RISEing above her past
“Angel” remembers every detail of turning her first “trick.” Just talking about it brings back all the pain and tears.
The road to that fateful street corner encounter in Toledo, Ohio, had been a long and painful one for Angel. She is now finding help, healing, and the power of God’s love through the Salvation Army’s Recovering Individuals from Sexual Exploitation (RISE) program.
At age 4, Angel was sexually molested. At 8, she was gang raped. When her mother died, Angel used drugs to numb the pain and was soon hooked and willing to do anything to fund her addiction.
One day, while on a street corner panhandling, a “john” pulled up and offered her $50 to go to a secluded area. Angel told him she wasn’t like that, but the man came back two more times.
“The more I stood there, the sicker I felt from the drug withdrawal,” Angel recalls. She considered the offer. After all, she thought, it wouldn’t be that bad or take that long.
When the man returned a third time, Angel relented.
“We were in the back of his car. At that point, I almost felt like I had been raped all over again,” she says. “The whole thing just made me feel so disgusted. The only thing I thought I could do to forget that feeling was to go get high.”
In 2008, Angel lost her house and car because of a heroin addiction. She then lost custody of her four children.
“I was also homeless,” she recalls. “It had entirely destroyed my life. It’s a horrible, vicious cycle you get stuck in.
“That’s when I realized I had to do something. I had to prove to myself and to [child protective services] and to my children that I was not going to continue to live like that. I wanted to be the best person and mom that I could be.”
‘A different person’
The drug court referred Angel to RISE, which helped her get into substance abuse therapy and on the road to being reunited with her children. She also is going back to school and hopes to soon become a certified health worker.
“I will be able to give back what was given to me and help people get their lives on track, which is really rewarding,” she says.
Angel said Marchon Noon, the RISE coordinator in Toledo, has also helped her secure permanent housing and legal advice, giving her a “voice” in court.
“If it wasn’t for [Noon], I wouldn’t be in school right now,” Angel says. “This program has helped me find myself and is making me a better person. I’m gaining self–worth. I’m in a better place. I’m a completely different person.”
Coming back strong
“If it wasn’t for this program, I wouldn’t be sitting here right now. I would either be in jail or dead. I don’t think I would be the person I am or feel the way I do about myself without RISE.
“I do not put a needle in my arm anymore. I do not put a straw in my nose anymore. I do not smoke pot anymore.”
Noon said Toledo was ranked 4th in the nation for sex–trafficking arrests and convictions from 2006–2012. The city’s proximity to the Canadian border and major cities such as Cleveland, Columbus, and Detroit, Mich., make it a “hub” for sex trafficking.
“I think if you live in Toledo, you’re at higher risk for either being prostituted or involved in drug abuse because of the availability of everything here,” Noon says.
RISE is part of the county’s anti–human trafficking coalition. While other organizations distribute hygiene kits to women in the streets, RISE focuses on intensive case management, advocacy, referrals, and education.
Some of the clients come through the courts, as did Angel.
“I’ll take those clients on—no questions asked,” Noon says. “We provide services to everyone. Nobody gets turned down.
“Our strength here is case management. We take a holistic approach.”
RISE operates out of a corps in Toledo and the staff includes Noon and two caseworkers.
Every Tuesday, about 10 to 20 women gather at the corps for a meeting where they receive love, support, a lunch, and a devotional.
“We try to give them empowerment tools,” Noon says.
Noon said she was overjoyed when a client recently took a RISE brochure back to the halfway house where she was staying. The next day, Noon received calls from some of the women.
“These women have gone through the same things I have,” Angel says. “Some have even had harder lives than I have had. To see where they were then and where they are now lets you know there is hope.
“We feel better about ourselves knowing that we have people behind us who want to help us become the best we can be. They give us tools that we really need and that aren’t offered to us in any other situation.”
Noon says the women set goals and a schedule. RISE helps them with such issues as housing & utilities, health & hygiene, mental health, transportation, education, and pursuing a career.
“They pick a path and we help guide them on that path,” she says.
Noon said it’s not easy to tell a woman who is making $50 a trick to take a minimum–wage job, but she presses on.
“We want to show them there is another way besides prostitution,” she says.
Angel said the RISE program has also helped supply toiletries, clothes, food, school supplies, and bus tokens.
“They will do anything for their clients,” she says. “They will sacrifice their time and their energy to help us.”
Noon thought her career would be policy–based, but “once you get involved and you hear the heart–wrenching stories from these women, it makes you want to get involved and do something about it.”
Noon said whether it’s to provide transportation or money for a woman to do her laundry, she is there to help—even after hours or on weekends.
“I’m on call for Christ,” she says. “What would Christ do? If a woman is vulnerable and needs me, I’m there. Christ calls on us to seek out people who are in the most need.
Power of prayer
“We show God’s love by helping women, starting with their smallest needs. It’s expressing the love of Christ through the work that we do and the love that we share.”
Tara Woodbury, a RISE caseworker, said she also shows that love by praying with the clients who are open to it.
“They often want that prayer,” Woodbury says. “It just brings another level of healing to them. We offer something that is missing from other agencies.”
“To me, it’s more than a job; it’s a ministry. It’s an extension of my faith. This is an underserved population that needs a tremendous amount of love, trust, respect, and care.”
Angel, who went to church as a girl, said the pain and suffering she went through as an adult made her question God, but RISE “has made me really draw closer to Him.”
She now sees God at work in her everyday life, including the time she prayed about her housing situaton and Noon called that very moment to tell her RISE could help.
“It literally gave me goosebumps because I had just asked God to help me,” she said.
Angel said she still sees her young son most days—but it’s only when he passes by on his school bus. On a recent morning, as she walked to rehab, Angel thought she was too late to see him, but then she recognized his bus and ran to wave.
“It was the most amazing feeling,” Angel says. “It was early in the morning and the sun was just coming up and this sense of calmness just came over me. I thought to myself, thank you so much, God, for allowing me to see my son.
“It was a spiritual moment and made me realize that everything I’m doing is for a reason.”
by Robert Mitchell
|“Angel” talks about the dangers of heroin, a theme
of an upcoming issue of SAConnects:
|“I know a lot of women who have turned tricks because of heroin. It is a vicious, disgusting, and horrible drug. You will absolutely do anything you possibly can to get that drug.
“Anybody can get it. It doesn’t matter who you are or where you live. It doesn’t matter what color you are or your social status. Heroin is the easiest drug to get. It’s easier to get than marijuana. You can find it on every corner. It is in every school. It can be found synthetically in most homes.
“I took pain pills, but they were too expensive. Heroin is way easier to find and cheaper to get.
“I became consumed. It makes you do terrible things to get that high.
“It does not take long to get addicted, especially if you already have an addictive personality. When that’s the case, you get addicted to it harder and faster. It destroys your life. It destroys everything.”
|Need help with an addiction?
The Salvation Army is always there to help.