A few weeks ago I spent a few days out of town working with one of my clients.
On the afternoon of my second day I was sitting in the hotel restaurant reading the newspaper and catching up on email when I became aware of someone approaching my
I looked up as a beautiful young woman reached the table and asked, “Is your name Rael?”
“Yes it is.” I replied frantically searching my database for any sign of recognition and finding none.
“You probably don’t remember me,” she said with a smile, “but the last time we saw each other was more than 18 years ago when I was 14.
I frantically searched the database of my mind searching for a file under “S” for Samantha. Finally I found it and the memories flooded back into my head with all the clarity as if it had been yesterday.
The last time I had seen her was18 years ago when I was a volunteer in an organization that have been started by a friend of mine to work with and help young girls, who’d been lured into prostitution, get off the streets and back into some form of normal life.
I remember Samantha and her story so very well. Hers is the type of story one does not forget and the horror of the story is not made easier by the passage of time.
The sexual abuse started as far back as she could remember. She thought she had been three or four when it first began.
The first time it had been one of the many “fathers” who’d been in her life and shortly afterwards there was a succession of “uncles” visiting her alone on the filthy mattress on the floor that served as her bed.
Of course, if your life begins like this you assume that this is what normal is and so she never spoke, or confided in anyone. She just assumed that all of her friends were experiencing exactly the same type of life.
She believed that every kid’s home was a place of fear and terror and that was just how it was.
And she did not know, in those early years, just how much worse it was going to get.
Around the time she turned 13 a close family friend “turned her out” into the world of juvenile prostitution.
This family friend was in fact her pimp and while she cannot remember how many “John’s” she had been with or how many times she had been arrested, what she did remember clearly was every single beating that she received at the hands of her pimp whenever she failed to meet his quota or asked the wrong question or took too long to answer a question or asked for anything for herself or, or, or.
I remember learning from her about something called a “pimpstick”. This is a wire clothes hanger that has been heated on an element and then used to beat young girls into submission.
A tool used to terrorize and punish those was deemed disrespectful. A simple means of ensuring compliance.
When I first met her after my friend had finally convinced her to leave this lifestyle she was in such bad shape that it was generally thought she was not long for this world.
She was painfully thin, severely malnourished and dealing with multiple addictions.
And terrified that her pimp would come after her.
I spent a lot of time talking with Samantha back in those days before she was taken for her first stint in rehab.
I do remember saying goodbye to her and offering a silent prayer that she would be one of the ones who would be spared from going back to a sex life of hell.
And 18 years passed before I saw her again.
And so couple of weeks ago as I sat across from this stunningly beautiful young lady and listened to the story of how she had built a magnificent life for herself, I was struck with just how incredibly powerful we human beings can be when we want things badly enough.
She told me how she had completely “renovated” her life. She overcame all of her many addictions and set about sculpting the life she had dreamed of and never thought possible.
She had been placed into foster care and, for the first time in her life, had been surrounded by love. She still refers to those wonderful people who opened their home to her as her parents.
She went back to school and graduated and then spent several years working two and three jobs in order to save money for a university education.
It took her seven years to earn the money she needed and during that time she devoted almost all of the very little free time she had to counseling young women who were in the situation she had been in several years earlier.
The look of pride on her face when she told me that she finally graduated with a degree in social work four years ago was one that will stay with me forever.
Three years ago Samantha married Jason – the love of her life – and is now the mother of beautiful one year old twin boys and has just gone back to her job as a social worker.
She told me something interesting. As a 14-year-old the most profound thing she’d ever heard in her life were the words offered to her by my friend shortly after his first visit with her.
He had told her something she did not know. He had told her that her life did not need to be like this. He had explained to her that she could make other choices.
This had been a complete revelation to her. She had never considered other possibilities as she had believed there were none.
He had gone on to tell her that how her life was that day did not reflect how her life could be the next day. That, he had explained to her, would be determined solely by the choices she made.
She told me those words changed her life completely and she’s never forgotten them.
She and Jason have a clear understanding that today’s choices lead to tomorrow’s results and they have both learned to focus on making really good choices.
We chatted for nearly two hours and it was absolutely wonderful to spend time with this magnificent, contributing human who had reinvented herself in the most dramatic and remarkable ways.
Samantha is living testament to the simple absolute yet indisputable and irrefutable fact that no matter where we are today the choices we make now will determine where we will be tomorrow and we can be anywhere we want to be by making the right choices and taking the right action.
Samantha, I am so very proud of you.
Till we read again.