According to the U.S. Department of Justice, the average age of entry into prostitution in the United States is 12-14.
Eden House is a two-year residential program for women who have been commercially and sexually exploited. Modeled after Magdalene House in Nashville, Tennessee, Eden House provides six to eight women a safe and supportive home for two years, free of cost.
A group of residents who have asked to remain anonymous start their day with the serenity prayer, then discuss their emotions this morning. One resident discusses why she chose to wake up and not go back to a life she decided to leave behind.
“Because I’m not waking up to a maid banging on my motel room door saying ‘check out time!’ I’m not waking up to being sick having the next fix. I’m not waking up because I have to put extra make up on my face to cover my bruises. Those are things that were my reality for so long, It was a way of life. So just putting myself in that position and knowing that I don’t have to go back for that,” says one resident.
Eden House offers long-term housing and comprehensive recovery services like mental and physical health care, job training, education, and spiritual support. It offers survivors a safe place to overcome difficult pasts while developing skills to move forward in their lives.
Positivity and growth is evident in the residents at Eden House, including one former resident, Cristina. We will only be using Cristina’s first name. Cristina participated in the two-year program that included living at Eden House. I met Cristina at her home - something she says she’s very proud to have made happen for herself. I asked her if she would give me a tour.
“Sure! We can take a tour. I love my house. It’s spacious. This is my bedroom this is where I love to come in after work, My kitchen, I love to cook, my little restroom, my washroom,” says Crisina. “I say ‘hello baby’ or I’ll say ‘Hi I’m home.’ I love it. This is me, this is my home, this is my heaven.
Cristina is very open about her past and present life experiences.
“I’m Cristina. I am a recovering addict, ex-prostitute, a mother of four. I don’t mind talking about anything about my life story because when I was out there it wasn’t a secret. So it’s definitely not a secret now. My life was out of control. I was on drugs, I was selling my body for drugs. There was people selling me. Sometimes I didn’t know they was selling me. My life was just out of control. It had been out of control for a long time, for many, many years. I was on crack for 16 years, and that was a long 16 years.”
It was after moving from Kenner to New Orleans that Cristina found out about Eden House. At first she was daunted by the two-year commitment.
“I said ‘Oh, my god.’ Two years seemed like a long time back then, but I said ‘if I spent 16 years out on the streets, smoking crack, I can go sit down somewhere for two years and let someone help me learn how to live better.’ And that’s what I did.I was just ready to try anything. To really change my life.”
Cristina overcame tremendous challenges, including a reprogramming and understanding of her emotions. She tells me she wouldn’t have been able to do that in the past. Something as simple as the purchase of a broken dryer would have caused her to break.
“Any other time in my life, I would have blown up and been crying and acting crazy, and fussing, and blaming, but I just sat...it’s gonna work out. It’s not the end of the world.”
Cristina learned to accept what came her way, and approach problems step by step. Of all the changes that Cristina has made, reconnecting with her family is especially meaningful.
“I actually have four grandchildren now. I had the pleasure of having two granddaughters in my sobriety, on this side of life. Which was great because I could be there, I’m a more responsible mom now, grandmother. All my daughters are grown now but we’re really just getting to know each other right now.”
Cristina says that her children don’t like to talk about the past because that part of her life is over. They’re ready to deal with what’s happening right now. Cristina’s learning to live in the present too.
Community Impact is a series exploring New Orleans' nonprofits. Funding comes from the Greater New Orleans Foundation.