No one took the time to listen to my story. I was always labeled as a bad girl, child prostitute, or criminal. In the beginning, if a police office, teacher, doctor, or any adult would’ve approached me through a different lens and saw me as a young girl that needed help instead of a runaway…. My life could’ve been so much different. It is by luck that I’m able to share my story with others, other kids may not be so lucky. We need to eliminate luck from the equation.
My young parents didn’t have the skill sets to properly raise me, which at a young age caused me to search for acceptance in other places. I began running away at the age of 13. I felt freedom that I never felt before. Running away became a cycle for me. I would run away, get caught, get sent home, and then run away again. Right before my 14th birthday I ran away. This time I was caught by a law enforcement officer. When I was asked my name I gave him a false name. Of course the officer found out. He roughly put me in hand cuffs and threw me into the back of his police car. He automatically assumed that I was a bad kid. He didn’t ask me why I was running away or why I lied. If he did, he may have realized that I was a good kid that experienced trauma at such a young age. A kid that needed resources, love, and support not lock up. However, he didn’t ask and I was sent to jail and placed on probation.
This started my journey in the juvenile justice system. I continued to run away, which led me to violate probation several times. Finally, when I was 15, I was court ordered to complete a drug rehab program. I wanted to change. I swear I did but this girl came in… and she was so powerful. She had a voice. My whole life I felt invisible. I felt like no one listened to me. So when she asked if I wanted to run away with her, I said yes. I said yes not knowing that she was already caught in the sex trade. About two weeks after running away with her, I was kidnapped by a man I met once before. Under this man’s control I became a victim of sex trafficking. I endured many horrors, every day I was subject to beatings, rapes, and much, much more. I was hopeless and blamed myself for what was happening to me. At the time, I didn’t understand what was happening. I didn’t know this was sex trafficking. On March 30, 2010 I escaped my trafficker. My trafficker was arrested and later sent to prison for the remainder of his life and I was sent to jail for violating probation. Resources for victims of human trafficking were scarce in 2010. This was something people still thought happened in other countries therefore I received no help for the trauma I endured and was sent back home 9 months later after I completed a secured program.
After being released I was placed in foster care. I was placed in a foster home where my basic needs weren’t met. I had to provide my own food, hygiene and clothes. At 15 it was nearly impossible to find a job so I resorted to stealing. I ended up stealing hundreds of dollars from a friend’s mother and got caught. I remember the police officers arresting me, and once again not asking me why I was doing this. Once arrested, I was placed on home detention. I was facing 9-12 months in another secure detention facility. I went to trial, and I lost. Right before my sentencing I decided to run away again. I refused to go back to jail. I ran away with a man who swore he was going to take care of me until I was 18. A few days after being with him, I became a victim of human trafficking once again. This time, I decided to stand up against my trafficker. I didn’t go to the police because I thought they were just going to send me back to jail and I didn’t want to relive the traumatic process of the court system.
On August 31, 2011 I was arrested and jailed for six serious felonies against the man who brutally raped and trafficked me. Not even a month after sitting in the Juvenile Detention Center at age 16, I was charged as an adult and placed in the adult jail. The day I was sent to adult jail would change my life forever. Even though the court adjudicated me as an adult, I was technically considered a child, so I had to be separated from all adults by sight and sound. Based on my developmental age, I should have been placed in a dorm with juveniles where we were treated differently, and received proper services. In reality, I was placed in a mental health dorm even though I didn’t have a mental health diagnosis because there was no space in the jail to place me anywhere else. I was on lockdown 23 hours a day and was deprived of regular programming including access to education, recreation, and mental health services that I didn’t qualify for. As a child you can imagine the effect this had on me. Stuck in a cell for 23 hours a day forced me to relive the many traumatic experiences I had experienced years prior to my incarceration. Some days I blamed myself for the trauma, abuse and neglect. I convinced myself I deserved to be separated from the world because I only caused harm. On other days, I felt ostracized. All I wanted was to feel like I was a part of the human race- not like some caged animal.
Prior to ever ending up in the justice system, I had already experienced severe trauma. Because of the lack of adequate mental health services and no one ever taking the time to ask me what happened to me, suffering was worse than it may otherwise have been. I was forced to relive the trauma over and over again, and eventually I detached myself from the trauma, further delaying my healing. It wasn’t until four years later that I began receiving services. Not because the jail allowed me to, not because anyone recommended that I receive help, but because I was tired of living in misery, pain, and suffering. I was tired of being bound to my past mistakes. On July 14, 2014 my judge decided to give me a second chance and released me on my own recognizance pending my sentencing hearing. I was released to a drug rehabilitation center. Upon my release I sought out counseling. I came across a place called the Delores Barr Weaver Policy Center and this was the first place that didn’t look at me as a victim or criminal. They looked at me as ALYSSA. I was treated as an equal. Even though I was facing a 15-life sentence, I refused to go back to jail. Instead of running away, I decided to become an advocate for myself and for other juveniles who have been impacted by the juvenile justice system. In December 2015, I stood in front of my judge with a courtroom full of influential people I met along my journey of becoming an advocate. That day I was sentenced to two years’ probation. Today, I work as an Advocacy Specialist at the Delores Barr Weaver Policy Center where I have enjoyed opportunities to present to state legislators to advocate on behalf of victims of sex trafficking and girls in the juvenile justice system, and travel around the country training various stakeholders on sex trafficking and issues related to the juvenile justice system. The Delores Barr Weaver Policy Center believed in me which led me to believe in myself. I went from receiving services from the Policy Center, to working alongside them as a valuable partner in this work.
As I look back on my life, I see many places where someone could have stepped in and possibly changed my life. The most important thing in my story is that no one ever took the time to ask me why I was doing what I was doing. No one took the time to listen to my story. I was always labeled as a bad girl, child prostitute, or criminal. In the beginning, if a police office, teacher, doctor, or any adult would’ve approached me through a different lens and saw me as a young girl that needed help instead of a runaway…. My life could’ve been so much different. It is by luck that I’m able to share my story with others, other kids may not be so lucky. We need to eliminate luck from the equation.
LEADERSHIP – Leading the Way for Change
ACTIVISM – Sharing My Story to “Eliminate Luck from the Equation”