to supply her gargantuan need for the abuse of substances were far more horrific than what went on in that little guest room less than 20 feet from her mothers’ death bed.  And it was far better than turning tricks behind a gas station or risking running into a gang in the park.  Sandy considered the home of her abusive father the safest place she knew.

                Everything had come to a head for Sandy and her father one cold night in January because Sandy was too high to be a compliant sex partner and he raped her anyway.  The police were called, discovered – or were shown by her father – the drugs and the paraphernalia that he had secretly purchased and Sandy was locked up.  Her father told her had placed a restraining order against her and she would never be allowed to come back to the house again.  Her mother was within months of dying a horrible death from cancer and her children and her sisters had – quite literally – thrown up their hands in frustration and cut off what few lines of communication that were still open to Sandy.  She had three children she hadn’t spoken to in years.  She had never been a part of their lives.

               So there she sat – less than 30 days into a 6 month jail sentence.  She hadn’t written any letters or made any phone calls home.  In fact, she told our small support  group that she would never contact her parents again because she was so embarrassed at the shame she had brought to the family.  She had stated that no one else in her family was the way she was.  They were all smart and had good jobs.  I would later find that substance abuse was the norm in her family dynamic and Sandy was just carrying on a family tradition.  She was always generally uncooperative but she was more belligerent than ever and when she signed up to attend my class, stating that  she only did so to escape the daily drudgery of the pod she spend 24 hours a day in, hustling for coffee and treats from the more affluent inmates.

               Naturally, as was expected of anyone who wanted to catch the sympathetic ear of the women’s chaplain, she buried herself in the bible and was able to quote more scripture than I was.   I later discovered in her property an impressive collection of bibles that were issued by the chaplains office, reflecting living proof that Sandy took these bibles with her when she left.  Apparently, they could also be traded for drugs and were handy for rolling joints of marijuana laced with PCP.  The missing pages pretty much confirmed this little trick I had heard of but never actually witnessed.

               In spite of her difficult nature and her characteristic spitefulness, there was something about Sandy that resonated with me.  I wanted to help her.  I wanted her to help me.  I was new to this “ministry business” and I was enthusiastically naïve.  I longed to teach Sandy that she could live a life free from substance abuse and self neglect but it would turn out that Sandy would be the teacher and I would be the student and I would learn many things from Sandy.

               This book is a compilation of what I learned about myself and the girls I work with as we try to find our place in a society that is grudgingly sympathetic to our plight but unsure as to what station they are comfortable allowing us to serve.  We have all been involved in the sex industry in one form or another and we have all managed to overcome but we are plagued with memories, guilt, shame and a social stigma that very few understand. 

               Out Of The Life was born out of desire to reach out to girls like me as my husband and I sat outside on our patio on a balmy October evening in 2008.  We were talking about our lives and how we felt about what it had taken to get to where we were.  We had a small business of our own that was treating us pretty well although we didn’t own a house and certainly didn’t have any money in the bank.  We worked really hard, seldom taking time off – much less taking a vacation – but we enjoyed having all our bills paid on time and a little left over at the end of every month to go out to eat or catch a movie guilt free.  And best of all – we really enjoyed getting up every day – working hard and going to bed totally at peace with having a life we loved living.  It had not always been so.

               I had been thinking for a couple of years of writing a letter to my probation officer in Texas and apologizing to her for being such a rotten probationer.  I had called a few numbers and googled her name and discovered that she had died from Breast Cancer.  I was devastated.  I had written the letter so many times in my head that it almost felt as if I would be unforgiven forever if I failed to do something that would reconcile – even if only in my own head – the damage I had done.  I felt defeated and I hadn’t even begun to fight.

               This was not a new feeling for me.  My struggle to regain my footing in a life that had begun with so much opportunity and so much promise has spiraled out of control in the early 80’s and I had paid for much of it in the 90’s.

               Much like Sandy, I was completely undone by my circumstance and – even as lately as a few years ago – I feared that I would never be “OK”. 

               As I looked into Sandy’s eyes week after week, I saw myself from years ago, bound in hopelessness.  I knew how she felt in that moment.  And I knew – I just knew – I could help her find her way back.

               It turned out that Sandy was bound to the street with invisible ties that I never even came close to being able to see at the time.  She returned to the street 2 weeks to the day that I picked her up from the jail and we haven’t spoken since. But the lessons I lived will stay with me for a lifetime and have come to impact the manner in which I continue to try and reach them.

               There have been others – many others – that I was unable to “save” but I continue to have an open door in hopes that they will one day walk through it and find a life they never imagined.

               A Life they Love Living.


A few weeks ago, a friend and I went to shop at Target in Altamonte Springs for home accessories for her new apartment.  It is the first apartment she has ever had that is all her own and I have really been enjoying using my interior design skills on something other than my own home.  She likes bold colors and contemporary graphics and yet is unsure of what goes with what and it has been fun.  We are very close and while she may not always know what she likes – she knows what she doesn’t like and she’s fun to shop with.  There aren’t a lot of people I enjoy shopping with – so I was looking forward to it, even though we had both had a long day at work and were hot and tired and a little sticky from the muggy Florida summer day.  We grabbed a bright red cart (love that Target carts always work so well – no squeaky wheels here!) and headed to grab a few groceries and then into the Target Home Decorating mecca.  The goal was decorator pillows to tie together a contemporary red chair and a comfortable light tan sofa.  I tossed my purse in the cart and – as always – she let me push…cause that’s how do it…no discussion – just teamwork for the task at hand.

Target was PACKED on this Saturday afternoon with families and other women with clearly the same goal…enhancing their home without spending fortune.  She wanted to look at sheets for her new bed and I was focused on pillows so we split from the center isle – me still with the cart and her with her purse over her shoulder.  I found one set of perfectly functional red pillows in a microsuede fabric – but nothing in black.  I was very disappointed.  She had not found what she was looking for in bedding so she joined me in the pillow aisle and agreed with my suggestion that we look elsewhere for the black pillows.  We left the pillow aisle – me still pushing the cart and headed to the garden center for some patio chairs for the balcony.

As we passed the bedding department a gorgeous black rectangular pillow with white geometric dots caught my eye and I sprinted to it and showed it to her gleefully.

“This is perfect for the red chair!” I gushed.

“Is there another one?” she asked doubtfully.

“You only need one!”  I replied confidently.  “It will tie the sofa and the chair and the curtains together perfectly.”  Her eyes widened and she smiled and she pictured it as I had.  We tossed it in the cart with the other two pillows and were again headed to the garden department.  We found the right patio chairs and headed towards the checkout.

As we stood in line, we chatted about how everything was coming together and as we started to life the patio chairs to the check out girl I saw that my purse was no longer in the cart.  In fact, neither were the groceries.  Someone had switched our carts!

My heart nearly stopped and there was a flurry of panic between the two of us as we were at first confused and then realized the seriousness of the situation.  She immediately fled to retrace our steps and I headed to the customer service desk to report that my purse had been stolen.  And then something happened so quickly that was beyond belief.

Within seconds after the customer service desk got on the radio it seemed there were Target employees everywhere.  They were stationed at the exit and one headed to the bathroom and another headed to the office to go over the surveillance footage.  They communicated via radio as if the store were under attack of someone had reported a child missing.  As I relayed the information about the items in the cart as well as the color and style of my purse – as well as the contents – I realized very quickly I was in serious trouble.  Not only were the usual keys, wallet with credit cards and iPhone, the work phone and my favorite lipstick that I had JUST BOUGHT – but I had just finished picking up the cash from the days sales and had stuck more than $1000 in the side pocket.  My life was flashing before my eyes.  As Tina rushed back to the front, pale and completely freaked out, I was thinking of how I was going to tell Michael.

There was no getting out of it.  I didn’t even have the keys to get in the truck, nor the AAA card to call a locksmith, nor ID to prove it was me in order to get a key.  Telling him I had just lost more than $1000 as well as all the other stuff we women carry around in our purses…well it was just not going to be pretty.  I briefly thought about the possibility of breaking into the condo, knocking him unconscious and buying a ticket to Seattle with HIS credit card but immediately disposed of that idea since I would have to buy TWO tickets because I sure couldn’t leave poor Tina behind to face his wrath.  And besides – I wouldn’t have the strength to do any of that since I would have to walk home and breaking into our condo is like breaking into Fort Knox.

And just as I was considering different ways to kill myself, a Target employee rolled my original cart up to the front of the store and the army of red polo shirts dispersed without so much as a whisper.  She asked me to make sure everything was there and then – after I definitely crossed a personal boundary by hugging her and thanking her profusely – she disappeared as quickly as she had come.  The clerk checked us out as if nothing had happened, simply smiling at our gratitude and disbelief that all was as if it had all been a bad dream.

Tina and I walked to the car – pushing the correct cart – and discussed the incident – trying to imagine why we had been so lucky.  What had we done to deserve this extremely good fortune?

Tina was the first to say it.

“Looks like God is looking out for us.”  she said.  “I guess there really is something to this living a clean life stuff.”

I said a silent prayer of thanks – and then said it aloud because it seemed like the right thing to do.  I know that God has been looking out for me my whole life, but the last few years had been tough.  I knew that doors were opening – but it seemed like I have been running into a lot of roadblocks in my quest to help the women I work with.  Housing remains a problem.  So do services for Sex Trafficking victims.  So does financial support.  So does volunteer support.

The Target Team taught me a lesson.  They worked together seamlessly.  No judgement.  No questions asked other than the questions needed to solve the problem.  They didn’t bicker about who got credit for the good deed.  They didn’t post their response on Facebook.  They just did the right thing and they have a grateful customer for life.

Thanks Altamonte Springs Target Team.  And Thank You God for having them there.  And Thanks for the life lessons I continue to try to learn.

Doctor, Doctor – Give Me The News!

After yet another horrible experience with a member of the esteemed medical community – I feel compelled to share a letter I wrote to the offending physicians office and all of his partners voicing my displeasure in the quality of treatment and the lack of concern for the reason we came to see him.  I feel strongly that we must all be our own advocate for our health and those physicians that do not “measure up” should be called out and held accountable when they fail to provide quality care.  Now I am not asking them to heal all ills – I am just asking them to be careful and attentive to a patients needs.  My husband I and are both very vocal when we go to see a doctor and there is never any question about our communication skills which is one of the reasons this situation came as such a surprise!  As a result of this physicians lack of care, we are seeking the assistance of another physician and I will happily keep you updated as to the results.


Digestive Disease Consultants

623 Maitland Ave #2200

Maitland, FL 32701

Re:  Michael Maley, Patient


To Whom It May Concern:

My name is Jesse Maley.  My husband was referred to Dr Lebioda by our primary care physician, Dr. Gary Sturn whom we have been going to for close to 10 years.  We think very highly of Dr. Sturn and do our best to follow his instruction for our health care.

About 18 months ago my husband suddenly came down with a bout of diarrhea that wouldn’t go away.  It continued to get worse and worse and – after having some preliminary tests completed at the request of Dr Sturn to make sure there was no obvious parasite or bacterial infection that would be causing it, we were referred to Digestive Disease Consultants of Central Florida for a colonoscopy and some further testing.  The first available appointment was with Dr Popli.

We filled out the required paperwork and were seen relatively promptly.  My husband told him he was having 15 to 20 explosive bouts of diarrhea everyday – even waking him up at night.  Dr Popli didn’t seem overly concerned about this obvious abnormal activity nor for the obvious discomfort this daily experience was causing my husband and asked a few cursory questions, gave him a prescription for some anti-diarrhea medication and scheduled the colonoscopy appointment.  We both felt he was a little short and dismissive but since a requirement for a good doctor does not include a good personality, we followed his advice.  He didn’t seem particularly concerned since my husband was not complaining of being in any pain.  He suggested that the 1000 units of Vitamin C he took every day might be the culprit.  He did not make any suggestions as to dietary changes that could possibly improve the situation.  My husband did tell him that he was experiencing very low energy and Dr Popli recommended that he drink Gatorade to make sure he was properly hydrated.  It would turn out that this would be about the best advice we were ever going to get from Dr. Popli.

The anti-diarrhea medication gave my husband horrible cramps so we called the automated phone system and three days later after finally figuring out the combination of numbers one had to push in order to actually speak to a human being – were advised that they had called in another prescription to our pharmacy for another pill to stop the cramps.  This immediately caused concern for me and my husband as it seems unwise to any normal person to treat the side effects of one pill with another pill.  But again – he’s the Doctor.  We did as he asked.

After the colonoscopy in April of 2010 – and NO improvement in the diarrhea situation, he informed us that he didn’t see any problems from the procedure and would wait for the lab reports.  And then he prescribed another pill.  This pill was $600 for a months supply and also did nothing to improve the diarrhea.

At the follow up appointment, he discontinued the third pill since it wasn’t working and prescribed another pill and gave us a weeks worth of samples of this fourth pill.  When we went to the pharmacy to fill the prescription, it was over $1000 for a months supply.  We called the automated phone system and asked for an alternative and received no response.  I finally went to the office and announced that I was going to sit in the waiting room until I received more samples of this expensive medication because I wanted to make sure it would work before I spent two car payments on it.  Eventually they gave me another two weeks supply when it was clear I wasn’t leaving.

At the next appointment, we told him this fourth pill series wasn’t doing anything either to improve the situation and we declined to fill the prescription at the pharmacy.  Dr Popli said he didn’t know what was wrong and said to continue to take the first and second pills (which hadn’t worked) and suggested we call to make another appointment in a month or so.  We left the office feeling pretty depressed that we had no resolution but we had managed – through this very expensive series of Doctors visits and procedures to completely fulfill the annual deductable so we knew that most of the follow up would be at the cost of the insurance company.  We called a month or so later to inform Dr Popli that there had been no improvement but no one ever returned our calls to complete the appointment process.  We called several times with no return calls.  They also never responded to our requests to call in refills for the first two pills.  We resigned ourselves that this whole diarrhea thing was just something we would have to live with.  Dr. Popli said nothing was wrong, so maybe it was all in his head.  Or maybe it was stress related.  Or maybe the moon is made of cheese.

Interestingly enough, in November of 2010, my husband saw a commercial asking for patients who had diarrhea with no diagnosis to come in for a clinical trial at a local clinic.  After making sure there was no chance there would be a placebo used, he went to the clinic and signed all of the paperwork, some of which was asking for the release of records from previous Doctors.   They wanted him to stop taking one of the medications he was taking for an unrelated issue before starting him on the clinical trial and we scheduled an appointment to come in to start the trial after he had been off this medication for a month.  When the month had transpired, we returned to the clinic to start the trial full of hope that someone was going to help my husband with this aggravating problem which had not improved in the least since it had begun.

The clinician brought us both into her office and began to go over all of the material that had been faxed to her from Dr Poplis office.  There we saw – in three different places – a diagnosis of “Colitis”.  There were also notes from Dr Popli speaking of how well my husband had responded to the fourth and final medication and how he felt the problem was “solved”.

We were appalled.  Solved?  After 18 months of non stop bowel explosions – sometimes numbering in the double digits – and Dr Popli was patting himself on the back and considering the case “solved”?  In what Universe is it normal to have 15 to 20 explosions of diarrhea on a daily basis – and what kind of Human Being – never mind a Doctor – no – a digestive specialist – wouldn’t – at the very least – tell his patient what his diagnosis was?

I was in tears.  My husband came very near tears himself.  The doctor who was conducting the clinical trial was choking back tears seeing that my husband suddenly understood that all this time he was suffering and knowing that you people knew he was suffering and had not done anything to alleviate his condition.  We couldn’t understand how there would be any reason that you wouldn’t tell us what was wrong and offer a solution.  Even the clinician was without any kind of explanation as to how this could “slip” through a such a large organization such as Digestive Disease Consultants.  Is Colitis not “disease” enough for Digestive Disease Consultants?  Were you hoping for something more exciting?  More disturbing?  Was it not disturbing enough for you that my husband has gone through nearly 18 months of unexplained and untreated diarrhea?  Were you hoping that this was something that would just “go away” much as you dismissed us from your office without so much as a how-do-you-do?

We referred to another doctor – at another digestive specialist clinic – by the clinical trial people with the assurance that this referral would be with a doctor who would consider the importance of the distress this diarrhea was causing my husband and would be diligent about seeing it through to the end.

I feel that – due to your negligence in providing the diagnosis to my husband – we are entitled to a full refund for all money that was paid out of our pocket for services rendered at your clinic.  I believe this is in the area of around $1500 but are willing to accept whatever your records reflect.  This money will be given to our new digestive specialist who has definitely impressed us with his thoroughness.  You can keep what ever you got from the insurance company.  We are having to start meeting our $3000 deductible all over again and we wouldn’t have had to do this if you had stepped up to the plate and completed the process that is expected when a person visits a specialist for an issue and a doctor gives the diagnosis to everyone EXCEPT the patient. 

Really?  Really!

I am not asking you to admit any wrong doing and I certainly am not expecting an apology for your lack of professionalism.  I don’t intend to sue as long as this doesn’t turn into one of those negligence cases where the patients life could have been saved had you guys been on your game.  At the end of the day it is the responsibility of the physician to see to it that every “i” is dotted and every “t” is crossed.  There should have been some follow up phone call to check on the patients well-being.  It’s a simple courtesy.  Delaying or ignoring a diagnosis is bad enough but having a diagnosis and completely denying the patient this information is the very definition of negligence.

I would challenge you, Dr. Popli, to set your watch to go off 15 times tomorrow and imagine how miserable my husbands quality of life while he was rushing to find bathroom so that his bowels could literally explode into the toilet and decide for yourself whether you think a refund is a reasonable request. 

Sincerely Pissed:


Jesse Maley

cc:        David Lebioda, M.D.

            Richard J. Straker, M.D.

            Barry R. Katz, M.D.

            Harry H. Shephard, M.D.

        Raaj K. Popli, M.D.