Recently, we introduced you to an organization that works with women in the sex industry, offering them help, guidance and a way out. Purchased: Not for Sale is an extension of the HUB Urban Ministry in Shreveport. Purchased works to free sex workers from bondage, helping them to walk away from the sex trade, drug abuse and often physical and mental abuse. Don't put this organization into your typical "rehabilitation facility," Purchased takes an approach that isn't aggressive. Instead, it's slow and steady giving the women the option to leave the sex industry or remain; either way they want to help them live a better life.
Angela Brown, Kizzie Henderson and Tammy Long are all from different backgrounds with the same fate; a life of prostitution and drugs that plagued them for some 20 years. But, all three would grow tired of the life that left them lifeless.
"When I was a child I wanted to be a missionary and I just couldn't figure out how my life got so turned around to where I went from wanting to be a missionary to being a prostitute," said Angela Brown.
During jail stints for either drugs or prostitution, all three would get a call from the same group.
"Hello, I'm from Purchased and I just want to let you know I was thinking about you," said Tammy who touted being arrested 35 times for prostitution, drugs and probation violation charges. "You want me? You know who I am? You know that I am a castaway, a throw away, I have nothing and my future holds nothing. I am not valuable. Well you are to us."
Leann Bussey, the Assistant Director of Purchased: Not for Sale says their program isn't like any other. The investment in these women is more emotional and spiritual.
"It's not just about getting out of the industry. It's about being a friend to these women and loving these women and getting to know who they are," said Bussey.
On a typical day, the building set with classrooms, a cafeteria and eclectic work space is filled with women who through the Purchased program are working and praying to end their street lives in trade of one that is the opposite of their idea of normalcy. From 9:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., the women learn life skills like money management, how to write a resumé, and even classes on healthy relationships. All of these are classes that are useful for women who have seen every aspect of abuse from family and significant others.
The lessons of Purchased go far beyond the classroom, the women have a shoulder to lean on even after graduating from the program.
"We cover any kind of medical bills you know like medicine, anything like that down to child support-probation fees. The truth is when they're out there working the streets and they're in the industry it's a reality to them and it's always such quick money. They know if I have a bill coming up I can just go work and make the money so we're trying to get them out of that mindset," says Bussey.
Some of the women of Purchased are housed in what is known as a "Purchased Home." Women who live in the homes are required to attend classes. All of the houses come with a house mother, women who are most likely graduates of Purchased. If they walk in with nothing, there are no worries. Purchased furnishes their rooms all through donations from a private donor.
While the program isn't forever, it doesn't mean the work ends for Purchased or the women who graduate. A sort of "point system" in the program tallies points that equal to dollars. When someone graduates, a bank account is opened to help the women transition from having no bills to an overwhelming amount of responsibility.
"We got with her, we get an apartment set up for her. We cover her first two months of rent. It's just so she doesn't feel that financial pressure," says Bussey.
Outside of taking a holistic approach, the program doesn't simply open its doors to women who hope to make a change, but they take a slow and persistent approach and it seems to work. Instead of doing some what of an "Alter Call" asking these women to come forward if they want to change, Purchased goes to them on their street corners, hotel doors and truck stops. It gives them help, whether they want to change or not.
You can find Cassie Hammett in the front lines of Purchased as its Executive Director, she works along with almost all levels of law enforcement to help these women whether they are already jailed due to prostitution or may have been busted in an FBI sting.
"Most of the women we encounter who go on to graduating didn't want to leave the industry when we first met them, but that's not a contingency for us we want to love them while they're in the industry give them vital resources like mental health counseling and medical care, friendship, mentorship, a family while they are still actively involved in whatever part of the sex industry that they're in," explained Hammett.
The program has successfully taken in women who want change but still manages to help women who don't, hoping the foundation of trust is laid for the future in case they change their minds.
"As we get to know women and we go to their motel that they work at then we see them again and again and again they may trust us over time," said Hammett. "A lot of people who don't know the industry think it's just a job and if they leave it, it's just a step of leaving the job but the reality is it's not just a job they meet people in the industry who are paying their phone bills, their mortgage, their car note, so when they walk away from the industry they're not just walking away from a job they're walking away from all of those things being covered financially and they lose everything."
Women like Kizzie, Angela and Tammy are all in the final of the four phases of Purchased.
"I'm doing 1,000 percent better than the first day I walked through the door," said Tammy.
The hope is they walk out the door no longer carrying the weight of the past, removing the price tag that once came along with them. Thanks to Purchased, they are no longer for sale.
Recently, Purchased partnered with the Caddo District Attorney's office to help combat prostitution with a new diversion program called "Exit Strategy." Through this new partnership, Purchased will help anyone in criminal court not only charged with prostitution and drug offenses but those at risk of getting into that lifestyle. It is just the latest way Purchased is working with the community to clean up our streets.
If you want to donate to Purchased or volunteer you can click here.
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