Meeting Angela is like finding a window with a warm ray of sunshine to sit in.
Her wide smile and welcoming demeanor are impossible to resist. Meeting her last Saturday in the back office of the Just Cause shop downtown, she didn’t mince words or make shallow talk.
She looked like she had just come from an important meeting. She was dressed sharp with purpose in her step. Upon introduction, Kelli asked if she would mind spending some time sharing her journey with me. Without skipping a beat, she looked me in the eye while putting her things down, “I’m not afraid to talk about where I came from and I’m not afraid to talk about where I’m going.”
What incredible confidence she carried I thought as we made our way to a quiet place to sip coffee and tea and talk.
Her beautiful jewelry jingled while she tucked her long neat hair to one shoulder, “Thank you for being willing to listen. We need people that will listen and share.” I was so taken back by her. From the outside looking in no one would ever guess the trauma, addiction and abuse she had experienced for most of her life. She was poised and prepared. She quietly said a quick prayer as she settled into an overstuffed arm chair. With a smile on her face and coffee thermos in hand, Angela started at the beginning.
“For me the trauma was generational. Women in my family did what they had to do to survive and keep a roof over their head for themselves and their children, which often led to being mistreated and abused by their husbands. This life wasn’t something I consciously chose, but more subconsciously learned.”
Being the child born into a family of alcoholism, Angela conveyed that she lost her way at a young age because of the atmosphere of survival she witnessed in her youth.
Growing up she watched her mother work hard to support herself and four daughters. She was worn out, doing all she could to stay afloat. As Angela grew older she saw her mother’s despair and depression take hold of her. Angela remembers as a child she would try to lift her spirits, dancing and singing for her around the dinner table. But her mother, given over to drinking, would grow angry at the end of long days and eventually would turn her frustrations to her daughters.
As a young woman, Angela became attractive. She made good grades and was the captain of the drill team. Her mother saw Angela’s youth and innocence, opportunities her mother missed out on, “Don’t you think you’re cute, don’t you think you’re something special” her mother would badger her, after an evening of drinking.
Daily Angela would come home and often she would endure the taunts of her Mom, until eventually the repeated and continual emotional abuse drove Angela away.
“It drove me out the door. I ended up engaging in activities I had no business getting involved in. Men, drinking, drugs. At the time I didn’t realize what I was doing. I was just doing all the things I saw the other people around me doing to escape.”
By her mid-teens, Angela’s lifestyle had already been altered drastically, and at 16 she had her first child. That’s when Angela’s mom kicked her out. She had decided that two women couldn’t live under the same roof. And in the midst of trying to please and maintain her own partner, Angela was forced out by her mom along with her child and older sister.
On her own and barely an adolescent, Angela was given to a cycle of doing what she had seen her mother done her whole life to survive. Find a man and do what you have to do in exchange for security and protection.
“It makes me reflect on women and the support systems they have today. Who is going to take care of the kids, who is going to help pay the bills.” Angela said. “I was a child, I couldn’t do it all… the men became a repeated cycle.”
Using her youth and beauty to her advantage, young and attractive she began seeking out men as a means to help her survive.
Working a job to try and keep she and her son off the streets, Angela found herself tangled in the midst of wanting to do things the right way, but still out on the streets from time to time meeting men and doing drugs. It was during one of these outings that she came home after a long night away to her sister whom she lived with asleep and her children gone. They had been taken in the night by children services and Angela had been charged with neglect. It was that moment where she felt herself give up.
Today, Angela shares, she believes the system is different. They try to work with women to keep them with their children. but during that time is where Angela gave herself over to life on the street.
“At that point I had nothing. I was totally given over to drugs and men. I ended up arrested, in jail for 60 days and back in a shelter, where the drugs were plenty. There were so many factors that went in to my spiral out of control, but It was there that I began to change. In that mess I had to decide that I wanted to try again. Alone in that place I began to remember that young girl, the captain of the drill team, the girl with all A’s and B’s, the one chosen to recite the Martin Luther King speech at school.”
It was in the strangest way that Angela began to find her way out. While in this process of looking for a way out of her current situation she met ironically, a drug dealer. But he was different. She could tell that he was looking for a way out too. But past rehab and detox there was so where to go. Nowhere to refuge from the life they had been submerged in … and that’s when they found each other.
“I was exhausted from being out on the street. And he would let me come in and let me stay. And in return I’d find any opportunity I could to help. I’d cook and clean and take care of the home. Well the longer I stayed the more he became curious about me, until one day he said, ‘hey, let’s go to church’.”
And though they had a tough walk experiencing relapses along the way, they kept going to church. He as a result stopped selling and Angela stopped going out. And it was as they kept showing up, kept finding ways to serve, they took one step after another, their lives now totally surrendered to God.
That’s when Angela met Kelli and Let Her Rest. Seeing Kelli’s heart for broken women, Angela then began to spend her time volunteering at the home, serving the girls that came in off the street, these women that were just like who she had once been.
“And that’s when I came alive. It became an open door an opportunity in my life, and then door after door began to open. And I was so happy to get up and go.”
Angela soon after received acceptance into the Godman Guild program, where she was able to complete her GED. From there she was accepted into New Directions, E3 program (a program that helps women pursue post-secondary education). It was in this program that Angela won a full scholarship from the Woman Leadership Council. Now in college, she is actively pursuing a degree in Social and Human Services through Columbus State. All this while maintaining a 3.96 grade point average.
“I want to make a change. I want to help women in these hardships. People get deterred. Of course we have programs to help people, but so many people are ready to change, but the system just doesn’t have enough resources to help them.”
Angela now attends an E3 New Direction support group once a month that encourages her as she continues to move her life forward.
I asked Angela, what she would say is a gap in the system. She explained that people are ready to change but there have to be more tools for ladies to get out and stay out. A home like the Normandy Project.
“It takes time to get out. And sometimes you get so caught up trying to make sure you’re doing all the things to maintain a status you need for the systems sake, that you get discouraged and caught up and you just go back to what’s familiar. When you’re down the drug dominates, now I know who that old woman was. I know very well the old Angela. I know how she thinks and how she acts, but I’m not her today.”
Angela is convinced it was because she finally found a support system through her church and women like Kelli and Let Her Rest that would walk with her that allowed her to cultivate the stamina she needed to really break out.
“I don’t know how it all worked, I’m convinced God took my hand and led me. But I do know this, I want to live today. I want to be happy today. I want to rejoice and be glad today. It’s a journey, but I’m a stickler that all things are possible.”
As we wrapped up our conversation I asked Angela, what do you want people to know when they’re looking at someone on the street? Someone they’re not trying to judge, but maybe in their heart they are.
“I want them to know that girl is crying out. She’s a survivor, but she needs help. I thank God for that girl because now I understand the compassion and genuine heart it takes to help people change, because I too got lost and needed to know that there are people who genuinely care for me.”
As I turned off my recorder I asked her if we could pray. She held my hand and we both wept. I wanted to bless her, but I quickly realized that she had blessed me.
There are so many more women like Angela. Women who want out but need help. The Normandy Project is a piece of that puzzle. It’s a place to go when the programs are done and the detox is over. It’s somewhere to shelter while these ladies build a real life for themselves and their children.
We need this. Our city needs this. And after sitting with Angela I am more convinced then I was before that bringing these women in and helping them re-establish their lives will release generations of mothers and daughters to carry the banner and see trauma and addiction and trafficking eradicated from our city.