Archive for the ‘jail’ Category

She was so pretty even with the scar that ran down the right side of her face. It was still pink and the surgeon hadn’t done a very good job of stitching it up. I could still see little marks where they had been.

She often ran her hand over it when she talked, completely unaware of doing so. It was as if as long as she knew it was there, that meant she was alive.

“How old were you when it all started?” I asked. Even though I had asked the question, I didn’t want to hear the answer. A part of me hoped she would burst out laughing and tell me they had all played a terrible prank on me and I really wasn’t talking to a prostitute.

A prostitute.

A hooker.

An actual whore. A woman who got paid money to sleep with men. The type of woman I had always heard was beneath me and society. The type of woman men went to for various reasons and who often said they wished all women were whores so they could be properly satisfied.

I could never quite assimilate the dichotomy between respecting a woman and in the same breath wanting her to be a whore.

How could anyone respect or even want to be near such a vile creature? A slut and something worse than a rabid dog.

I waited while she thought about her answer. She was so tiny and petite. Her dark hair was pulled back and hung down her back. She was too thin and her nails were chewed down and ragged. Her dark eyes darted and she rocked slightly in her chair.

“I dunno. I guess about 12 or so. Something like that,” she said and looked down at her shoes. Her name was Andrea. She was wearing a baggy pair of jeans and a sweat shirt. Her hand came up quickly and rubbed her scar again.

“Twelve?” I asked and gasped. My hand came up to my neck. She shrank away from me and bent further down towards her knees.

I wasn’t prepared for her answer. My mind reeled as I thought of myself when I was twelve. I was still in love with John Lennon, played records all day long on the weekends and barely knew what sex was.

“Yes ma’am” she whispered. She was hanging her head down in shame.

I felt horrible about my reaction. I hadn’t meant to make her feel bad. I leaned over and gently placed my hand on hers and patted it.

“I’m sorry. I didn’t expect for you to have been so young,” I said.

She looked up at me for a brief moment, smiled and looked away. “I didn’t like it. It hurt really bad.”

My stomach clenched into a knot and I fought the urge to scream. My throat closed up and sweat broke out on my forehead. I was going to be sick.

This wasn’t right. This wasn’t what I had heard all these years. These women chose to do this, just like I chose where I worked and what I did. They chose to be whores and chose to be used by men sexually because they liked it.

I was better than them. I wasn’t a whore or a slut. Only bad women did these things. That’s what everybody said so that made it true.

But she wasn’t like that. She was sweet, polite and funny. She was a decent and kind young woman.

“So…how…I mean…” I stammered. I didn’t know what to say or what to ask.

“We needed the money, I guess,” she said.

“Who is we?” I asked.

She shrugged her shoulders and brushed her hair back. “My family. My parents couldn’t feed us, so a man gave them money for me.”

I didn’t believe her. I didn’t want to believe her.  This had to be some tall tale to gain sympathy from me. These things did not happen. They were all urban legends. They had to be because if they weren’t, then everything I had ever been told was a lie.

I could hear the anguish in her voice. I looked closer at her face. Her eyes were dry but her voice dripped with tears and despair.

I looked up. Several of the other women were watching me. Jackie smiled at me and nodded. She seemed to know what I was thinking. “Yes, it’s true,” she whispered. Suzanne reached over and grabbed Jackie’s hand and held it.

“You? And you too?” I asked them. Jackie and Suzanne nodded.

“You guys are prostitutes too?”

“Yep,” they both said.

“Nice to meet you Susan,” Suzanne said and laughed. I guess the look on my face earned me her teasing.

“Does it matter to you?” Jackie asked me and leaned forward.”Would you like us to leave because our presence is offensive to you now?”

“No,” I said. “I just..”

“Never met a real live one before?” Suzanne asked. She had a half-smile across her face.

“No, I haven’t,” I said. I felt foolish and judgmental.

“Well, we don’t bite, unless you pay us first,” she said and laughed.

“DON’T SAY THAT ABOUT YOURSELF!” I said and shot up out of my chair. My mind was reeling. All that I had known to be true was gone. It dissipated and I had nothing to hold onto.

Suzanne’s smirk was gone. Jackie sat back and Andrea cowered in her chair.

“Don’t ever make fun of yourself again. At least not around me. I won’t have it,” I said. I stood there, looking at all of them. I didn’t know what I wanted to say but I knew what I didn’t want to hear.

“Yes ma’am,” Andrea whispered. I sat back down, took a deep breath and tried to gather my composure. I had shouted at them and I should not have. It bothered me much more than them. They were used to being yelled at, shoved around, raped and tossed aside as I was going to learn in the weeks ahead. But at that moment, I knew none of that.

As soon as I had raised my voice, they shrank back. It didn’t matter that I was also a woman or that I would never harm them. We were not equals. They were inmates and I was a civilian. I had complete power over them and I could use it to help them or to harm them.

The call was all mine and they had no choice but to take whatever I gave out. One word from me and they could be sent back to their cells without any further explanation or proof. I could make their lives a living hell if I wanted to.

Or I could help them as difficult as it might be.

I had a choice. I had come to a crossroad. A very unexpected crossroad that I didn’t know what to do about. If I turned left, I could ignore who these women really were and carry along with the program and choose to not know anything I didn’t want to know.

Or I could turn right and enter a world that I knew nothing about, that was filled with darkness, horror, pain and evil. If I did that, I had no one in my life to pull me out of it. I would have to go it alone and hope for the best for myself.

“I’m sorry I yelled at you guys,” I said.

“I guess we shocked the shit out of you,” Suzanne said and smiled. Her eyes were kind and the smirk was gone.

“You might say that,” I said and smiled back. It was getting late and I needed to get them back to their cells.

I turned and looked at Andrea. Her head was still down and she was being as quiet as she could be. I placed my hand on her shoulder. She looked up.

“You have nothing to be ashamed of,” I said.

“I keep telling myself that,” she said.

I dismissed the class and told them I would see them again next week. I drove home, lost in thoughts that I wanted no part of. I pulled up into my driveway and cursed myself for not leaving any lights on. My house was dark and I hated that.

I grabbed the mail, opened the front door and turned on the lights while my dogs clamored for all of my attention. I petted them and put them outside. I changed into my pajama’s and sat down on the couch to read my mail.

It had finally arrived. I knew it was coming and here it was.

The foreclosure notice on my house.

It was finally real.

I knew I was going to turn right at my crossroad and turning left had never really been an option.

To be continued as I begin my adventure into human trafficking.

“Hey you! Long time since we’ve talked,” I said when my phone rang and I saw it was Tammy. I had not talked to her in a few years.

“Hi Susan. How are you?” she asked.

We spent a few minutes getting caught-up. I had met Tammy 20 years earlier when we were both working our program in jail. She had moved to Texas and continued her work as a volunteer. Somehow years had passed, but hearing her voice again, it felt as if I had just talked to her the week before.

“I needed someone to talk to. I hope it’s OK that I called…”

“Of course it is!” I said. “Funny you should call right now while I’m grading lessons. I just took on a bunch of inmates and getting them going. Kind of cosmic, you know? Besides, what else am I going to do on a Friday night except correspond with inmates?”

That thought made me laugh and cringe at the same time.

“Well, I just got a letter from one of my guys and I didn’t expect it. Not now. Not after everything that happened. It shook me up and I didn’t know what to do or who to call, so I called you,” she said.

Her voice was starting to waver. She was holding back tears.

“What did the letter say? Who is it from?” I asked. I sat back and waited.

She sniffled, cleared her throat and took a deep breath. “It’s from Kamal and…” she said and started to cry.

I didn’t know why she was crying. I vaguely remembered hearing about him from a long time ago. He was some young man in prison that Tammy was working with. Just one of many. His name meant nothing to me.

“Anyway, I got his letter today and I didn’t expect it since he’s dead,” she said.

“He’s dead? Oh I’m so sorry. What happened?”

“He was executed. I was a witness,” she said and the sobbing began.

I didn’t understand but I kept quiet while she cried. She was a witness? She watched this?

My head began to spin. I took the phone outside and lit a cigarette. My hands were shaking and I was nauseous.

“You OK?” I asked. It was a stupid question but I had to say something. I couldn’t listen to it any more without saying something. Anything to stop the deep and overwhelming grief she was feeling.

“Take your time. I’m not going anywhere,” I said.

She took a couple of deep breaths. “I started working with him years ago. He was on death row and wanted to do anything and everything to make things right, be a better person and he had no one to talk to.”

“Yes, I understand,” I said.

“So one letter turned into hundreds over the years. He worked hard on his lessons and every time he was done with one program, he requested another. Over time…”

“Over time, you got to know him…”

“Yeah. That,” she said.

“He wrote about his crimes and what he had done. He talked about his appeal, his attorney and anything that was on his mind. He always had hope that it would all work out, that someone would listen to him and see that he hadn’t done all the terrible things they said he did. But he was poor. He had no money and no family or friends…”

“Except you, right? You were his friend,” I said. Tears were starting to burn my eyes.

“Yeah, just me. Me, who won’t ever see him or meet him. Me, who has a good life and who lacks for nothing. Just me,” she said.

“And suddenly one day, you realize how important you are to another human being and you never meant for that to happen,” I said.

“Yeah, that,” she said.

“When I got his letter that the execution was on, I didn’t believe it. How could this happen? I mean, I know I don’t know much about it except what he told me, but I felt like I was losing my dear friend.”

“That’s because you were. They were putting him down, just like we do with our pets,” I said. Flashes of too many death walks to the vet flashed through my mind. I had no concept of what that was like to watch a human being be put down. Did they comfort him? Did they soothe him and hold his hand? Did they speak in hushed voices? Did they show him any compassion and forgiveness or was he treated roughly? How do you look into someone’s eyes and then flip the switch or inject them?

My tears started to flow as I grieved for my friend and Kamal.

“He asked me to be a witness. I was the only friend he had and he didn’t want to die alone with only strangers staring at him. He didn’t want hate to be the last thing he saw before he died…” she said and the sobbing began again.

She didn’t want to go and yet couldn’t say no. She knew she couldn’t live with herself if she didn’t go. She held her chin up and worked to get the necessary clearance and approval. She drove for a day and arrived at the prison. She drove through the gate after an intense security check. She drove by the protesters who were divided between wishing Kamal an eternity in hell and those wanting to stop it. There were only a few. It struck her as a hobby for all of them.

She was ushered into a room and waited. Only a few people were in attendance. They did not speak or look at each other. Curtains opened and he was brought in. The two had never met and didn’t know what each other looked like. He scanned the room, saw her and smiled. She smiled back.

That was all she could tell me. It was more than enough.

“That was a few weeks ago. Then I got his letter today. His letter to me that he asked to be mailed after he died,” she said.

“Go ahead and read it,” I said.

Dear Tammy,

If you are reading this, then it means I’m dead. I don’t know if you were there to say good-bye, but if you were, I know it was hard for you. If you weren’t then it’s still OK.

Thank you for your friendship. Thank you for always being there when I wrote you. I’m not good at putting all these crazy thoughts into words. My time is coming soon. I’m scared but I’m tired too. I am not wanted as a human being anymore. I hope it doesn’t hurt.

You made my existence worth something. You are a faceless angel that floats around out there until I call you. Then you arrive and listen and float away when I’m done. Thank you for forgiving me and never going away and leaving me alone. Whether you come or not, I won’t be alone because of you.

I can’t write anymore but I have one thing I have to say. I love you.

See you later and don’t cry. Keep helping people like me. It matters.

Kamal

We spent the rest of the day talking. I could only imagine how she felt. I felt dead inside and though I never met Kamal or knew much about him, his death affected my life in ways I could never have imagined in the coming years.

Us people of good will only ask to be left alone to do our work. Either help us or get out of our way. Do not harm us. Do not impede us on what we need to do. Let us get on with it and ask nothing of us. We give willingly and easily. We only ask that you not hurt us.

“But I’m not broken.”

Posted: May 20, 2013 in jail
Tags: ,

“Sure you are. Everyone is.”

“Only a broken person would say that,” I said. I was not enjoying the turn of our conversation.

He shook his head, moved his spaghetti around on his plate with his fork and sighed. I sat back and watched. I didn’t want this meeting but had agreed to it. It was the best way to get some business done when phones weren’t constantly ringing and the running into the dreaded voicemail everyday. At least this way we could figure everything out and move onto the next step, whatever that was.

He looked up and took a sip of his water. “Is that why you want referrals from me? You think you can really help these people?”

“No, I think I can harm them greatly. You found me out…” I said.

“You’re being sarcastic, aren’t you?”

“Very. Of course I think I can help them. No, strike that. I know I can,” I said and reached into my briefcase and pulled out several letters from judges all praising my program. I pushed them towards him.

“I’ve seen these. You faxed them over, remember?”

“Yes, I remember. So let’s cut to the chase. Why did you want to meet?”

He leaned forward and looked at me for a moment. “Because I wanted to put a face with the voice and see who you are.”

“Well, here I am and I’m not broken,” I said and stared back.

“But most people who do the work you do are. I mean, that’s why they do it. To help themselves, really. You know, to keep themselves straight by talking to others. You sure you don’t have a record or been in jail before? Any stints in rehab or anything like that?”

“Look, I’ve had my security clearance for years. I’ve been run through the system many times. You can find that out anytime you want, so you asking me that just doesn’t make any sense. You’re a probation officer. You know better than I how the system works. You have the option of sending your parolee’s to me or not. It’s very simple. It’s not rocket science and unfortunately, I can find plenty of clients without you, so where are you going with this?”

“I guess I just don’t buy your premise these guys can be helped. Nobody can be, really,” he said.

That made me sad. “It’s too bad you feel that way. Ever thought of getting out of your line of business and into something else?” I asked. “Maybe work at McDonald’s or Wendy’s?”

He laughed. “Are you serious?”

“Yep.”

“Oh, so you think people can be helped?”

“Most, yes,” I said and sipped my iced tea. “But you have to know what you are doing.”

“And you do?”

“Yep.”

He shook his head, smiled and looked out the window. “Are you usually this confident?”

“Yep.”

“Are you going to keep saying ‘Yep’?”

“Yep and you walked right into that one,” I said.

He looked sad and worn out. His food had gotten cold as we talked.

“What can I help you with? What is it that is troubling your soul?” I asked.

For the next 1.5 hours, I listened and occasionally said something. He poured out his soul to me.

When he was done, he wiped his eyes.

“I can’t believe I told you all of that,” he said. He seemed embarrassed. I was used to that.

“So, you still think help isn’t possible?” I asked.

A sheepish smile crossed his face. “Well…maybe…”

I picked-up a dinner roll and threw it at him. My aim was perfect. It hit his forehead and bounced onto his spaghetti.

“Wow, so very immature of you,” he said.

“Very.”

He brushed the crumbs off of his forehead and threw the dinner roll back at me. His aim was perfect also. I now had crumbs in my bangs.

“So let’s get to work on you,” I said.

“How so?”

I reached back into my briefcase and pulled out a binder. I slid it across the table to him. “Here. You are now officially enrolled on my program. Please read the first 5 pages and then call me when you are done,” I said and got up. “Oh, and by the way, you’re paying for lunch.”

“But I’m not a criminal. Why do your program?” he asked.

“Because it’s never been, or ever will be about criminals.”

“It’s not?” he asked and began to flip through the pages.

“No. It’s about broken people, like you. It’s about good people who have lost their way, some of which got caught and some did not. You in?” I asked.

“Yes,” he said.

“Help is not betrayal,” I said.

One month later, I had a happy and cheerful person who had quit quitting on himself.

I love helping the helpers.

The eyes of a murderer

Posted: April 27, 2013 in jail
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They were soft and amber. I had never seen amber eyes before. They had small flecks of gold that you could only see when the light hit his eyes just right.

His face was smooth and flawless. I envied his skin as it seemed pore less. His hair was thick, pure black and cut short. His build was slight but strong.

He sat quietly and listened as I spoke to him. He was calm and I found myself relaxing as I talked. He nodded at the appropriate times and once in a while a slight smile would cross his face. He was a sponge and was trying to absorb every piece of information and advice that I could give him.

Looking at him, I began to realize that my words carried a great deal of weight with him. I found that realization unsettling and a bit disturbing.

I could not recall anyone listening to me so intently and politely before.

I cleared my throat and stopped talking. If my words were going to mean so much to him, then I needed to take more care in what I said.

“Does that make sense what I just went over?” I asked. The room was noisy as the other students worked and talked with each other. I would get to them soon enough, but right now Jose had my attention.

He nodded and smiled. His teeth were white and perfect. “Yes Ms. Susan, that does make sense to me. I appreciate you taking the time to help me,” he said.

I smiled back. “No problem. Now, let’s get back to this point right here…” I said as I turned the book around for him to read. I pointed to a paragraph.

He looked down. His eyes scanned the page and he nodded and looked up. “Yes, I understand,” he said.

“OK, then tell me what it means to you, in your own words,” I said and waited.

His brow furrowed and he sat back and put his hands in his pockets. He looked around and then back at me.

His calmness was gone and was replaced by a slight degree of annoyance. The smile disappeared and then suddenly reappeared.

“No, that’s fine. I got it,” he said and smiled.

A perfect smile. On a perfect face.

How could anyone look at that face and not believe what he said?

I thought for a moment about what to say.

“Can’t we just go onto the next part?” he asked. He began tapping his leg under the table.

I knew what was wrong.

“No, we can’t,” I said. “It’s very important that you understand this book in your own way. Not the way I say it is. Not the way you THINK you should. You need to understand this for YOU. Not me. So, tell me what you think about what you just read,” I said and sat back.

He was being held, without bail, for first degree murder. He had been incarcerated for over a year. He wanted to learn and had signed-up for the class.

For a brief moment, I saw rage and hate cross his face and then he caught it and looked away. He was agitated and nervous. He began looking around the room as if he needed to escape. His calmness was gone.

“What’s wrong Jose?” I asked. “Do you want to tell me what is really going on?”

His head snapped back at me. He bit his lower lip and shook his head. “Nah, it’s OK. I just don’t feel like reading tonight.”

“You can’t read, can you?” I asked as quietly as possible. It was a whisper that only he could hear.

Shame crossed his face. He rubbed his eyes and leaned forward. I leaned towards him until our noses were almost touching.

“Please don’t tell anyone. Please,” he said and leaned back. His eyes were pleading.

“I won’t,” I said. I realized that up until now, he had been gliding along in the lectures and this was the first time I had sat down with him and asked him to read.

And so began my adventure of tutoring someone to teach them how to read. I had never done it before, but we learned together. I bought children’s books and we struggled together quietly while the other students worked with my staff.

It was our little secret.

One night I showed up and he was gone. I knew his trial was coming up. He had been moved to another facility to hold him during his trial for his safety.

I knew I would never see him again.

That murderer was eventually convicted and sent away.

That face that I grew to know and like belonged to a murderer. The person that I tutored and mentored was now gone.

That face belonged to a 13-year old kid.

“I don’t get this,” Eddie said. “You’re not making sense.”

I quickly counted to 3 before responding. I often had to do this with him. He was so blunt at times.

“OK Eddie, where did I lose you?” I asked. A few of the other student’s snickered and sighed. Eddie looked around quickly and then shook his head.

“No, it’s OK. I get it now,” he said and nodded his head.

No, he wasn’t understanding but as soon as he heard the others chuckle, he shut down. He looked like he was about to cry. I decided to ignore it for now and continue with the lesson.

He didn’t utter another sound the rest of the evening.

Afterwards, I asked him to stay for a moment. I again heard some snickering.

Eddie’s face turned red.

“Did I do something wrong again?” he asked.

“Nope, not at all. You’ve done lots of things right. I just want to talk with you for a moment,” I said.

Eddie was in his mid-30’s and the entire time I had known him, he always seemed to struggle with expressing himself. He seemed swallowed up in the class and unsure of himself. Subtle comments were lost on him. He had been incarcerated 6 months ago for burglary and didn’t seem to understand why he was here.

I pulled up a chair next to him after everyone had left. He would make quick eye contact with me and then look away.

“How are you getting along in here?” I asked.

“What do you mean?”

“Is everyone treating you alright? Are you having any problems that I can help you with?” I asked. I leaned forward a bit and put my hand on top of his. He stared at it for a moment and then pulled his hand away.

“No, but I’m used to it,” he said and began to think very hard. “I keep doing things wrong, but I don’t know what they are. I just want to read my books, but they don’t let me.”

“Who is ‘they?’ I asked.

“The guys here. Don’t you understand anything?” he asked.

“Apparently not,’ I said and smiled. He looked at me for a few seconds and was once again in deep thought. Then he smiled back at me.

“Eddie, did you just think about whether or not to smile at me?”

His face turned red again and he nodded.

“You don’t know how to act, do you?” I asked.

He shook his head. “I know you’re supposed to smile at people when they smile at you.”

“That’s OK. You don’t have to worry about it with me. Just say what’s on your mind and it will be fine,” I said.

He struggled through the program but when he turned in his lessons, they were amazingly intelligent and articulate. I could tell that a great deal of thought was put into each and every lesson.

He learned to not say anything in class but to talk to me afterwards. I tried as best as possible to explain things to him so he could understand them.

He wasn’t dumb; he was very bright. He just lacked social skills.

One night, he sat down and said he was distressed. He was getting released the following week and was scared.

“Why are you scared? Don’t you have any place to go?” I asked. I hated this part of my job.

“Yes I do. I’m moving back in with my parents. They want me back.”

“Well that’s great! What are you upset about?”

He turned red again and began to fidget. “I won’t get to talk to you anymore.”

I felt a lump in my throat. He was right, but I had already figured out what to do.

I reached into my purse and grabbed a pen and a piece of paper. I wrote down an address and handed it to him.

He looked at it. “What’s this for?”

I ruffled his hair. “It’s a PO Box that you can use to write me. They will make sure I get it, so no matter where you go, I’ll get your letter.”

“Really?” he asked. He looked like a child who had just been given a huge bowl of ice cream.

“Yes, really,” I said.

He stood up and shook my hand. “OK Susan, maybe I will write you.”

“That would be nice,” I said. He left and I never saw him again.

Three days ago, I got a letter from him. He said he was doing alright and had found out he had Asperger’s and didn’t know it.

It was a long letter, filled with his thoughts, ideas and what he does everyday, what books he is reading and anything else that came to mind.

He signed it “Thank you Susan for being the first person to listen to me. Please write back and let me know you are OK.”

I wrote my letter back that night and mailed it the next morning.

Life is good. I have a new friend.

Care for those around you. We all need it.

I had never been asked that question before. I had never given it any thought at all. Ever.

I just figured you lived your life, did the best that you could and hoped people would think kindly of you if and when they thought of you.

I know my memories of people whom I had lost along the way became softer and kinder as time went by. Even the ones I didn’t care for no longer held my heart and mind hostage. I chose to remember the good about them, even if it was a stretch.

And some people can be a challenge to find anything good about them.

I took my glasses off and looked down at David. His question had stopped me dead in my tracks.

I rubbed the bridge of my nose and closed my eyes.

His question deserved an answer, which I didn’t have.

“I guess I want people to think kindly of me. Maybe as someone who made a positive difference in their lives in some small way,” I said. That was all I could think of.

“Well, no one is going to think well of me. That’s for sure,” he said.

I liked working with this group of men but sometimes it got intense and I would feel that I was walking on thin ice. So much potential meaning behind simple words.

It was easy to stumble and fall.

“How so?” I asked. Might as well cut to the chase. Something was brewing with him.

“You gonna start your pussy whining again?” asked Fernando. “Let it go, will ya? We’re all sick and tired of hearing about it.”

I raised my hand and gave Fernando a stern look. “Watch your language,” I snapped.

He looked away and leaned back in his chair. “Sorry ma’am. It won’t happen again,”

“This is a valid question,” I said. “Where you going with this David?”

“I’ve done a lot of bad stuff in my life and..”

“Stop right there. I don’t want to hear it,” I said.

David was incarcerated for at least 25 years for manslaughter. He had a long way to go before getting released.

“But what I did…”

“Seriously David, I don’t want to hear it. I want to know what you are going to do today and maybe tomorrow. How are you going to make things better around here?”

My question startled him.

Like so many people, he kept dwelling on the past and wouldn’t budge. Maybe because the present was a bad place to be and the future wasn’t looking much better.

“I don’t know.”

“Then figure it out and tell me next week. Until then, stop being such an Eeyore.”

This made him and the others laugh.

But his question resonated with me for a long time.

It still does today.

I finally decided that all I wanted on my death-bed was the knowledge that I mattered. That I had made a difference and that the world was a better place because I had lived.

How will you be remembered?

If you don’t like the answer to that question, then change now.

It’s never too late to make a new beginning.

I was sure I hadn’t heard her right. Surely after all this time, hopefully she had learned something. Anything.

My voice was harsher and louder than I had intended. I looked down at her.

“Oh shit! Teach is pissed!” Suzanne said and looked up at me. She had a slight smile on her face.

I was amusing her. Suzanne was easily amused by others. I often admired that quality in her, but not right now.

Right now she needed to harness her talent for knowing when to shut-up.

“No, that’s not what I said…” Amber said. “I meant…what I wanted to say…I was asking you…”

I picked-up my pad of paper and slammed it down on the table.

I took a deep breath and closed my eyes. The room was quiet. Even Suzanne had stopped talking.

After all this time, Amber still wasn’t understanding the whole point of the program.

I was failing her somehow.

I opened my eyes and looked at her for a long time. She couldn’t look at me. She was trying to fall through the floor and disappear.

“Amber, you just asked me if I liked what you were doing. You weren’t telling me about your progress because you are proud of yourself. You are telling me because you want my approval. You just asked me if thought it was a good idea…”

“That’s because I care what you think of me!” she said.

“Why?” I asked. “Who died and made me in charge of you?”

I heard Rita murmur “Amen” and chuckle. Suzanne started to say something, but the words never came out of her mouth because she saw the look I shot her.

Amber was young and had virtually no sense of worth or value. She looked to others for it.

She was easy for the pimp to turn out. As long as he approved, she would do what he asked. She was another “throw away” child who had ended up in my class because James had a soft-spot for first time felony offenders.

Amber sat up straighter. “I’m in charge of me!” she said and smiled.

The smile of a hooker. Empty, as insincere as you can get and the epitome of desperation and despair.

And people say it’s a victimless crime.

She was full of shit and we all knew it.

“Oh really? How’s that working out for you?” I said. “Did you forget where you are?” I said and stepped back. I folded my arms across my chest and waited.

I watched her struggle with trying to figure out what to say. All she knew to do was to repeat back what she had been taught to say. “Yes, you’re very attractive.” “No, that feels great.” “Whatever you want is fine with me.”

This list was endless and nauseating.

“No, I know where I am…”

“Then take a moment and tell me what YOU think and not what you think I want to hear.”

She blinked several times and looked around. She gave pleading looks to each and every woman in the class to help her. They all shook their heads and looked away.

She was on her own and no one was going to help her.

“I’m not sure what you want me to say,” she said. A slight panic was settling in.

“I want you to tell me what you think about yourself. Honestly what you think.”

She flashed her hooker smile at me. “I think I’m great!”

“Liar,” I said.

Back and forth we went. Every answer that she gave me, I called her out on it if I didn’t believe her.

When our time was up, I dismissed the class. Amber was still trying to figure out what to say that would get me off her back. She was frustrated and angry with me. The other women had kept quiet the entire time.

She was back the next week and we continued.

“I think…” she said and then burst into tears.

Finally.

I waited.

She wiped her eyes and bit her lower lip. She started to stand-up and then collapsed back in her chair and put her head in her hands and sobbed.

We all waited. Lucy started to get up to comfort her and I motioned for her to sit back down and be quiet. She did.

Amber took a deep breath and looked up at me.

“I think I am lower than pond scum and nothing more than a worthless piece of shit. I don’t have any value at all except my looks. That’s what I think about me. Happy now?”

“Yes,” I said and smiled. “Thank you for being honest.”

“You’re welcome,” she said.

And then she laughed. Her words were out of the mouths of babes and when she heard herself say them and fly out of her mouth, they took with them the power they had over her.

For the first time in her life, she had been honest and no one yelled at her or hit her or told her she was wrong.

“I am partial to worthless pieces of shit,” I said.

“Welcome to the club,” Suzanne said.

Amber jumped up, ran over to me and gave me a bear hug. I held her tight and let her laughter turn to tears and then back to laughter.

“Amber, I am going to give you some homework. I want you to spend the next week writing down what you think about anything and everything. It doesn’t matter what as long as you are honest with what YOU think. That’s the assignment.”

The next week she gave me 10 pages. She beamed as she handed it to me.

“I didn’t know I had all these ideas and opinions that were my own,” she said.

“I did,” I said.

“Yeah, but I don’t care what you think.”

“Excellent,” I said.