Courage & Compassion in Rescue & Recovery
6 December, 2018 | Written By Melinda Sampson | Human Trafficking Now
Beverly Weeks and Kellie Taylor of Cry Freedom are bold and full compassion. They use that boldness and compassion to fight sex trafficking, but neither of the them see themselves as courageous in any way. As Beverly would say, “who’s going to do it, if not us?” With one gesture of kindness at a time, they are building relationships with trafficking victims across Eastern North Carolina. They do not expect these women to come to them. The notion of a woman being trafficked or involved in the sex trade making a cold call to Cry Freedom for help is – in a way – kind of absurd to Beverly. “You have to go to where they are,” she said. “You have to meet them where they are.” Beverly and Kellie know to truly reach the women who need them, they must go to the lobbies of hotels known for prostitution and drug trafficking.
These hotels, with the constant comings and goings of johns, traffickers and drug addicts and dealers, are known in the community and by law enforcement as dens of crime and victimization. Beverly and Kelly must sit there in the night hours and offer these women what they need – they offer free STD screenings, pregnancy tests, clothing, purses and other necessities. They also offer them a relationship where nothing is expected – they are offering a hand to hold and a listening ear. They only hope that one day, the women they reach out to will one day reach back to them for help. Of course, Beverly and Kelly know in certain respects that this type of outreach comes with danger. “There is a part of our work, where yes, you are at risk,” Weeks said. “Pimps are not happy when you take away their livelihood. Drug dealers are not happy when you take away their livelihood. However, if we don’t do it, who’s going to do it?” Beverly is right.
Experts in the field of human trafficking all agree – victims don’t self-identify; victims resist help; victims protect their traffickers for a plethora of reasons; victims don’t trust anyone, typically. What’s more startling is that these same experts will say, unequivocally, that if human trafficking was not cloaked in the shadows and if traffickers (pimps) were called what they were, the statistics of domestic victims would likely skyrocket. 1 That is why Cry Freedom’s method of victim outreach is so effective and revolutionary in Eastern North Carolina, specifically. She and her team go to where the victims are, and they go without judgement and expectation of rescue. They go to be there for them. They go to build a relationship and trust. And that, in many cases, is exactly what a person needs to take the first step toward freedom. Cry Freedom doesn’t stop at the hotels. When these people they have developed a relationship with are arrested – because in many cases they are arrested – on charges ranging from theft to prostitution, Beverly and Kelly meet them in jail where they offer education classes for men and women.
Cry Freedom, born about five years ago and operated out of the Wayne Pregnancy Center in Goldsboro, is an organization that reaches out with open arms to women (and men) embroiled in sex trafficking and the sex trade. Beverly knows that entry into the sex trade is never really a choice. “There isn’t a girl growing up that says ‘I want to be a prostitute when I grow up,’” she said with her head cocked to the side with an expression of absolute certainty. “The girls that we are meeting in the hotels – and the guys, people need to be educated, there are guy prostitutes – what we were finding is that (the people) we were meeting (at hotels), we were seeing them in the jails,” she said. “They were arrested for drug charges, prostitution – you know – stealing, that kind of thing. I thought this would be a way for me to continue that relationship with that girl and get her away from the drug dealer, away from the pimp.” Beverly said she and her team went to local authorities and asked to be able to go into the local detention centers to teach women and men math, English, music, art, Bible study, parenting and life skills classes. It is through those classes, and the relationships already developed through the hotel outreach, that has proven incredibly successful in making rescues. “We are teaching in the jails every Thursday to the men and the women, and that allowed me to get that girl away from the pimp, away from her drug dealer, so that I can say, ‘Hey are you ready for a change? Do you want to go to rehab? Do you want to go to a safe house,’” Beverly said. Cry Freedom, through this proactive and involved approach to trafficking victim rescue has been able to get between 13 to 15 people in safe houses or rehabilitation.
BUILDING A RELATIONSHIP
Going to where the victims are is paramount in getting them help and services, Beverly said. It is all about building the relationship with women that need someone and providing them with items that have been lost or taken from them along the way. “I went into the hotels and I said ‘Hey, Ms. Kellie and I are here today, does anyone want a free pregnancy test, free STD test? You know, does anybody need anything? We seek the hotels that are known for drug trafficking and prostitution,” Beverly said. Each time they make a visit to a hotel, they build up their relationships with the women more and more. In one instance, they followed one woman over a year’s time. In their initial contact, she was given clothes, a pregnancy test and a purse. The woman ended up in the hospital after a car accident. Beverly stayed with her while she was being treated for her injuries, and when she fled the confines of the hospital – with an IV hook-up still in her arm – Beverly was there to find her. It would be nearly a year later, Beverly tells me, that this woman would go to jail and rededicate her life to Jesus Christ. It would be one, solid year before this trafficking victim got into a safe house, and it was Beverly holding her hand all the way – right where she was – that helped get her in recovery. And that is what it takes. That commitment to these women is what pushes Beverly and Kelly forward. “Can you imagine living a life, where all you know is sex trafficking and prostitution,” Beverly said to me emphatically. I couldn’t come up with a suitable answer to that question because it is unimaginable to me. “But now she is in a safe house,” Beverly finished, and in her voice, there was nothing but relief and a note of hope.
WHAT CRY FREEDOM SEES
Substance abuse has become a scourge for Eastern North Carolina and a major contributor to sex trafficking. Beverly said a majority of the people she is serving has suffered from a drug addiction – including male victims of sex trafficking. Beverly explained that two men she served – who were from middle class families, because trafficking really does not discriminate or play favorites – became addicted to drugs and were summarily kicked out of their homes by family. “They had no money for rent, they had no money, they had no clothes, they had no job and turned to prostituting themselves out,” Beverly said. “Where it crossed that gray line, is when someone promises food, clothes, room and board in exchange for (sex).” When Kellie speaks about substance abuse and addiction, she speaks about it with an understanding that nothing can truly change until the root issue of why someone is addicted to drugs is addressed. “There is a reason someone is an addict,” Kellie said. “We need to find out why they are addicted to drugs in the first place.” Beverly agrees immediately, “We have to get to the root of the problem.”And this is true, too. As the opioid epidemic in the state becomes increasingly out of control, sex trafficking in relationship to opioids climb will likely climb. A population increasingly vulnerable to traffickers are drug abusers. A trafficker has the means to manipulate a victim with a fix. Though studies are limited, there are a few that reflect how alarming the intersection between substance abuse and trafficking truly is.
In a Maine study, 66 percent of trafficking victims report that their substance abuse led to them being trafficked. In a broader U.S. study, 84 percent of victims reported abusing drugs while being trafficked.2 But those numbers mean so little, because Beverly and Kellie have seen the devastation of addiction, first hand, giving out clothes to one woman they served who was “high as a kite,” and accepting the fact that they need to carry Narcan with them when they do their hotel outreach. When Cry Freedom does a rescue – whether it be in the jail or at a hotel – people who are addicted are offered drug treatment and then a chance to stay at a safe house in the eastern part of the state. But Cry Freedom also does support groups at their office located in the Wayne Pregnancy Center.
SUPPORT IN THE NEIGHBORHOOD
When I walked into the Wayne Pregnancy Center, it wasn’t what I had expected. Instead of the alarming fluorescent lighting and stiff plastic chairs, I was met with something far more inviting. It felt like home. The walls were painted in light pastels and softer colors and lined with inspirational paintings and quotes and words from the Bible. The furniture is soft, plush and it feels like a place you can relax. Of course, the office of the Wayne Pregnancy Center looks like this by design, with every piece of furniture, every color, every piece of art chosen with intention. It’s a place where women who need comfort, empowerment, help and recovery can go. From the Cry Freedom office, Bible studies, parenting classes, sexual healing classes and other recovery classes are offered. It is in this environment where women who have been victimized – and may still be being victimized – go to find a small bit of peace and empowerment. From that workshop, women in recovery make jewelry. These women, who are certainly artisans, are empowered through making this jewelry. They are learning skills and that jewelry creation is also therapeutic. Cry Freedom sells the artisan pieces to be able to fund sending their clients to rehab and help them with any other needs they may have. And it is through Cry Freedom’s hotel and jail outreach, groups and recovery classes and jewelry-making workshop that leads to the healing of women who have suffered great traumas and hardship – and, hopefully, it can be a step in healing an entire community.
Non-Profit To Provide Safe House For Sex Trafficking Victims
31 JULY, 2019 | Written by ken conners | Goldsboro Daily News
A local organization receives a new property for helping victims of sex trafficking. Wayne Pregnancy Center and its sex trafficking ministry, Cry Freedom Missions, will receive The Anchor House, a ten acre property located in Green County. Beverly Weeks is the Executive Director of Wayne Pregnancy Center and Cry Freedom Missions. She explained the property came available as Restore One ended operations at The Anchor House. Jonathan Chavous is the Assistant Director of Wayne Pregnancy Center and Cry Freedom Missions. He says Cry Freedom Missions aligns with the vision of Restore One. Weeks says the goal is to use The Anchor House as an emergency safe house and overnight transition home. Chavous says Cry Freedom Missions helped rescue over 25 victims of sex trafficking last year, although the number of local victims is likely much higher. Cry Freedom Missions works in the local jails, hotels and in areas with prostitution in an effort to identify victims of sexual exploitation and trafficking. Cry Freedom Missions assists victims of sex trafficking in Wayne County and beyond.
The non-profit organization hopes to have The Anchor House facility up and running by September.
Pregnancy Center Comes to Aid of Those Who “Cry Freedom” from Sex Trafficking
15 April, 2019 | Written by Jen Taggartn | Pregnancy Help News
When “Allison” came to Wayne Pregnancy Center, she was homeless—living on the street, in hotels and in crack houses. She didn’t know how far along she was in her pregnancy. As it turned out, she was over eight months pregnant. Beverly Weeks, executive director of Wayne Pregnancy Center, later found Allison in a hotel room during their weekly hotel outreach. Allison’s ID and pocketbook had been stolen. Weeks gave her food, toiletries, and her phone number, which Allison stuffed in her bra. Through multiple encounters, Allison began to trust and open up to Weeks. A couple of weeks later, Allison called Weeks to ask her to assist with the delivery of her baby, and chose adoption for her child. In one of their conversations, Allison disclosed that she had been trafficked throughout Eastern North Carolina. “When I heard about Allison being trafficked, I grieved for her,” Weeks said. “Most sex trafficking victims don’t turn in their abductors out of fear. I grieve for all clients who have been hurt by sex trafficking, who carry around that deep inner pain and trauma with no one to walk it out with. My initial reaction was not shock—sex trafficking is a lot more common in North Carolina than people realize.”
Allison was arrested and sent to jail due to prostitution. However, she participated in the life skills program provided by Cry Freedom Missions, an outreach of Wayne Pregnancy Center, and gave her life to Christ. Weeks and her staff met with the legal team and judge to have Allison released from jail. Upon her release, Wayne Pregnancy Center referred her to a Christian rehab center, then placed her in a safe house. At the safe house, Allison is going through sexual trauma therapy, working on a post-abortion healing program, pursuing her GED, and learning life skills, job skills and community re-entry skills.
The Birth of Cry Freedom
What began as a jewelry line to help benefit sex trafficking victims, today Cry Freedom Missions is a branch of Wayne Pregnancy Center, helping Allison and many other women and men who were victims of abuse and sex trafficking. “When people are sex trafficked, they have a lot of fear, shame, and don’t trust anybody,” Weeks said. “They tend to protect their traffickers.” While working at the pregnancy center, Weeks and her team started to notice that some of their clients were different than other clients. They re-wore the same clothes appointment after appointment, had addictions, and carried no ID. One day, Weeks felt compelled to drive home a client who had no transportation and the client led her to a hotel known for drug abuse and prostitution. “These men and women cry freedom from drug addiction, sexual abuse, post-abortion and physical abuse,” Weeks said. Weeks and her staff began to meet and discuss ways to make a difference. After much prayer and guidance, they decided to create the Cry Freedom Missions program. Today, Weeks and her team visit hotels and areas known for sex trafficking and drugs to provide free pregnancy tests, ultrasounds, food, toiletries and other materials.
“We see women and men every day who long to have real conversations about their needs and how they can change,” Weeks said. “They are desperate for people to love them without judgement and meet them right where they are.” Many of their clients have been arrested on charges ranging from theft to prostitution. “Many of them have been sexually assaulted, raped and molested,” Weeks said. “A lot of them have been using drugs to numb their pain.” Cry Freedom Missions partnered with the local sheriff’s department to go into the county jails and assess, identify and serve many of the same people they built relationships with in the hotels. In the jails, Cry Freedom Missions offers classes that provide life skills, parenting skills, resume and job skills. That’s how Cry Freedom Missions reconnected with Allison during her stint in jail. Through intake forms, Cry Freedom Missions found that 90 percent of the incarcerated women had abortions in their past, so the organization began to offer them post-abortion support. The connection between sex trafficking and abortion has taken the interest of the pregnancy help community for this very reason. Because pregnancy centers like Weeks’ often serve as first responders to an unexpected pregnancy for a human trafficking victim, they are perfectly positioned to help preserve the dignity and freedom of both women and their babies who come through their doors.
Just last summer, Heartbeat International, a global network of more than 2,600 pregnancy help organizations, launched the first-ever online course for pregnancy help centers that is targeted at identifying and assisting victims of human trafficking. Cry Freedom Missions is providing one example of what that assistance can look like. In addition to post-abortion support, Cry Freedom Missions has a peer support specialist working in the Wayne County Jail to meet individual needs. Ultimately, their goal is to get clients away from pimps and into safe houses and rehabilitation facilities. It costs approximately $500-$800 a month to keep a single client in a rehabilitation facility. To help offset that cost, the pregnancy center partnered with Tara Lancaster, the original founder and designer of the Cry Freedom jewelry line, which includes necklaces, bracelets, earrings, salt scrubs, bath scrubs and leather products. Clients create each item and receive a wage, with the rest of the money going to provide needs for the client.
Since July 1, 2018, Cry Freedom Missions has sold $65,000 from the jewelry line. “Creating jewelry builds clients’ self-confidence,” Weeks said. “It also gives them a sense of independence and equips them with job skills that are necessary to help them re-engage in the community by becoming contributing members.” Last year, Wayne Pregnancy Center saw over 1,200 clients, performed over 400 pregnancy tests, and saved over 60 babies from abortion. Through Cry Freedom Missions jail outreach, they serve approximately 420 female clients and 600 male clients annually. In 2018 alone, Cry Freedom Missions identified 25 victims of sex trafficking to place in rehabilitation facilities, safe houses and trauma counseling. Wayne Pregnancy Center is currently constructing a Cry Freedom Missions wing as an addition to their building to offer clients classes on life skills, cooking, sewing, parenting skills, resume building skills, self-worth and value classes, as well as classes on dealing with sexual trauma. The wing will even have an area for clients coming off the street to take a shower or enjoy a hot meal. The 1,700 square foot wing is being built completely by volunteer contractors and all of the furniture has been donated. Estimated construction costs are over $200,000. To rally donors behind the project, Weeks and the assistant director, Jonathan Chavous spoke at conferences and posted on social media. “When you share stories, people want to be a part and want to be stakeholders,” Weeks said. “The community support has been overwhelming. It made me realize there is a lot of people in the community with good hearts who want to reach out to help others in crisis situations. Truth is we are all just one poor decision away from changing the rest of our lives. Even though they may not be called into the trenches, the crack houses, the jails, they still want to love and serve and empower our team.”
The Reality of Sex Trafficking Ministry
Many victims of sex trafficking are runaways or LGBTQ people who have been kicked out of their homes. Sixty-six percent of trafficking victims said that drug abuse led to the sexual abuse, and 84 percent have used drugs while being trafficked, according to the AMA Journal of Ethics. “We have to look further into how to help,” Weeks said. “If your family kicks you out of their home, you’re desperate and need food or shelter. Many times traffickers will offer food, shelter or drugs in exchange for prostitution.” Sex trafficking is a $150 billion industry. “You can sell a bag of drugs one time, but you can sell humans many times over,” Weeks said. “A pimp is more likely to be struck by lightning than to be caught for sex trafficking.” Cry Freedom Missions has trained law enforcement agencies, hotel operators, schools, and churches about how to spot and help sex trafficking victims by referring them to outside agencies. In addition, they have taught schools about the dangers of predators on social media and even popular online video games like Fortnite. “Pregnancy resource centers need to be at the forefront of education, providing resources and helping victims of sex trafficking,” Weeks said. “People don’t realize that pregnancy centers are not just about teaching abstinence in middle and high school grades. We want sexual health for everyone—adults and men and women who are victims of sex trafficking and abuse, too.” With jail ministry and hotel outreach, Cry Freedom Missions has security measures and an emergency response team to protect against threats. “We use wisdom while partnering with local authorities,” Weeks said. “The Bible reminds us ‘No weapon formed against you shall prosper.’ If God calls you and your organization to a ministry, He will guide, protect, and provide resources for you.”
Refuge and hope
Jail inmates discover solace in Cry Freedom mission
by Phyllis Moore, Goldsboro News Argus | Goldsboro, NC | June 17, 2019
The inside of the Wayne County Detention Center may look starkly different than what many may picture. It is not an airy room cordoned off by dark black bars and a door that swings open and is never locked, much the way it is depicted on "The Andy Griffith Show." Instead, when you enter the dayroom, there is no evidence of people behind the enclosed rooms with doors closed and securely fastened. Glance down, and you’ll notice a 2 inch opening in each door, at about knee height, just wide and deep enough to allow for a tray of food to be slid through.
Look closer. Inmates must either be seated on the floor or crouched down to gain a peek through the slit to see who has arrived in the common area. It is worth waiting for, though, as every Thursday a team of passionate volunteers donate their time and talents to caring about the incarcerated. The eclectic population — charges range from murder and gang activity to prostitution and drugs — converge into the dayroom, taking their place on the floor until that day’s program begins. Volunteer Lori DeAraujo begins writing on a large flip chart, preparing for that day’s English lesson.
Pastor Kevin Gardner and Jonathan Chavous, assistant director of Wayne Pregnancy Center and Cry Freedom Missions, strum their guitars as volunteer Alaine Strozier, a pastor at Kadosh Ministries, leads the women in deep breathing exercises. Beverly Weeks, executive director of Wayne Pregnancy Center and Cry Freedom Missions, casts a wide net over the group — firmly reminding the inmates that the session is a privilege while maintaining an underlying tone of acceptance and reassurance. Her message is consistent, for many in the audience a foreign concept — they are valuable, and despite being locked inside the four walls, in God’s economy, they have been made free. Music is the universal language drawing them all together, as strains of “Stand by Me” begin and Weeks encourages the women to move their feet and sway to the beat. Midway through, she challenges them to change up the lyrics, replacing “darling, darling, stand by me” to insert, “Jesus, stand by me.” They seamlessly make the change.
Then they segue into “Amazing Grace,” an ironic contrast as harmony and melody converge and voices swell amid the choir in bright orange jumpsuits. Even Veronica George, detention officer, takes part, singing the occasional solo. She has worked at the jail since 2009, as an officer for almost eight years, so she knows the challenges of that atmosphere. For the longest time, they always had to keep the inmates separate to prevent fights from breaking out. Fortunately, she has the “gift of gab,” she says, so isn’t hesitant to speak honestly to those in her charge. “(I’ll say), now y’all grown women, how many people don’t trust ya’ll? They said, ‘A whole lot.’ I said, ‘I’m gonna trust you today to focus on what Miss Beverly says, and that’s it — don’t look at nobody else because if you pop off and you start fighting, guess what? You’re going to have to fight me,’” she said.
Weeks also came on board with her own brand of discipline, George said, and because the inmates look forward to the weekly program, have been better behaved. “There’s no way that you could go into a regular facility and have them sitting there, all 40 of them calm, considering that you know, they’ve got co-dependents (there), they don’t get along, you’ve got safety and things, you’re dealing with emotions,” George said. The atmosphere has shifted, she said. And with it, some of the perceptions, which she said she hopes will spill over. “Everybody thinks because they’re inmates they’re not human,” she said. “That’s somebody’s daughter, that’s somebody’s child. To me, it makes me feel good because they’ve treated them like human beings. With this program, people on the outside, with (the News-Argus) coming in with cameras, people can actually see how it is.” She said she is often asked why she works at a jail. They notice her peaceful nature and often suggest she should be doing something else “I tell people, this is my ministry,” she said. “There’s been times when people will want to kill themselves. I sit down and talk to them. I sing to them. They’ll ask me to sing, even the guys. “I feel like that’s why God put me here. I thank God for having the ability to like calm them down.”
The female inmates have been particularly receptive to their visitors. Dylan, which is not her real name, is just 21 years old. She has been in jail for 41 months. “I was locked up since I was 17 — the jailhouse practically raised me,” she said. “I learned a lot in here. I grew up in here.” She chose to attend the parenting classes, she says, and believes they will help her be a better parent once she is released. But the bonus has been the spiritual and emotional gifts she has received from the experience. “I like the one-on-one visits, I like having someone to talk with,” she said. “Ms. Beverly and Ms. Alaine, they’re sweet. “They can sense, I don’t know how they sense (it) but they just always know what to say.” Dylan still has a ways to go — awaiting transfer to prison, where she expects to remain until October. After that, she has plans to relocate, she says. “I want to start over with my baby, get a job and I want to start my own youth organization for troubled teens and help them,” she said. “I want them to learn from my mistakes.”
Nicole, also not her real name, is 28 years old and has been in jail for four years and two months on several charges, including first-degree murder. She is still awaiting trial, she says. She recalled her first impressions of the Cry Freedom group because it was almost like hearing a foreign language. “They come in here and teach you that no matter what the piece of paper says, or what anyone says, you’re still someone important, you can still change lives, your life can still be changed, no matter where you are, and that’s been encouraging and uplifting,” she said. “A lot of girls come in here without hope because you don’t know when you’re going to court. You don’t have your children. You don’t have your family. You can call but you don’t have them. You don’t have any of your possessions.” At first, though, it was a hard sell for Nicole, who did not grow up, or in her marriage, hearing that message. “The very first class, I think I broke down and cried. I got up and walked out of class,” she said. “I was hiding in a corner, crying.”
One of the leaders came over to check on her, and Nicole admittedly wanted to be left alone. She wasn’t ready to face some of these emotions, she said. She has since gotten in touch with more of her feelings and can articulate why she was able to respond to Weeks’ messages. “When somebody you meet for the first time can tell you everything and everything that you struggled with, it’s like, ‘Well, I need to shut up and listen to what she’s got to say and my barriers, I just need to go ahead and knock them down,” she said. “It didn’t happen instantly, it took a few classes, but they’re all so lovable. “It’s just that genuine love and respect and caring that they give you. It makes a difference.” It has still been a tough experience being in jail, she said, picturing it like a jungle or a zoo. She recalled the constant state of upheaval, as a fight would break out virtually every week, and there was a lot of emotional turmoil.
Since Cry Freedom has begun regularly coming, though, she said there has been a “calm and a peace.” “I guess when people start to see their value and their worth, they don’t act animalistic,” she said.
‘They Gave me hope’ | Finding my way back home
by Phyllis Moore, Goldsboro News Argus | Goldsboro, NC | June 16, 2019
If you had asked Abby as a young child what she wanted to be when she grew up, she would have said a missionary. “My mom and dad took me to church, and I fell in love with the Lord at a young age,” she said. “I loved my Bible. I knew that I wanted to be a missionary and go to Africa.” That was when life was good, when she believed the future would be bright.
Before everything started to come apart, she says now.
At 12 years old, she noticed her father going into her older sister’s room late at night. Then one night he came into Abby’s room and started to fondle her. She was so young, she didn’t understand what was happening but managed to thwart off the advances, hitting her dad repeatedly until he left the room. On her 13th birthday, Abby smoked her first marijuana cigarette. Her life in the subsequent years was fraught with painful experiences that included volatile relationships, being raped and experiences as a “functional addict,” both using and selling drugs. She has gone through marriage and divorce and being a mother, witnessing her own children falling into some of the same patterns of drug abuse. She tried numerous times to straighten out her life and get back on track, and she almost had.
Until she wound up in the Wayne County jail.
Traveling through North Carolina with her daughter and daughter’s boyfriend, Abby was asleep in the back seat of the car when it was pulled over and officers found drugs. It would be Abby’s first time incarcerated on any type of drug charges, she said, and the first time her daughter had been in jail. “I felt shame. I felt guilty. I felt alone, worthless and just felt like I was going to be left and forgotten about,” Abby said. “And then I hurt deeply for my daughter.” The experience, however, just may have turned the tide, as that’s where she discovered Cry Freedom Missions. Abby, which is not her real name, is now in her 50s. And yet, from the first time she attended the weekly life skills classes during her incarceration, she sensed something special. “I saw these women and prior to that, I never really had women per se that I looked up to; but I had seen these three women, and they were just so different. They seemed to so real,” she said. “I had never seen even one church group of females reach out like they reached out, and it changed me and it made me want to be different.
“They gave me hope because I didn’t have any hope.”
The words they spoke, the messages shared — about God, about the female inmates’ value and about the possibility of a better life after jail — spoke to her heart. “I cried out to God and said, ‘This is what I want for me,’ ” she said, adding that her faith had never left her, even if it appeared otherwise. “I prayed while I was walking the streets. I’ve always been a missionary, even when I was on the streets as a prostitute. I talked about the Lord even when I was high but I never really lost my faith totally.” Even when she stumbled or engaged in illegal or immoral activities, Abby said somewhere deep in her soul she still had the desire to connect with God and have a better life. “This is the epiphany — going to those classes every week made me realize that God put me here with these people for a reason, and he started showing me that everything I was doing on that street that he was going to use it if I would just surrender,” she said. “I know that I’m going to have some type of ministry to women.” It may take a while, she admits, as her court case is still pending. The drug and prostitution charges still hang over her. But, through Cry Freedom Missions, she is getting help.
Released from jail in late February, she wears an electronic ankle bracelet and lives in a shelter. She is working on her GED. And she is part of the jewelry making business that offers people like her a way to earn money. There is a sense of purpose bubbling up inside her, and she hopes to go to college and become a counselor, working with women and children who have been trafficked. The “worst experience and the best experience in her life” — being in a car that was pulled over in Goldsboro all those months ago — transformed her, she says. “I feel alive,” she said. “When I look at myself now, I see peace. I see a future. I see good things, and I’m most proud of who I am now. “I love who I am becoming. I feel like I’m back at the beginning.” These days, even the most ordinary experiences have new meaning, she said. “I love being sober. I love being tired. I love eating food,” she said. “I love not having to have a drug control me. I love not looking in the mirror and seeing somebody that I don’t know. “As long as you’re alive, it’s never too late to do the right things. I just feel so good not being on the drugs.”
Kellie Taylor is a mentor from Wayne Pregnancy Center. She calls Abby every day to check up on her, but more than overseeing things to prepare Abby for the workforce, her role goes much deeper. Taylor can do that since she’s traveled the same paths as some of the women, she said. Sometimes, she says, it takes somebody who’s walked through it to break through it. “Being molested at a young age by three different men, living a life of drugs, sex, stripping, also having an abortion myself and being addicted to legal and illegal drugs, if you would take the time to figure out what’s wrong with these girls — nine times out of 10 these women and men, there’s a root, there’s a deep-down root,” she said. “I’m living proof that not every diagnosis is what they say it is.”
I tossed and turned all night. My mind would not allow me to rest knowing what awaited me the following morning. I had dreamed of this moment since the birth of Cry Freedom Missions, never knowing when or if it would ever come to fruition. The day where I would not just be educating people on trafficking and prostitution, but the day where I would be face to face with people who are in bondage to the trade.
I followed Mrs. Beverly (Director of Wayne Pregnancy Center) as we carried a basket of food and baby items to the motel. You could smell the grime as soon as you stepped out of the car. I tried to mentally prepare myself for what I might witness today, but what I had prepared myself for, was nothing like what I actually experienced. Filth. Pain. Poverty. Abuse. Loss. Right here in our very own backyards. It was a completely different world and I knew immediately I was exactly where I needed to be.
The first person I had the pleasure of meeting was a bubbly young woman who will quickly put a smile on your face, but whose story would make you physically ill. Tied to the bed at only age 7 while man after man came in to have their way with her so her mother could support a drug addiction. The government came to the rescue and placed her in the system. She was then raped not by one foster family, but two. Lost in PTSD, and grief, this young woman turned to drugs to numb the pain of being trafficked by her mom and years of sexual abuse. Prostitution is the only thing she knows. She sells her body not only to support her addiction, but also because she feels unworthy of true love and freedom.
We made our way to another motel room. Two beds, two dogs, three people in no more than 200 sq. ft. Clothes and garbage piled in every corner. I carefully entered, stepping over dog urine and excrement. We were there to give a free pregnancy test. She was no more than 16 years old, living with a friend and an older male in one room. She gave us a fake name as she took the test. The test read negative and we all felt a sense of relief. They should be getting ready for their prom, driving to the mall with their girlfriends, or catching a movie with a crush. Instead they are living in a dirty motel room, most likely being trafficked by a pimp, worrying over the thoughts of possibly being pregnant.
Motel room after motel room. I came into contact with many people, each who have their own painful story. It took me a while to process everything I saw, everything I heard. I was able to physically see why I do what I do. It is for the young woman who suffers from sexual abuse trauma, it is for the teenager who can’t afford a pregnancy test, it is for those in bondage, in need, in pain. For those who feel unworthy, dirty...unlovable.
There are some really big things coming for Cry Freedom and I can’t wait to take you all on this roller coaster ride. I am extremely honored to be partnering with the Wayne Pregnancy Center and Mrs. Beverly. This is only the beginning.
We are only able to reach these people in need because of YOU. Thank you for having the same heart as we do to see these people set FREE! Because you chose to buy Cry Freedom’s jewelry, we have been able to raise over $15,000. This money is being used to provide shelter, food, education, love, compassion, and ultimately a WAY OUT! It also is being used to build a playground and wash house at the Pregnancy Center for these people to have a safe place to clean themselves as well as their clothes, while their children have a safe place to play and fellowship with one another. You are all world changers and are making such an impact in these lives. Stay tuned for more. Coming soon.
(stories shared with permission)