Posts Tagged ‘human rights’

Actually, nothing. At least not at the time.

I barely knew who he was when that bullet slammed into him in 1968 while he stood on the second story balcony in Memphis. In fact, I don’t think I even knew he existed until it was on the news that night. I was 12 years old with more important things on my mind.

First and foremost, I was obsessed with a boy named Ted Ballard. I had been in love with him since I first saw him in 4th grade. We were the same age and in the same classes, year after year. There was a bunch of us that all went through the school system at the same time, so we knew each other because not only were we neighbors, we were all going to the same tiny school down the street.

It was the only one for miles. So, that’s where we went. We walked down the street, through a field, and then back onto another paved sidewalk. You followed that for a block, down a hill and there was the little school. It had a black top, a couple of buildings for our classes, a small playing field. It was fenced but not locked. We didn’t need locks in those days because everyone knew everybody. God help you if a neighbor saw you misbehaving; they would be on the phone to your mom and you knew you were in trouble before you even had time to close the front door when you got home.

Back then, neighbors watched out for each other and the children.

At that time, San Jose had just made it onto the Rand-McNally maps. When we had moved there from Fresno when I was 8, it literally was not on the map. My Dad had to figure it out as he moved us. You just headed towards San Francisco and tried to remember that little exit off 101 that would get you to that one-horse town called San Jose.

In 1968, Viet Nam was in our living room daily and very night. Every day we saw what was going on. We heard the bombings and the gun fire. We watched through our fingers as we covered our faces in hopes we didn’t see one of our own being blown to bits. We listened to the bull shit Lyndon Johnson said as he pushed and pushed and pushed for the war to continue.

The United States must not lose a war! Not now and not ever! To do so would hurt our pride and we never lose.

The Civil Rights movement was in full force. Again, I did not know who these people were and why they were so upset. There were marches and speeches and dogs attacking people, and fire hoses being used on them, but I was more concerned about what Ted was doing and what I should wear the next day to finally get him to see me and realize I was alive and perfect for him. I worked hard every night, trying to write the perfect love note to leave in his desk.

The notes only made it to my waste paper basket in tiny shreds in case one of my brothers found them. I would have died if they — or anyone — knew of my unrequited love.

(Years later, Ted finally noticed me as I was walking out of the bank. I didn’t know who he was. He was bald and apparently had not had an easy life, but that’s a story for another time).

By the time I was 16, I was a full-blown hippie. I had the hair and the look and I loved the idea of speaking out and going out of protest lines — even though my parents wouldn’t let me — I still loved the idea.

Feminism was arriving and the idea that I might actually have a choice about my life made me happy and scared and confused.

I mean, really, what the hell does a 16-year old know?

Absolutely nothing, but don’t tell them that. At that age, everything is possible.

I took a “Black History” class in High School and read books like “Soul on Ice” and had discussions about discrimination.

I had no idea. I had no clue that there were people out there that didn’t have the life I had. I just sort of assumed we all had it good. I learned that some people weren’t liked because of the color of their skin and some weren’t liked because of their gender.

I was not allowed to take auto mechanics simply because I was a girl. I had to take Home Economics (economics, my ass). I needed to learn how to cook and clean. I had to take typing (which, of course, now I’m really glad I did) and sit there, with my back straight and my hands posed “just exactly so” over the keyboard of the Royal typewriters, going clackity clack with 25 other girls. If you were going fast enough, the sound of the slamming back of the typewriter carriage to type the next line was almost poetic. Like a well -timed symphony.

Dr. King had only been killed about 2 years before I entered High School, but his influence was there. Us white kids comprised 99% of the attendance. Non-white kids were known — mostly Hispanic — to us and we all knew who the 2 or 3 black kids were.

We liked them well enough and they liked us. I wanted to ask them a million questions about their lives, but they weren’t dissimilar to mine.

Or so I thought at the time.

As I grew up and became an actual adult — which takes more time than I ever realized and I’m not fond of it — I started to walk in other people’s shoes. Some that had it better than I did, but mostly those that did not. Hookers, drug addicts, convicted felons, and the like.

I had to come face-to-face with my own prejudices that I didn’t know I had.

I often had large doses of humility when I would hear myself complain over the increased cost of Netflix while counseling a woman who had lost all her children to foster care. Yes, she had royally fucked up, but her heartbreak and wailing of the loss was often deafening. She couldn’t turn back the clock and she knew that. My job was to get her to see, with little baby steps, what she could do to turn her life around and get them back.

I had to swallow my pride and ask for help when I was just about to lose my house and end-up homeless. Fortunately the people that helped me, didn’t judge me.

I learned that if bad things could happen to me, who had it so much better than so many others, then maybe it wasn’t so much of a character flaw as it was just a difficult and almost impossible planet to survive on.

If it was hard for me, how hard must it be for the people that didn’t have the opportunities I had simply because of the color of their skin and/or where they were born?

I began to really look around me and see people everywhere, all with their fair shares of burdens and worries.

I began to feel disdain for those that had it so well and bragged about it. It wasn’t that I wanted what they had — no fucking way — but I wanted them to see how they could help, someone, anyone, and pay it forward.

I may not have much and I may have made huge mistakes in my life, but I began to feel compassion and empathy for those around me who always carried on and daily fought the good fight.

Through the internet, I began to learn more and more about Dr. King. I re-read some of the literature about the civil rights movement that I had smugly tossed aside in High School.

Forty years later, I grieved for the loss of him.

Forty years later, I admired his strength, compassion, intelligence, and perseverance.

Forty years later, I wished for his return.

“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” ~ MLK

I may not be able to change the world today or tomorrow or ever, but what I can do is continue to work for justice in my home, my work, my neighborhood and when I vote.

I can speak out more and write more and learn more.

I can honor Dr. King for the work he did by learning more about the suffering that others have that I never did and work to help them lift themselves up.

It’s the least that I can do.

Photo by Elyssa Fahndrich on Unsplash

Photo by Graham Ruttan on Unsplash

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Sure, without the pimps, there would be a lot less human trafficking of young girls and boys. I’m in favor of prosecuting the customers and helping the prostitutes. It’s the whole “supply and demand” factor.

But you have to dig much deeper to find out why that child went down the path they did.

What was lacking in their life? How was someone able to grab them and whisk them away?

For each child, there is perhaps a different answer.

I’m often asked “But what can we do? How do we stop this?”

I always answer “What can YOU do in your immediate area?”

Because that’s how this is done. You deal with your block, your neighborhood, your school, your city and start helping individuals.

Don’t expect anyone else to do it. Don’t wait for the government for they are always late on the scene. Laws are being passed, awareness and understanding is increasing, but it’s not enough.

To quote “Truckers Against Trafficking:”

“Imagine if these pimp’s words fell on deaf ears because young people knew they were worth more, knew people loved them, knew they had a future and a hope.

It is very important to be investing in the lives of our own children but also the lives of the youth around us.

Get involved in your community’s outreach programs.

Mentor, tutor, donate much needed supplies to local assistance programs, be kind to the kids in your neighborhood. 

Say hi to the morose teen.

If non-exploitative adults get involved, pimps and exploiters will struggle to get a foothold. Let’s stop allowing this to be so easy for them.” 

Pay attention to your children. Pay attention to the kids around you. Learn the signs. Teach them that they need not look outside themselves for validation. Give them love, too much love. Show them by example, that they are priceless and start with yourself.

Children learn by seeing more than by listening, but they do listen. They watch everything. They miss nothing.

 

Well I’m so glad you asked!

But before I tell you, let me clarify a couple of things:

Rights: Things to which you are entitled or allowed; freedoms that are guaranteed.

Human Rights: The rights you have simply because you are human.

Belief: : a feeling of being sure that someone or something exists or that something is true; : a feeling that something is good, right, or valuable; : a feeling of trust in the worth or ability of someone.

            Merriam-Webster

Do you see the difference? Rights are clearly definable and agreed upon by the majority. Belief is just what someone holds to be true for THEM.

I may believe that the moon is made of green cheese. I have the right to believe that, even if there is no proof. I can believe that if I want.

But I don’t have the right to force anyone to agree with me. I can live my life believing that and as long as I don’t attempt to force others to agree, we’re good.

And you don’t have the right to try to change my mind. No, you don’t.

If you want to know what the main problem with getting Human Rights implemented, it’s simple.

Most people don’t know what they are or that they are entitled to them. It’s an amazing thing to watch when someone starts to learn them.

So here they are, in layman’s terms, c/o http://www.youthforhumanrights.org

There are 30 of them, so sit back, grab a cup of coffee and learn. We are all entitled to them:

1)      We are all born free and equal. All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.

2)      Don’t discriminate. Everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration, without distinction of any kind, such as race, color, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status. Furthermore, no distinction shall be made on the basis of the political, jurisdictional or international status of the country or territory to which a person belongs, whether it be independent, trust, non-self-governing or under any other limitation of sovereignty.

3)      The right to life. Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person.

4)      No slavery. No one shall be held in slavery or servitude; slavery and the slave trade shall be prohibited in all their forms

5)      No torture. No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.

6)      You have rights no matter where you go. Everyone has the right to recognition everywhere as a person before the law.

7)      We’re all equal before the law. All are equal before the law and are entitled without any discrimination to equal protection of the law. All are entitled to equal protection against any discrimination in violation of this Declaration and against any incitement to such discrimination.

8)      Your human rights are protected by law. Everyone has the right to an effective remedy by the competent national tribunals for acts violating the fundamental rights granted him by the constitution or by law.

9)      No unfair detainment. No one shall be subjected to arbitrary arrest, detention or exile.

10)  The right to trial. Everyone is entitled in full equality to a fair and public hearing by an independent and impartial tribunal, in the determination of his rights and obligations and of any criminal charge against him.

11)  ) We’re Always Innocent Till Proven Guilty. a) Everyone charged with a penal offence has the right to be presumed innocent until proved guilty according to law in a public trial at which he has had all the guarantees necessary for his defense. b)  No one shall be held guilty of any penal offence on account of any act or omission which did not constitute a penal offence, under national or international law, at the time when it was committed. Nor shall a heavier penalty be imposed than the one that was applicable at the time the penal offence was committed.

12)  The right to privacy. No one shall be subjected to arbitrary interference with his privacy, family, home or correspondence, nor to attacks upon his honour and reputation. Everyone has the right to the protection of the law against such interference or attacks.

13)  Freedom to move. Everyone has the right to freedom of movement and residence within the borders of each State. Everyone has the right to leave any country, including his own, and to return to his country.

14)  The right to seek a safe place to live. Everyone has the right to seek and to enjoy in other countries asylum from persecution. This right may not be invoked in the case of prosecutions genuinely arising from non-political crimes or from acts contrary to the purposes and principles of the United Nations.

15)  Right to a nationality. Everyone has the right to a nationality. No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his nationality nor denied the right to change his nationality.

16)  Marriage and family. Men and women of full age, without any limitation due to race, nationality or religion, have the right to marry and to found a family. They are entitled to equal rights as to marriage, during marriage and at its dissolution. Marriage shall be entered into only with the free and full consent of the intending spouses. The family is the natural and fundamental group unit of society and is entitled to protection by society and the State.

17)  The right to ownership. Everyone has the right to own property alone as well as in association with others. No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his property.

18)  Freedom of thought. Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.

19)  Freedom of expression.  Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.

20)  The right to public assembly. Everyone has the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and association. No one may be compelled to belong to an association.

21)  The right to Democracy. Everyone has the right to take part in the government of his country, directly or through freely chosen representatives. Everyone has the right to equal access to public service in his country. The will of the people shall be the basis of the authority of government; this will shall be expressed in periodic and genuine elections which shall be by universal and equal suffrage and shall be held by secret vote or by equivalent free voting procedures.

22)  Social Security. Everyone, as a member of society, has the right to social security and is entitled to realization, through national effort and international co-operation and in accordance with the organization and resources of each State, of the economic, social and cultural rights indispensable for his dignity and the free development of his personality

23)  Workers’ Rights. Everyone has the right to work, to free choice of employment, to just and favorable conditions of work and to protection against unemployment. Everyone, without any discrimination, has the right to equal pay for equal work. Everyone who works has the right to just and favourable remuneration ensuring for himself and his family an existence worthy of human dignity, and supplemented, if necessary, by other means of social protection. Everyone has the right to form and to join trade unions for the protection of his interests.

24)  The right to play. Everyone has the right to rest and leisure, including reasonable limitation of working hours and periodic holidays with pay

25)  Food and shelter for all. Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control. Motherhood and childhood are entitled to special care and assistance. All children, whether born in or out of wedlock, shall enjoy the same social protection.

26)  The right to education. Everyone has the right to education. Education shall be free, at least in the elementary and fundamental stages. Elementary education shall be compulsory. Technical and professional education shall be made generally available and higher education shall be equally accessible to all on the basis of merit. Education shall be directed to the full development of the human personality and to the strengthening of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms. It shall promote understanding, tolerance and friendship among all nations, racial or religious groups, and shall further the activities of the United Nations for the maintenance of peace. Parents have a prior right to choose the kind of education that shall be given to their children.

27)  Copyright. Everyone has the right freely to participate in the cultural life of the community, to enjoy the arts and to share in scientific advancement and its benefits. Everyone has the right to the protection of the moral and material interests resulting from any scientific, literary or artistic production of which he is the author.

28)  A fair and free world. Everyone is entitled to a social and international order in which the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration can be fully realized.

29)  Responsibility. Everyone has duties to the community in which alone the free and full development of his personality is possible. In the exercise of his rights and freedoms, everyone shall be subject only to such limitations as are determined by law solely for the purpose of securing due recognition and respect for the rights and freedoms of others and of meeting the just requirements of morality, public order and the general welfare in a democratic society. These rights and freedoms may in no case be exercised contrary to the purposes and principles of the United Nations.

30)  No one can take away your Human Rights. Nothing in this Declaration may be interpreted as implying for any State, group or person any right to engage in any activity or to perform any act aimed at the destruction of any of the rights and freedoms set forth herein.

And there you have them.

So before any of us starts heading in a direction that will violate someone’s rights, stop and take a look.

Is what is being proposed helping or hurting human rights?

You’ll have your answer immediately.

WARNING: This is an extremely graphic post about the rape of a 12-year old girl and is the first part of how she was forced into prostitution at an early age. I do not recommend anyone reading it who could be triggered and/or has a weak stomach. These stories are not for everyone.

Please see https://idisagreecompletely.com/2013/09/01/i-dont-see-your-tears-i-hear-them/ before reading this one. These stories will eventually be made into their own page.

Her story. My words.

I knew something was wrong as soon as he came in the door. It was the way he looked at me. It sent a chill up my spine. I looked away quickly and went back to reading my book. I could tell he was still looking at me. I shrank into the chair as much as I could. I heard my father whispering to him. They stepped outside the camper and talked. My little brother was playing with his toy truck on the floor next to me. He ran it over my foot. I jumped up and slapped him on the head with my book. He cried out, stood up and moved away from me.

I was used to people coming to our camper at all hours of the day and night. I didn’t know why at the time. I was told to not ask questions so I never did. We lived in a small camper with my father, mother, my younger brother and sister. Sometimes we would leave in the middle of the night. Sometimes we stayed somewhere for a few weeks.

My father came back in and looked at me. He looked at me and then at the man. The man was smiling at me again and nodding his head. My mother came in from outside and stood behind my father. She was wringing her hands and crying. I was too scared to get up and go to her. I watched them. Finally the man came over to me and held out his hand. I shrank back.

“Andrea! Go with this man!” my father yelled at me. I shook my head. I got up and stepped away. The man smiled more.

“Come with me, little one. Do as your father said. I’m going to take you to get ice cream. You’ll like it,” he said and stepped closer to me. I backed away again. I couldn’t go any further. My back was pressed against the wall.

“Jose, NO!” my mother screamed and rushed towards me. My father pulled her back and told her to be quiet. She stopped but continued to cry. The man turned around and looked at her.

“Don’t worry. I won’t hurt her. I’ll have her back by tomorrow morning,” he said. He turned back, walked over to me and took me by the arm. He led me out of the camper and into his car. I began crying and pulling away from him. He picked me up and put me in the back seat of his station wagon and locked the doors.  He drove off.

“Where are we going?” I asked. I choked on my words. I was so scared. I could still my mother crying and my father yelling at her to be quiet. I had never seen this man before. I learned to look the other way or walk away when men showed up at our campsite. Last year when someone showed up, my mother would rush over to me and lead me away. She often put her shawl over my shoulders and covered me up. Lately some of the men had asked her not to take me away. They wanted me to sit with them. My mother would glare at them and push me away from them.

Now I was in some man’s car, driving through the night to get ice cream. I knew there wasn’t any ice cream at the end of the drive. I didn’t know what he wanted or where we would end up, but I didn’t like it. I wanted to go home and crawl into my sleeping bag and read.

“Don’t worry, little one. You are safe with me. I will take good care of you. You have nothing to fear,” he said. He looked back at me and smiled. I cringed and sat back. I couldn’t get far enough away from him.

He pulled into a driveway and turned off the engine. He came around to the back seat, unlocked the door and opened it for me. I slid away from him to the other side and shook my head.

“Get out of the car. Do as you’re told!” he said.

I shook my head again and reached for the door handle.  Before I knew what was happening, he lunged for me, grabbed my foot and dragged me across the seat. He picked me up and slung me over his shoulder, slammed the car door and walked into the house. He carried me into the kitchen and sat me down at the table. I sat very still. I was too scared to move. He got ice cream out of the freezer and scooped some into a bowl. He put it in front of me with a spoon, sat down across from me and told me to eat it.

I didn’t want it. I was shaking and starting to sob again. My stomach was in knots. I was afraid I would throw it up if I tried to eat it. I pushed it away. He pushed it back.

“Eat it. I told you I was going to give you ice cream and I am a man of my word.” His eyes were harsh and cold. I was terrified of what would happen if I didn’t eat it, so I took a spoonful and put it in my mouth. It was chocolate. I haven’t been able to eat chocolate ice cream since then.

He smiled. When I was done, he put the bowl in the sink and told me to get up. I did. He took my hand and led me down the hall to his bedroom. I pulled away and he picked me up again and threw me down on the bed.

He smiled again as he reached over and yanked my pants off. I started kicking and screaming. This made him chuckle. He pulled off my underwear and told me how beautiful I was. I began screaming louder. He told me if I didn’t shut-up he would beat me and then go kill my family. He yanked my shirt off and ran his hands all over me. I stopped screaming. He put his hand over my mouth and pushed my head down into the bed. He climbed on top of me and pushed my legs apart. He thrust himself in me and I screamed as loud as I could.

I thought I would die from the pain. He thrust himself into me over and over and with each thrust, I screamed louder. I couldn’t help it. I tried not to. I didn’t want my family to die. I thought I would be torn into two. I fought and clawed and screamed. He slapped me across the face and told me I liked it.

When he was done, he rolled over and sighed.  I curled up into a ball, pulled a pillow over my face and tried to die. I tried to be nothing and to be nowhere. I haven’t wanted to be alive since then. I was bleeding and scared. He kept telling me I wanted this, that this was what I was good for and that it was natural.

I was locked in the bedroom with him. I heard other people walking around the house and talking during the night. I got up several times at night and tried to leave. I couldn’t open the door. I banged on it and woke him up.

He raped me again.

No one came to help me. There was blood all over the sheets. It wasn’t from my period.

In the morning, he made me take a shower with him. He washed me everywhere. He cooed and told me how beautiful I was. He held me up when I couldn’t stand. He washed my hair and dried me. He dressed me back in my clothes. He cooked me breakfast and made me eat it.

I could not move. It was hard to bring the fork up to my mouth and chew. I was dead but my brain didn’t know it yet.

He took me home. When he pulled up and let me out of the car, my mom came running to me.

“Your debt is paid…for now,” he said. He got back into this car and drove away.

She picked me up and carried me into the house. She was crying. I started crying and couldn’t stop. She rocked me for a long time. She wanted me to shower and I started screaming again. I still can’t take showers and only do so if I have to.

I didn’t see my father that day or the next. When he finally came home, he didn’t look at me. He didn’t for a long time and then only for a few seconds.

That was the first time I felt shame and it never stopped. Ever since then, no words can get rid of it.

I didn’t realize that tears were running down my face as she spoke. Her story was not as concise as I have written it but while she spoke, each word was branded into my mind. I have never been able to get rid of them.

This was the beginning of her life as a prostitute. She was sold to men when her father could not pay a debt to drug dealers. She was taught at an early age that this was all she was good for.

The actions of the adult always teach the child.

To be continued.

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.