In our Own Voices: Guest Posts and Interviews

GUEST POST — SOME WORDS ON THE DAY TIME WARMING CENTER FROM lISA

Between the months of December and March life at Ibdaa slows down. At least as far as things that go on IN or AT the house. This is because s my heart, soul,wallet, and time is poured into the Day Time Warming Center.  The day center is a democratically self governed warming center rotating among various hosting faith communities.   The faith communities provide the space.  Food, volunteers, and activities are donated and provided by both the homeless community themselves and the wider community of friends, and supporters (many of marginally and /or precariously housed. This month the warming center is being hosted by St.Mary’s Student Parish, and one of most consistent volunteers wrote the following for their parish bulletin:

January Warming Center – Creating a Culture of Encounter
by Lisa Hirsch

Pope Francis has repeatedly written and preached about the necessity of Catholics and all people to create a “culture of encounter”. He ties our essential spiritual encounter with Christ to our call to follow Christ’s example and encounter each other with love, mercy and respect. He says “We are accustomed to a culture of indifference and we must strive and ask for the grace to create a culture of encounter, of a fruitful encounter, of an encounter that restores to each person his or her own dignity as a child of God, the dignity of a living person.” This January, St. Mary Student Parish is hosting the Daytime Warming Center and offering each of us the opportunity to help build this “culture of encounter” that Pope Francis is encouraging.

An encounter requires give and take. It requires listening not just with our ears but with our hearts. Listening not to respond but to understand first. An encounter changes both people. It pulls us out of our comfort zone and into a new place of vulnerability. And this encounter has the potential to lead us to a new place of compassion, of connection, of love.

My experience with the January Warming Center the past two years has been one of profound encounter. Initially, I was nervous about going into the Newman Hall and interacting with people who were on the margins of our society. What could I possibly have in common with them? What would we talk about? Would it be scary? Or sad? Or humbling? I found out over time that yes, it was a bit scary, and sad and humbling. But it was also quite joyful at times. It was a place of true community. It was a place where people needed someone to listen to them and affirm their God-given dignity. It was a place where I found that I did have things in common with many of the guests. It was a place where our encounters began to chip away at the walls that society had created between us. Between rich and poor, legal and “illegal”, mentally healthy and ill, addicts and sober, white and black, old and young, the list could go on and on. Building friendships with people different from myself, connecting with those I thought I had nothing in common with touched me deeply. These experiences were not just encounters with other human beings, these were indeed encounters with God. In and through our encounters, we can learn who God is, who we are and who we can be.

I invite each of you to try spending some time at the Warming Center this January. The Center is open from 8:30am-4pm Monday-Friday. If you work, consider stopping in on your lunch break. When the kids are off on MLK day, bring them along. And may God lead us to encounter our guests with the love, mercy and compassion that God has shown to us.

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GUEST POST — SOME WORDS ON FAITH AND HOPE FROM SOMEONE I LOVE

A prayer/poem shared from someone in “protective custody” ( Solitary confinement )  in jail. 22 hours a day in 6 x 9 cell with an hour out in the AM and an hour in the PM. Isolated. 

A prayer of a little faith and hope

Where can I say one wouldn’t loose hope in a place like this

When you’re put in a room where there is a door and 2 small windows you can’t see out of
You can see the day room TV
and you have 3 walls
One in back with a window you can’t see out of
You feel you have almost lost hope
You look out the window, you can’t see out
And one day, it may be, you see a little, you think
You get a little smile when you look out
I see a thin line of Green
Not much, a thin line
But it is hope
You can see a little green grass out that window that once you couldn’t see out
Please don’t give up hope
                  Anonymous  (10/16)

News from a Friend

My friend Seth is amazing.  He’s a regular feature in our kitchen (and even more so on the grill!) cooking meals for the family and folks who come by.  Helping to fix the washer when it breaks or make a trip to the food bank to help restock the fridge and pantry. He’s gonna be taking a walk… to DC! From Michigan!  He is working to raise awareness of racism and police brutality.  His blog is so very worth following. Check it out here: https://singlemanswalk.wordpress.com

 

Some words from Star

( * Name changed for privacy and protection )

Some of you may remember I “introduced” Star in an earlier post. She helped me set up the nonviolence training for sex workers. Here are some of her thoughts….

For me,sex work started as a choice. It was a simple and fast way to get some money. Place an ad, take a call,and by the end of the day have a hundred bucks in your pocket. It was easier and a lot less degrading than panhandling.  People are always surprised when I say that, but it is true.  I could keep my business to myself. Clients weren’t judgmental. My friends weren’t. And no one else needed to know.  And I got to spend a lot of nights in some pretty decent hotels. Better then my car. And safer then a tent. I was saving money and had a plan.

Plus, I was working  for my money. I wasn’t taking without giving back. Capitalist values deeply embedded in my brain. And I’m damn good at what I do.  Fly a sign and everyone sees you.  Or they choose not to see you. Invisibility a job liability. Judgment is deep. Especially my own.

Jim was playing music on the street when I met him and we had an instant physical connection. I had a nice hotel room for the night. A “tip” from a semi-regular client. Jim  ended up staying with me. I told myself it was a good deed to get him out of the rain. I thought I could save him. I couldn’t and he destroyed a lot of me.

Soon I started taking jobs  I didn’t feel so good about in order to get him the drugs he needed.  He was so sick without them,and was always so kind and grateful. Until he wasn’t. By then I was addicted to Heroin too. He had convinced me to try so that I would understand why he needed it. Understand his experience.

Pretty soon he started taking my phone. He’d answer clients as if he was me. Making appointments for me and negotiating costs. As our addiction increased so did our debt. He started selling my services to pay for the drugs. And as I started working for people we knew – dealers and other addicts – he started judging me for my work. He would be angry that I’d had sex with someone other than him. Even when he arranged it. He’d take 90% of what I’d made.

Then he started showing up and taking all of it. Clients would deal directly with him.

Once you start working for someone else everything changes. Hotels aren’t nice any more. Any back alley will work. It doesn’t matter if my gut tells me a job is too risky – returning without money is a lot more risky.

When Sheri stepped in and stopped the cops from arresting me I thought “who the fuck is this crazy woman?” But it did more than stop me from getting arrested that day. It reminded me we all have some choices. Even if it is only a choice between horrible and really awful. There  is power in that. It gives me hope for escaping this. She reminded me that there are people who care and who  don’t judge. Rescuing me is judging me and that is all people want to do. Sheri isn’t rescuing, but it feels like support.

And the training we are doing is good. The fact that someone listened to us about what we needed (stipends and safe space to get together ) is the most important thing.

Thoughts from *Tina

(* Name changes to protect privacy and for protection)

I stated doing sex work as a stripper. It was a quick way to pay for college. The women I worked with got along well most of the time, and we looked out for one another. Customers were usually decent, and honestly I dealt with more cat calling and ass grabbing when I was waiting tables. When my partner (at the time) lost her job due to health issues our rent joined my college tuition as a huge expense, and I realized I could make more money doing prostitution. I like my job most of the time. And make no mistake sex work is work!  Not only is it a very physical job, but I think of it as therapy for many of my clients. They come to me to explore parts of themselves, or get past fears, to learn, or just blow off some steam.

I’m lucky, I come to this work with a lot of privilege. I choose my own clients, my own schedule, and my own rates.  I know many in my field  don’t have those options and I imagine it is different for them. We all hear the horror stories.

I’m not ashamed of the work I do, but I can’t be honest about it, and we as sex workers, can’t gain any power, until we as a society get over our hang ups. I am a criminal. I could lose my kids, destroy any future job prospects, any credibility.

I think there are a lot of people, especially “liberal”  and “feminist” women, who claim to be sex positive, and maybe they are, but who are anti-sex work.  They will speak out against slut-shaming and proudly proclaim their slut-hood. But they don’t think about the things a sex worker is risking by being honest about who we are.  They also fail to realize how disempowering, othering, and condescending it is to assume we are all victims with no control and no agency in our lives. I’m not denying many sex workers (men and women) have been victimized.  But, look at the statistics,  1-3 women is victimized by sexual violence,  clearly not being a sex worker is hardly a guarantee of safety. My point is don’t assume you know my story.

One of the things I hope to get from this training is to think about how we can tell our stories. As you (Sheri ) were saying “stories are humanizing”.  We, as women, as sex workers, as humans need to support one another to be human.

 

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