Janie* arrived at Refuge for Women Pittsburgh after being released from serving almost 2 years in jail for drug and gun possession.
Janie* arrived at Refuge for Women Pittsburgh after being released from serving almost 2 years in jail for drug and gun possession. When she was 16 years old, Janie was first sold for sex and given drugs by family members. Now, in her early 40s, Janie had lived “The Life,” off and on for years during which she was sold for sex, used drugs, and was homeless.
Here is Janie’s story about her time at Refuge for Women Pittsburgh’s Emergency House, in her own words. Her goal in sharing this story is to help other women realize that they can leave “The Life” and there is help available.
“When I first got to the Emergency House, I felt like I was in a movie. It all seemed fake to me. I was waiting for the other shoe to drop. In prison, you learn to be quiet and watch while you figure out which inmates are in charge. Here, the other shoe never dropped. People have been good to me. I am not a job to them. I am a person to them. I haven’t been a person to anyone in a long time.
At the house, they have cared for me, loved me and supported me – even when I was mean to them. So, I decided to share a little bit in group. There was no judgement. So, I shared a little more. Again, no judgement. Then I shared the raw, brutal truth and they didn’t treat me like a sick person. They treated me like a person who wanted to heal.
I’ve worked in halfway houses as a staff person before, but I was never comfortable sharing my truth. Here, I was taken out of my comfort level so that I could become comfortable with being honest with myself about my life. I’ve seen people die. I’ve lost my kids. I have left no pain stone unturned. But I couldn’t change while I was in pain.
I cared more about surviving on the streets, getting dope or getting dates so that I made enough money and wouldn’t be hurt at the end of the day by my trafficker. I slept on the streets in layers of clothes so someone couldn’t get to me while I was sleeping. It was all ugly, and there had been so much ugly for so many years, it felt like it was in my bones, my cells, my muscles, my blood. I was filled up with all the things the people in my life had told me and done to me. It was all ugly.
I used to be “all in” for living on the streets. Now, I am “all in” on this recovery with God. If I were to tell someone in “The Life” one thing it would be to give this place and God half of the believe that you have given the street life. Just give this place a chance.
Yes, it is restrictive. No phones or computers. We can’t watch certain movies or listen to certain music. Our phone calls are monitored. But there is a reason for it. When that stuff is around, you digest it. And here, they want you to digest something else – some good. This is a safe place, and they make sure that there darkness does not come in here. You’re told that you are loved that you are enough, and you begin to believe it. They And that darkness, that ugliness starts to leave. And those spaces are filled with light.
The work I did here – the readings, the group meetings, the therapy, the devotionals – all of that brings light into me. They replace that pain, sorrow, loss, and discomfort with love, kindness and understanding. I don’t know what God is here, but it is not the God that I grew up with – the God I met here, through these people, has changed me.
My greatest joy here was at Christmas. I have not seen my kids in 12 years. This Christmas, I was able to buy and send them gifts, and then I was able to watch them over video open their gifts. I was able to talk with them. My youngest son said, “Mom, you keep doing what you have to do to get better. I can wait for you.”
Now, I don’t look like a junkie on the streets. I am clean, I sit and talk like a lady, I care about myself. I just want to make the next decision to do the next right thing.
My goal now is to be to someone what the people here at Refuge for Women Pittsburgh have been to me. I want someone to see me and see God in me wanting to help them.”
*Name changed to protect the identity of the Survivor.