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.

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