The Roots are Strong

images2My Aunt Ann had a massive stroke over the weekend and they don’t expect her to survive the weekend.  And honestly – I’m not sure that she would want to.  She would consider it to be undignified and bothersome but she would do it in a way that would make it sound positive and uplifting, for she had that gift.

My Aunt Ann was the quiet voice of wisdom in the darkest of times and words she spoke to comfort or advise or console were always the exact right thing to say.  These words were often repeated later as the true value and depth of their meaning sometimes took a while to sink in.  When my sister and her husband had suffered a devastating loss and was sitting in silence on her front porch, my Aunt told her a story about the tulips that graced the flowerbed around the house as if it were a passing thought with no reference to their current state of hopeless abandonment.

I come from a family of farmers and gardeners and although I do not possess the coveted green thumb, I always thought that it was the keepers of the ground that truly understand hope and patience.  There is no immediate gratification in farming or gardening…it is a labor of love and patience and understanding that a tiny seed that in itself promises nothing, will someday overcome all odds and become a thing of beauty or nourishment for others to enjoy.

Tulip bulbs are planted deep in the ground in the fall but don’t make their glorious appearance until after Springtime.  This is a labor of Hope for the Gardener as one never knows what their future will be until the time is right.  The Ground gets very dry and cold and hard and the snow covers the ground they wait in for many months.  My Aunt had planted these bulbs – as she had done for as many years as I can remember in full expectation that they would become a thing of beauty for an entire Summer.

That year had been a very cold winter.  Unusually cold – even for the Midwest.  It has run longer than usual and she had feared that the tiny plants that had barely peeked their stalks out from the ground before a last frost late came unexpectedly and froze them solid.  Too cold, my Aunt had imagined for the Tulips to have any hope of living through it and blooming as they usually did every spring.  For a few weeks each morning as she left for her job as an editor of a small community newspaper, she observed the barren ground, disappointed, but not her faith not shaken that all the work she had done to plant these flowers would go unrewarded.

And sure enough, one morning when the sun had warmed the ground and everything around it, she saw that the tulips would not only live, but that they would be the most beautiful and strongest flowers she had ever had.

And as she finished the story to my sister, she said, “You see…the roots were strong.”

I would like to always remember the strength and patience and hope that my Aunt Ann always gave away so freely.  She was a great woman who was one of the first in my family history to go to college, marry and work a full time job while raising a family and was a leader in her small community.  She went to church every Sunday at the picture book Country Baptist Church in town that had a maximum capacity of about 100.  Many years after she and her husband sold their interests in the lumber yard that supplied many of the surrounding communities with building materials, she supported my Uncle Don in his bid to become the County Sheriff.  She used Oil of Olay every morning and evening and ironed her sheets before making the beds in her house that you could bounce a quarter off.  Her house was always spotlessly clean and she had the same phone number for over 60 years and never got a cell phone.  She dressed as if she were going to church every day, complete with hair and make up done with care and precision.  She had a musical laugh and a smile that lit up a room.  Her doors were always open and she had a heart of solid gold.

I will miss her every day.


Stories From Behind The Crimson Curtain

Tyra was a referral from local law enforcement.  She had been discovered in a sex trafficking sting where they were looking for a particularly slippery trafficker, but while in the process of tracking him down Tyra’s probation for deriving proceeds from prostitution in a neighboring county was violated and she was serving out her time in jail.  The vice officers from Orange County were distraught over the other counties disdain of what the enlightened counties vice unit considered to be victimization and the more dark ages county considered to be criminal and wanted to offer her some kind of support or assistance. 

            As with any effort to establish communication with an inmate in the criminal justice system, it involves a hundred forms and even more phone calls to the wrong person who either leaves the caller on hold for the rest of the afternoon or offers to take a message that you can see being tossed to the side of the incredibly high stack of paperwork the corrections system is buried by.  Something magical must have happened that day because the chaplain answered the phone on the first ring, took my information and gave me the mailing address to send Tyra a letter and an application for entry into a safe house. 

            Tyra filled out the application and mailed it back to me within a couple of days and I called the chaplain again to let him know that OOTL would be at the jail at 5am on her release date to pick her up and transport her to the safe house.  He relayed the information to Tyra and called me back to confirm this was what she wanted to do.  I sent a letter to the jail for them to enter into their system so that when she was released, the releasing officer on duty would know that she had transportation and a place to go.

            I arranged with a professional team that worked with OOTL to provide us with security and transportation during extractions to pick Tyra up and passed the application on to the safe house so they would be prepared for her arrival.  This all sounds organized and straightforward, but each and every girl, each and every program,and each and every agency have their own particular way of handling intake and it is always a struggle comply without some conflict arising that has to be resolved with another agency and with another 100 or so phone calls.  The benefit of accessing a girl straight from jail is that most of her medical issues have been addressed and the absolute necessity of a TB screening is completed as well as much of the other medical and psychological screening can be released to us with little more than a signed Release of Information.

            Tyra’s release date arrived and all the plans were in place and the transportation team waited outside the doors of the jail and when they saw her come out, they also noticed she looked afraid and it would soon become clear why.

            We had not been the only ride home Tyra had that early morning.  Her pimp was also in attendance and without introduction she slipped past the transportation team and headed towards his predictable Cadillac.  My security guys are not shy and they consider their provision of transportation as their own obedience to God and they didn’t even hesitate before heading to the car and talking both of them to rolling down their windows and offering to pray with them.

            There was a stunned silence and then – after gaining a visual ok from the pimp, Tyra offered her hand to the leader of the security team and he said a brief prayer requesting God protect and provide for Tyra all that she would need.  While doing so, he slipped my card into the sleeve of her jacket and then clasped her wrist and ended his prayer.  They stood up and walked to their car and the Cadillac roared to life and exited the jail grounds quickly.

It was in less than two days that Tyra called – clearly high and clearly panicked.  She had been beaten up and couldn’t give me a good location.  When I tried the number a few hours later, a man answered and told me that Tyra had checked out of the motel and taken the $40 security deposit and disappeared.  There was no discussion of her physical condition and he seemed unconcerned over her well being but he was furious over the loss of the $40.

Tyra called again a few days later, again clearly high, and she begged for me to come get her.  We agreed on a meeting place and time and I arrived 30 minutes early to have time to scope out the surrounding area.  When 30 minutes passed on our agreed meeting time I called and got no answer.

About three weeks later she called once again asking for rescue from a notorious motel in the area of Orlando known for high sex industry activity.  We again agreed on a meeting time and place and we went through the same scenario with a few more requests for additional time and then – once again – no answer after several hours passed.  Tyra disappeared from my radar for almost a year.

And then suddenly at 11pm on a Thursday in October, she emailed me asking to be contacted by the same detectives that had tried to help her before.  Her disappearance was for a good reason.  She had ended up going to prison on more Violation of Probation charges and had just been released 5 weeks ago.  It just happened that it was within the days of OOTL opening a crisis intervention home. I knew this was some sort of sign that another opportunity was presenting itself for Tyra’s rescue and restoration, but this time I had something to offer.  Tyra entered the OOTL house on October 4th, 2011 and while she exhausted from just living her life the past 2 years – I saw tentative hope in her eyes and hesitant dreams starting to form about her future. 

I always ask the girls what they think was the defining moment for them to quit the life.  They always look at me like I must be a little crazy for asking such a dumb question – as if any of them really chose for things to end up the way it did. 

Today Tyra is working at a job that pays her far more than she ever made as a prostitute and the joy of living what she calls “The Square Life”.  She has saved more than $1000 towards paying off her crippling court fines and getting her drivers’ license back.  We still fight drug addiction and alcoholism issues.  Her abandonment issues have come full circle and she recognizes her shortcomings but isn’t terribly excited about doing anything about them.  She is easily overwhelmed and gets stressed by everything and by nothing.  Her moods go from extremely happy to overwhelming sadness.  She is desperate to be loved and constantly seeks the “love of her life” in the most unlikely and most unsuitable of men. 

It is impossible to recognize the love of another if you are unable to love yourself.