I'VE NEVER GOTTEN A CAKE BEFORE
Most don’t think that working with gang members is akin to helping child soldiers; we don’t take that approach. If you take some time to speak with a gang member, they’ll often admit that they didn’t want to be involved; they were forced. Once, we were writing resumes across from the Oriana House, a rehab and exit facility and we came across the most amazing young man. He was drafted into a violent street gang as a child, forced to do unspeakable acts. He was arrested, served his time and now wanted out. The day we were working with him just happened to be his 21st birthday. We asked one of our volunteers to head out and buy this young man a cake. He tearfully admitted that he had never had cake on his birthday. We sang him “happy birthday,” and he blew out a lighter to make a wish. He left his gang and used the employment paperwork and clothing to earn a job at a fitness facility. He is currently working towards someday owning his own gym.
I MISSED THE INTERNET
We worked with an offender at a pop-up. He was a trafficker who had served his time; 15 years in prison. He didn’t want to offend again, so we sat down with him to outline what he could do to get a job. I asked if he had an e-mail address. He didn’t. I asked if he was able to use a computer. He couldn’t. I asked if he had any electronics experience whatsoever. He said that he’d heard of the “internet” but wasn’t really sure what it was. By the end of our time together he knew what Google was, had an e-mail address and was enrolled in a local computer class.
We were working the last hour of our first pop-up. The location was slimy, down the street from all of the strip clubs and in the lobby of a motel known to be a conduit for entering the sex trades. A young girl walked quickly past our open door & slightly glanced in as she did. Thirty seconds later, she did the same thing heading the other way down the hallway. I popped my head out and said “we’re packing up and have a bunch of food leftover, would you like any”? She came in and said that the word was that we helped girls like her. She had just arrived in town from Chicago, and was accompanied by her “boyfriend” wherever she went. After a bit, her story led to her stating that she only had the clothes on her back and hadn’t eaten in days. She calmly admitted to coming to Cleveland to get into the sex trade here, there was money to be made. We got her fixed up with a survivor bag, a “month in a bag” so at least we knew that she could change her clothes, eat and call for help if need be. We knew that it wasn’t enough to give, she needed so much; but it was a first step for her leaving the life.