I had the pleasure of spending some time with the women at the Magdalene House in Nashville, which is a two-year residential community for women with a history of prostitution and drug addiction. The women are some of the most incredibly strong people I have ever had the pleasure to meet and listen to them as they told their stories and the paths that they took to find solace in their recovery. These are their stories. I'll be adding more pictures to this post in the coming days...
My name is Niki. I grew up in what seemed to be a normal middle class family…my stepmother suffered from mental illness that went untreated and I was at the hands of her abuse, both physical, emotional, mental, verbal abuse. I went to school with welts and bruises. It was kind of a secret where everything seemed perfect on the outside in that we went to church and my family was respected in the community but inside, in the house, it was hell.
When I started using crack cocaine I was actually married and had a little boy who just turned 5. I lost everything within, probably a six month period. My marriage fell apart, we lost our house, I lost my job, and eventually I couldn’t take care of myself. Fortunately my dad was able to take care of my son. I tried to get clean at that time when I confessed to my family about what was going on with me, but I stayed clean for about 30 days and then I relapsed.
I was prostituting. What I tried to do was to get the money or get whatever I could without actually having sex. I didn’t want to have sex. I didn’t want to have to do that…all for drugs, for crack cocaine. The whole time I have this little boy living with my parents and I wasn’t even thinking about him. I wasn’t thinking about myself.
I’d gotten to a point where I was so sick of what I was doing. I was sick of prostituting, sick of using drugs, I had this deep shame and guilt and still do because I basically left my child for drugs. Finally one day it was like I can’t do this anymore, I’ve got to be a mother to my son. I can’t not be in his life. My mother wasn’t in my life and I didn’t want that same cycle.
Magdalene was actually the last number on the list. I called and the house manager answered the phone, didn’t really ask many questions. I told her the situation, she asked me where I was at, and she came and got me. When I came everyone was real open. Everyone was lovin’ like they accepted me just like they had known me forever. They were people like me. They were people that had issues that I had and I just felt comfortable. It was the perfect place for me. I couldn’t have probably went anywhere else.
My name is Vickie. I was court ordered the Magdalene program. I really like it. It’s a little strenuous but it’s working. Some of [my past] is real hard to talk about, some of it we don’t even remember. It’s still under the surface.
I’ve seen murder, I’ve seen rapes and beatings. I’ve been beat, I’ve been raped, I’ve also been exposed to the HIV virus that is now in the full blown. It’s a little too much for me, but I’m trying to deal with it. I’m having a hard time because I feel like I’m not getting enough feedback on my HIV with my groups and stuff. That’s the reason as to why I got into drugs because I ended up sick and it needs to be addressed together. The disease of addiction and my disease of the HIV needs to be addressed together because one comes with the other one.
I know that I need to change me….I had just turned into a terrible person. If they can teach me how to reconstruct my way of thinking and living and dealing with everyday problems that I normally don’t even think about.
I had wanted to get some help…my daughter had started to get me into the Magdalene program while I was in jail…I was accepted…
My name is Latasha. I was on the streets from the age of 14 I started drinking, I started using drugs at the age of 25. I’m 38 now. I didn’t stop using until I was the age of 38. At the age of 14, first boyfriend, started drinking with him, had 2 kids with him. He just used to fight on me all the time, I used to give him my money, I thought that this was what I supposed to do. I wasn’t taught right from wrong. I didn’t know, so the older I got, I got from men, always beated on me. They was just real abusive. Everytime I was with a man that was abusive that went to jail I went to someone else – same routine, same routine – that’s all that’s been going on in my life. I was just tired of it and was like, I gotta get out.
I have always been like shy, never like to talk in front of a crowd of people. When I came here, they encouraged me, you know? And I just wanted to challenge myself when I came here. I wanted a way out, I just wanted something different, I wanted to challenge myself. I always ran from whatever, this was the first time I ever had to deal with pain and feel the hurt without using drugs. I didn’t think I could do it but I did it because when I came up in here I already knew it was a 2 year program – been on the waitin’ list for four years. I lost my apartment back home and that’s another reason why I came here. I knew I was on this waiting list and I thought it out “Ok ‘tasha, you lost your apartment, your children grown, might as well, tired of living the way I was livin’, I wanted something different.”
My name is Melissa. I was on the streets for 7 ½ years. I hitchhiked from Oklahoma in 2001 and came to Nashville. I was already introduced to prostitution in 2001. I just couldn’t find my way. I wanted to start over, but it was like, everywhere I went there was drugs or there was liquor, or there was prostitution, so I just kind of fell into it. I didn’t want to do it. I don’t know why I did it.
I guess I did it because I was feeling all of these feelings from my past. I was abused and I have resentments against that, and some of the stuff I’m still workin’ through. But that’s basically my story. My story is very simple, but very brutal.
You have a choice today, you don’t have to do the things you were doing. There are other ways to deal with stuff inside your head.
When I came in the program I could be myself, I didn’t have to be someone else, like I have been in other programs. You can express yourself, you don’t have to hide nothin’. Magdalene hides nothing.
If you really want to stay clean you can because this program offers everything. Offers mental help, physical help, spiritual, if you want to go to church. This is the best program I’ve ever been in in my life.
My name is Penny Hall, I’ve been homeless since 1995. I got into some abusive relationships, got into drugs and alcohol, mostly alcohol. Well my mother, she died, so that took my place to live with her ,so I ended up livin’ here and there and yonder the best I could. Then I went into treatment, and the program here and luckily I got accepted.
I been drinkin’ since I was – maybe eleven. You see my mom and daddy owned beer joints when I was a child and they took me to beer joints when we were four or five. I remember drinkin’ maybe once every now and then but I wasn’t an alcoholic then. When the bar closed and they were cleanin’ up they’d say “ you want a beer” and we’d say “yeah”, we just thought we were big.
When I was [prostituting] I had my regulars that would pick me up and I didn’t walk the streets all that much. I got a few women into prostitution, like I’d get paid to get them tricks. It was just a hard life you know --chaos. Never know if you’re gonna turn a corner and get shot or robbed, anything.
I’m glad it’s behind me, but they say never forget where you come from because you can always end up back there. We think about that last miserable moment and that keeps us from wanting to go back out there.
When I first got [to the Magdalene House] it was like I was part of a family, like they’d been knowing me for years…we try to stick together and help one another.
My name is Katie. I was in the streets for five years and I had tried a halfway house, but it was a 90 day program and there wasn’t any love and support in the program so that didn’t work, I left. When I got out of jail I called and got on the waiting list [for the Magdalene House]. I felt so gone on the drugs I felt like I was losing my mind and I wanted to die. I kept calling and calling and calling and the Resident’s Manager finally called me back and said “Katie we have a bed for you at the safe house if you would like to come until a bed is open at Magdalene.” I ended up coming the next Wednesday so I’ve been up in Nashville for eight months now, so I’m eight months clean.
The dope had beat me up. There’s not even any words to explain how I felt. The streets will beat you up. The drugs, what I put myself through to get myself next hit – living hell.
[Magdalene House] is really unexplainable, it’s the love, the support, you know, they’re not judgmental. They meet every woman where they’re at. If you need dental work, they do that, if you need therapy, counseling, they do that. I think the main thing that keeps me there is the love...there’s not another program like Magdalene.