Here is “Escape from Bondage,” the first story of “In Other Hands: Revised Edition,” currently on sale. This is a collection of literary nonfiction about sex trafficking, prostitution, poverty, and homelessness.
I was born in Ridgecrest, out in the desert two hours from Bakersfield. There’s a lot of meth there and not much to do. My mom smoked and snorted it and was using all the time when I was a child but careful not to let me see her. I loved her but was hungry for attention. She and her live-in boyfriend were always in their bedroom. Neither one of them was working. They were typical tweakers, dealing meth, and would steal from anyone, even a child. Her boyfriend used to beat me with his belt, burn me with cigarettes, and call me fat. We didn’t have the best diet. I remember eating noodles and garlic almost every day.
When I was seven-years old my mom got pregnant. My sister was born early and had to stay in the hospital five weeks. Child Protective Services showed up at my mom’s and told me we were going to lunch, but they took me into custody and soon my little sister, too. Then we lived with a nice Baptist family but they wouldn’t let me see my mom if I cried. My mom got clean and got us back a few months later, but she stayed with her boyfriend, my sister’s dad, until I was ten. He was horrible, throwing glasses and cups all the time. And he started licking my face and forehead and made me sick with his nasty speed breath.
When my mom kicked her boyfriend out, her sister’s husband, my uncle, started spending more time with us. He was a meth addict. He shot it, and he’d slap my butt and touch me in private areas and make nasty comments. I was scared. He beat my aunt so bad she’s legally blind and deaf. Finally, when I was twelve, I got the courage to speak out and say, “Hey, Uncle Mike’s been touching me.” My mom called the police. They asked me to tell my story many times. I was always consistent, and my uncle went to prison for three years.
I started using meth when I was eleven. I was in a drug house and it was natural to just start snorting, three or four days a week. I’d go to school loaded. I didn’t care. I had a lot of anger. I’d punch myself. I couldn’t study. I’d ditch school and go smoke cigarettes and weed and drink alcohol and take more meth. Sometimes I could go a month or two without using but I always started again. In sixth grade I stopped going to school. By the time I was fifteen, I was a full-blown meth addict, shooting it as well as snorting and smoking. I liked it. My whole body felt high like my sternum was being pulled up and I was floating, super high. I felt invincible. The crashes were really bad. My whole body hurt when I wasn’t high. I got so I picked at myself, my face, everywhere. I had a lot of cuts and scabs. It was a crazy life. I was hanging out with addicts in their thirties and forties. We sold drugs to make money.
Around this time I met a guy who became my boyfriend. We married when I was nineteen. We were both shooting meth and beating hell out of each other. The cops came so many times they stopped coming. My husband and I still loved each other. He came from a bad family and had been in and out of prison a lot for drug-related crimes. I found out I was pregnant ten weeks in and stopped using drugs. We had our daughter, Autumn, when I was twenty. After that I started sleeping with guys for drugs and money. Everything was crazy at home. The last time my husband beat me he almost ripped my ear off, and I had him jailed.
I was twenty-three and felt dead, with a puny little soul. I asked my mom to keep Autumn so I could leave town with a guy. He was twenty-one years older and sold meth but I didn’t think about that. He painted a façade. I thought, “I won’t have to fight this one.” We got a ride from Ridgecrest to Bakersfield and took a bus to Reno. In Sacramento, he left my suitcase on the bus. Two hours after we got to Reno, he said, “If you want to eat, and sleep inside, you’ve got to earn some money.”
It was winter and really cold in the mountains. The first two nights we slept outside. He told me, “Why give it away when you can get paid for it?” I felt it was okay, even when he said, “You’ve got to take care of us.”
We fought all the time. Sometimes I’d hit him – I’m pretty big and can take quite a few guys – but he was very big and I did what he said. I’d go to truck stops and say to the drivers, “Hi, you want to buy some condoms? You want to party?” I’d get forty to sixty dollars for a quickie in their trucks. I was pretty friendly in casinos and met a man with rich friends. They’d take me to motels and I’d get a hundred fifty for fifteen minutes. My boyfriend was always watching and using his size to make sure he got paid. After four months of this, spinning out on alcohol and meth, I met a man who drove me to Portola, where I rested a few days, and then he took me to San Jose. He was a chemist and made meth at work and also bought it on the street.
I then met a guy who was a real gangster. He’d done fifteen years in prison for murder. He sold crack and meth as well as girls. He had about twenty-five girls all over, San Jose, Vegas, Chicago, Texas. He never slept with his girls or used drugs. It was all business. We lived on the second floor of a fairly nice apartment in the hood in San Jose. My name became Cash. No one called me Janet. I was one of his bottom girls. I worked for him a long time. We were friends. He told me, “I’m not going to beat your ass because if you’re bruised I can’t sell you.” Sometimes he’d point his gun at my head and laugh. He also had hit men working for him.
A lot of the johns were really weird. Some dressed as women and did a lot of other things I wouldn’t want to go into detail about. I wasn’t scared of nothing. My husband had beaten me up for years. I felt I had incredible strength. But my pimp never gave me any money. He got everything. He just gave me drugs and clothes and drove me everywhere. If he had business somewhere else, he’d drop me off at places where people watched me until he got back.
One night in the apartment I felt like I was going to die. I didn’t have any ID. He’d taken that and everything else. He told me to clean my room. I knew he’d kill me if I tried to leave. He gave drugs to people in the apartments around us so they’d watch me and the other girls. That night – it was March tenth last year – something kicked in. I’d just taken a shower and put on a dress. My hair was still wet – it was bright pink – and I wasn’t wearing shoes. I opened the window and jumped from the second story. I was horrified and ran as fast as I could. In front of a church I saw a guy and started talking to him. My pimp kept calling over and over and over until my phone burned out. I had about thirty dollars from hiding five dollars here and there.
I walked around with the guy I’d just met, and we got a sack of meth and shot it up. It’s only twenty dollars a quarter gram if you don’t know the dealers, and twenty for two grams if you know them. I needed money and had a date scheduled with a man but couldn’t go there or my pimp would get me. I was tripping out on the guy I was with, and thinking about my pimp. I met another guy and stayed with him two days. He gave me a bicycle. I rode to downtown San Jose and went in a bathroom. When I came out, there’s my pimp. He’d been texting my photo all over town and someone had called him. He said, “Where’s my stuff, bitch?”
I jumped on my bike. He chased me but I rode over some light rail tracks and got away, but I kept seeing my photo on phones everywhere. I stole food from a market because I hadn’t eaten in so long. A couple of days later I saw another hooker and she must’ve called my pimp. I was in front of a fast food restaurant when he saw me and said, “What the hell? You gotta make me some money.”
I knew I was going to die. Guys like him will break all your bones and throw you where no one will ever find you. I couldn’t talk to my family and couldn’t see my kid. I was broken. Someone called him and he drove away. I cried out to God. I knew I’d had enough. I was in front of the Free Bird Café when an old man stopped and asked what was wrong. He must’ve been about eighty. He said, “Put your bike in my car.” He took me to his house, a very nice place, and paid me three hundred dollars for a date.
I called the chemist in San Jose and took a bus to his house. I slept there a couple days straight, and he finally said, “I’m going to take you to Ridgecrest.”
My mom’s got eighteen years clean. When she saw me she wouldn’t let me see my kid. I ran amok for about three days, using meth, alcohol, and weed. The police detained me for public intoxication. I think they didn’t arrest me because I admitted I was high. That was March seventeenth last year and the last time I’ve used. I’m proud to have one year clean. But for a few days I had to stay at a place near my mom’s house, and I could hear my daughter playing in the yard but couldn’t visit her. When I gave my mom a clean drug test, she let me see Autumn.
On March twenty-eighth, when I’d been clean eleven days, we went to see the movie The Trafficked Life. My mom had heard of Magdalene Hope. Their pastor Doug Bennett was there, and so was the film’s director, Michael Fagans, and some girls who’d worked on the streets. There was a panel discussion afterward, and my mom stood in the crowd and said, “My daughter’s being trafficked.”
Doug asked, “Are you ready to commit? Are you ready to change your life?”
I had to stay eighteen days in a secure domestic violence facility in Ridgecrest before I qualified to go to Restoration Ranch, the home run by Magdalene Hope. I started there April eighteenth. It’s harder to change my life than stay in it but I’ve given myself to Christ. We have bible studies, AA meetings, and I’ve been taking college courses online. In June I’ll have my associate’s degree in Christian counseling. My grade point average is almost four-point-oh. Next, I plan to study the culinary arts. I love to cook. That’s my passion.