Today we welcome Jessica McFall. Jessica will share from her first hand experience about the psychological and physical impact human trafficking has had on her. She will take us into the world of captivity but also on her journey of recovery and freedom.
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Interviewee: Jessica McFall
Interviewer: Natalie Ruiters
List of Acronyms: Natalie Ruiters = NR:; Jessica McFall = JF
NR: Hey there, I am Natalie Ruiters; I represent Free To Fly South Africa. This is Jessica McFall.
And some people know her as Mama J. So “Hey Mama J.”
NR: Thank you for being here and just about to share your amazing story of how God has just transformed what was so horrific into something so beautiful and the work that you’re doing. We met Jessica last weekend, we had an awareness campaign in Blue Routh Mall. And Jessica approached us and she was just in awe of the work that we were doing and raising awareness for human trafficking. She’s a survivor. And I think I’ll leave her to share her story with us and give us some introduction of who she is.
I’ll share a bit more about what I’m doing later. I was 21 when I first got introduced to the life of trafficking and being trafficked, which was interesting because most of the other gals that were involved with me had started when they were 12, 13, 15 something around there. So already from the very beginning, I didn’t check all the boxes of the typical stereotype of a woman being trafficked in the kind of situation I was in. I didn’t have this horribly abusive family. I didn’t have a broken home. My parents, even to this day, still married. Yeah, so from the very beginning, I just kind of didn’t fit the statistics…
NR: ..of what one expects.
JF: Exactly. So yeah. I was 21, it was an interesting situation. I was in a period of my life where I was just experiencing a lot of failures. I had gone to university, but gotten kicked out because of my behavior. I was already a bit rebellious before I met those guys. So I was clubbing and drinking and having immoral relationships and all these kinds of things. And so I was kind of already on a path of rebellion at that point. But I’ve gotten kicked out of college and then I got a good job. Like a middle management kind of job that was actually really good for someone who had no degree.
JF: And I couldn’t keep it because I was getting to work late, because I was drinking too much at night and not waking up on time. And so I lost that job. And then I even tried to join the army, the US Army.
NR: Oh really!
JF: But that didn’t quite work out either. I was just failure after failure after failure and pretty rapidly behind each other. I think all that happened within like an eight or nine-month period, as best as I can remember. And then through some other friends I was kind of introduced to this guy. I met one of his girls basically. I was out drinking when, in this club, through a series of events met this woman who worked for this guy. And for the life of me I can’t remember why but for some reason I gave her my phone number. Actually, it was a pager number because that was a long time it was back before cellphones existed. That’s hard to imagine. But he called me the next day. But I had no idea that I wanted to be a prostitute or I even wanted to meet him or anything. I forgot, I even cannot remember why I gave her the number, like it just didn’t make sense. But anyways, so he calls me and you know, it’s a little bit curious. I had seen stuff in the movies or like I had heard of the rap music about pimps and hos and all this and Jerry Springer shows all this stuff. And so I was kind of curious. And he just took that and manipulated it, you know? And he was like, yeah, really like to meet you. I’m like, no, no, yeah, it’s like, well, don’t be scared. And I was like, I’m not scared! You know, because I’m supposed to be tough. Street smart. Or something. I don’t know what I thought I was. I’m not scared of anything. And he was like, okay, well then come, then come to see me. And I was like, sure. And then he’s like, well don’t say you’re gonna do something. And I do and I was like, no, no, I’m a woman. I’m for real, I’m not one of the fake girls. I’m for real. If I say something I wanna do it, he was like, okay. And so he just, he just knew exactly what buttons to push. But even though I agreed to go and see him and I felt like I had no choice, I had to go and see him. There was nothing in me that was saying “I want to be a prostitute”. Alright, let’s go meet the pimp. Like it wasn’t like that at all. This is more curiosity.
NR: And what sparked that curiosity? When you look back? Can you recall what sparked that curiosity?
JF: I think it was the way that this kind of subculture of pimps and hos was celebrated in the Rap music and Hip Hop world and some of the movies and I of course, had soaked all that in. And so I think initially, that’s what it really was about and part of what was already at play, there was I had some identity issues. And I just, I didn’t really like myself very much. In fact, part of me kind of always wished I was black and not white, which is weird I know. But I just, I didn’t feel like I fit in with the white girls. And I always felt like I fit in more with the black girls and wanted to be a black girl and so part of that in my mind, which is not necessarily true, was being street smart and all that kind of stuff. And I thought, well, you know, pimps and hos- that persona. The whole thing is part of, was part of, that in my mind. And so that was kind of curiosity as well. I was a 20, stupid 21 year old.
NR: Tell me, we were all like that.
JF: Exactly. That’s one of the things that gets me to this. We always say, Oh, 18 they’re adults, right?
NR: Not quite.
JF: I don’t know anything from anything.
NR: Yeah, totally! So he called you, and you went to meet him.
JF: I did.
NR: And then what happened?
JF: You know, I walked into that room and I had never met this man. Before it, I didn’t know him from Adam and poured out all the most vulnerable stuff in my life to him. And I was, you know, I was stupid and maybe a little bit naive. I wouldn’t just normally share all the worst parts of my life with someone. So I really believe to this day that there was just kind of like this demonic thing going on of the false sense of security and lies and I just poured it all out to him. And I just said, I remember saying something along the lines of I am so tired of making decisions and just failing every time and just every time I make a decision, I somehow I ruin everything and I’m just tired of it. And he said something to the effect of well come and work for me and I’ll make all the decisions and if anything goes wrong, you can blame me.
NR: So took the sense of responsibility from you.
JF: Yeah, completely. And I’m sure we’re all thinking “No, don’t do that. That’s a horrible idea”. But for whatever reason, at that moment, I thought that sounded pretty good. And so I was like, Okay, let’s give it a try. And he really led me to believe that it was going to be a trial basis. And later on, I found out that it wasn’t.
NR: So what did that trial basis look like?
JF: Well, what’s the very first thing that happened is after hanging out that night, and just watching these girls come in. He had three other girls that worked with him at the time. Just watching them come in throughout the night just dropping cash on the bed and then the next morning we went out to eat and have breakfast and they were celebrating the addition of a new family member and then we were all like “let’s come up with a new street name for her. Yeah, let’s call her Lady J.” And his name was EJ so they felt like it could be short for his name. “How cute is that?” And you know, it was just this whole thing and it was instant family and belonging and it felt really good.
NR: Did it?
NR: I mean that name, what did it mean to you in that time?
JF: Ja, I dont know, gosh, that’s a good question. I think, I actually don’t remember if he said it that night or if it was that morning or if it was another time. But I remember him just saying something like, you’re a little different than these other girls. You’ve got more class or something like that. And so lady is a good name for you because you’re really a lady, you know, and so even the way he would dress me and stuff was different. It wasn’t quite as the other girls. It was a little more classy and stuff like that. Because like you’re really a Lady, you know? And so it was almost like even in the name he was trying to make me feel special.
NR: Yeah, I hear what you’re saying after listening to your chat last weekend. One of the things you said is you were considered a clean girl. So you didn’t take drugs and they paid more for you than they’ll pay for other girls, because you were considered clean. It was really an eye opener for me, because I didn’t know that. You know, prostitutes or girls that are being sold are not on drugs. I just assumed again, it’s again myths and assumptions that those girls will take drugs and they’re high, alcohol, just to numb what’s going on. So you weren’t numbing what was going on?
JF: There was definitely alcohol involved. But even that was regulated. Like I was only allowed to have a certain amount that if he found out that I was having more than that, that there’ll be a consequence to that. Yeah, so I found out after my first month that it wasn’t actually a trial. He just let me believe that and a lot happened in that first month that I, by the time I got to the end of it,I was just like, I made a mistake.
NR: And what happened in that first month?
JF: Well, I got arrested for the first time, because we were street girls and street prostitution is illegal in the United States. And so the first time I got arrested I just cried like a baby. And it’s interesting as all the veteran girls, you know, were just yelling at me. Shut up. You’ll get used to it. Get over it. And then, you know, before too long, I was the one yelling at the new girls, as they were crying. Yeah, it was not nice. I also got raped for the first time by one of my clients or tricks, who decided to not to pay for it. So he stuck a gun to my head and took what he wanted and that was pretty intense. I can actually that night I just went back to the hotel and I told EJ what happened, took a shower to change our clothes, and went back to work, just stuff it down.
NR: And when you told EJ what had happened, what did he say?
JF: He said, I didn’t have to go back to work, but there was always this feeling like you had to prove something to him. And there was from the very beginning, there was this idea of like earning brownie points kind of thing. You get rewarded for really good behavior.
NR: So was that the kind of silent expectation for all the girls and not more you wanting to please him?
JF: No, it was an expectation that he curated and manipulated between us so even though we did have a certain kind of a bond that the wife-in-laws had. So the ladies that all work for one pimp we would call each other wife-in-laws. So even though there was this kind of family feeling he always pitted us against each other. So there was always kind of a competition as well. Because if we became too attached that suddenly we could turn on him, you know, so it was just this very manipulative strategic, intentional on his part. To create this kind of competition between us as well. So, jail the first time, rape and then one of my wife-in-laws got shot in the mouth by one of her customers. I think that was the first time I really realized this isn’t just about money or maybe it’s also very dangerous.
JF: It’s a very dangerous thing. And if you are a type of person that enjoys hurting people, then you look for people that no one cares about. No one’s going to miss. And you know, prostitutes on the street are a scourge on good society, aren’t they? So nobody’s gonna miss them. So a lot of these crazy guys go out and do horrible things to these women and young men on the streets.
NR: Sure, how sad. Very sad.
JF: Well, that wouldn’t be my last run-ins with one of those crazy guys. Then finally, after I’d been there long enough that he felt like his manipulative hold on me was strong enough. The rules were now being forced and I said something I wasn’t supposed to say he’d beat me really bad this pimp, EJ. And so finally I realized this is not, I don’t know what I felt I was getting into, but this is not what I wanted to do. This is way too much. And so I naively approached him and said, I made a mistake, I’m ready for my trial period to be over and I want to go home. That wasn’t going to happen.
NR: And did he respond? Like, what was the response to that?
JF: He was violent first, and he beat me badly, and then made it just very clear that I was his property, now I belong to him. And if I tried to leave, I would pay for it and my family would pay for it.
NR: That is tragic. And in that moment, Jessica, what did you feel?
JF: This is it. This is what my life is going to be. I have no choice. I make the best of it.
NR: Did you think you could run away?
JF: The truth of the situation is that I could have. But at that point I had already been under his manipulation for a month. And it wasn’t just negative types of manipulation. It was also falling in love with him and which he encouraged and you know. And this family thing, but also feeling like he would say things like, man, you are a natural you’re born for this. Which sounds really positive on the outside. But when it was internalized, it was like, it sounded more like this is all I can ever do. I’m not good enough for anything else. This is it for me. So just be the best dang ho you can be then. So that’s kind of what I set myself to is: to be the best ho I could be.
NR: And you were with these three other girls who you called your sister-wives?
NR: And you spoke about a family. So did you see them as sisters or was it more like a friendship type?
JF: More as friends, but like I said, we also like to stir up this kind of competition between us. But it was kind of like we would fight all the time amongst ourselves. But if anybody else, any of the other women on the street tried to do anything to any one of us. It was all of us for that one. We would all join up and vice versa. If any one of us would say anything to somebody else, their whole family would gang up against us and so we fought on the streets a lot too, always something.
NR: So during this time, Jessica, where were your parents? Did they know what was happening?
JF: Good question. So I was in Washington DC at this time, when I got turned out so they call it. My parents didn’t know right away but pretty soon, pretty quickly. They found out, my cousin told them. And my mom called me, well paged me. She left a message on my voice message. Just freaking out. So I went home and at that point I was still in that first month. So I just told my pimp, I just want to go reassure them and I’ll be right back. And at that point, I don’t think he felt like he had a strong enough hold on me yet to lay down the law at that point. So he allowed me to go home to talk to my parents. And if you can imagine, I mean, when I think of the scene now I just cringe right but I’m sitting there with my mom like this is a valid career choice. Like, really? I don’t know what I was. I seriously drank the Kool Aid. You know, like, I don’t know what I was thinking. I was like, this is the oldest profession in the history of humankind. This is legitimate, this is my choice. And my mom is just, you know, just beyond upset and which I mean, now I look back on it, and I just, I can’t believe I did that to my parents. You know, my dad didn’t know what to do. He was mad. But I think as much at himself as he was at me, you know, like, and it just didn’t end well and I ended up leaving in a huff and that was that. I used to call home sometimes. After a while though, they made it so that I wasn’t allowed to talk to my sisters when I called home. And as far as they knew, until I ended up getting out later, it was my choice. And I guess there was a point later about halfway through, so I was trafficked in total for four years, and I think about halfway through at some point, I did reveal to my dad that it wasn’t entirely my choice anymore.
NR: And did he believe you?
JF: Yeah. He was a lot more exposed to the world than my mom was.
NR: Okay. And the fact that he believed you did that give you some sense of comfort?
JF: It did.
NR: Because I think when we were chatting, you mentioned that when you found this EJ, you had these feelings of insecurity, identity issues, and maybe even daddy issues. So when your dad actually believed you, did that kind of heal some of the stuff that you were feeling back then?
JF: Yeah, in fact, so when this conversation took place, I just got out of 30 days in a county jail. It’s the longest period I ever spent in jail and I had a window of time where I was unsupervised by EJ. And I was able to have a long conversation with my dad. And it was very rare that I’d have unsupervised calls with my family, you know, usually EJ was always right there.
NR: Oh really?
JF: Yeah. And so my dad and I just had this long conversation. He was just going through the 12 steps from AA at the time he was recovering from alcoholism. And my dad was never abusive to us. And that was beautiful, but he was often emotionally kind of absent. He was there. He worked hard every day. And he provided for us, but emotionally he wasn’t very engaged. And the alcohol took all of that. And so he was working on his 12 steps. And he was at a stage where you’re meant to make amends and stuff and so we started having this conversation. That was so uncharacteristic, because my father never talked about his feelings or anything. We just talked about some stuff and I don’t remember all the conversation. I just remember thinking, yeah, my dad loves me. And he always loved me the best way he could. But now things are getting better. But at that point, I was still so deeply under this like, mind control of this pimp that it didn’t – it didn’t occur to me as being there was another option. Or that there were people that would fight for me or anything like that.
NR: And your mom? So your dad believed you and your mom? What was kind of going on in her heart? Do you know?
JF: She didn’t know yet. And I told dad, don’t tell my mom, because she can’t do it. So she didn’t find out til much, much later, of the fullness of the situation.
NR: And in that time, just as a parent I’d like to know. In that time would you feel a sense of guilt? That mom’s probably hurting?
JF: Probably sometimes, but I didn’t dwell on it long because it was too hard I guess. I probably got more defensive than anything. I mean, yeah, I’m sure I felt that way but not for long. If I was talking to her, then I’d feel it a little bit. But then there was also part of me that would just be like, you should just understand me. Or you should have come and got me when you had the chance. But I don’t even know that I could articulate much at that time. Yeah, it wasn’t until later that I started really realizing that those feelings were there. That I felt like they should come and rescue me earlier or something, but instead of just let me walk away.
JF: But that was, yeah, I don’t feel that way now. But yeah..
NR: So that was your life for – for how long you said? Four years?
JF: Four years
NR: How did you come out of it? What happened?
JF: So we’ve got trafficked all over the United States and even into Canada. Whenever there was a big sporting event or something going on in a city then all the pimps and hos would go to that city for football or something like that. Because men would travel to go to these things. Or a pimp would call up and say, “Oh, it’s popping over here. You should come on this side with the girls.” So we would pack up to drive across the country and go to this place or that place. So I found myself in Las Vegas. And I was at a hotel room. I was staying in this hotel room and he was supposed to come and pay the rent every day. And I should point out that we had a quota that we were expected to make every night.
NR: Oh really?
JF: And if we didn’t make that, then we got beaten up when we got home. So sometimes I would just stay out for two days straight, 48 hours straight.
NR: Just because you didn’t make it?
JF: Just because I didn’t meet my quota and I didn’t want to go home and get beaten. But this one particular night I had done really, really well. I’ve made a lot of money and of course broke myself to him which means I gave the money to him as soon as he picked me up off the street. And then he dropped me off at the hotel and then normally he would pay the room for another day and then go off and do whatever he was, while I slept. You know. And each of us, this time he had each of us girls in different hotels, because I think there was like a dragnet kind of thing going on where they were looking for pimps and stuff like that. So they were trying to keep us separate so we wouldn’t all get busted and draw attention. I guess I woke up at like noon because the front desk was calling – he hadn’t paid the rent and I was like “What? Why do I have to deal with this? I worked hard last night, I made all this money and you couldn’t even pay $50 for the room and now they’re disturbing my sleep”. And I was really mad. But I couldn’t say that to him because I’d get beat really bad, you don’t talk to your pimp that way. And so I’m leaving him messages like “Hi Daddy, like don’t know where you are, not that I need to know – but they call from the front desk and they’re gonna kick me out. And I wonder if you have a chance, could you maybe come?” Like you have to tiptoe around and not say the wrong thing. And I left him a couple of messages and finally a bad message like lots of words I won’t repeat and I was like, Oh, I’m gonna get beat bad today.
NR: And what was that time span like from the first call to..
JF: ..like, an hour. And, the front desk was like “we have someone who wants the room. Are you leaving or not?” “ No – we’re staying.” “Well, you have to pay.” I’m like, “I don’t have any money, but my man’s coming. He’s gonna pay, you know.”
JF: I’m not allowed to leave the room without his permission. So even if they pack me up and send me out, if he comes to find me outside- even though it’s not my fault, I will still get punished. So it’s just so frustrating. I think up to that point I would describe, there was like a brick wall around my brain that would only let lies in. And this one day I got so angry. It was almost like one of those bricks popped out of its place, you know? And immediately I just heard this voice in my head that said your life was never meant to be this way.
JF: I believed it. I was like, that’s right! What am I doing? I’m educated! I’m smart! I’m beautiful! And what am I doing?
JF: And I was like all of a sudden those walls just started come crumbling down. All that manipulation, all of the mind control. It all just started to crumble.
JF: And I was like well, he’s not really going to go after my family. He’s only ever been to their house once. And if he remembers where it is, my parents will call the police. It’s not like you’re just gonna let them walk in and do something you know. Like he’s not going all the way back to Washington DC. He will just go on with his four other girls and whatever. He’s not going to worry about me. I need to get out of here. I’m done with this. I knew a girl who was an independent prostitute. She didn’t work for anybody. And she hated pimps. And she handed me her number once and said, “If you ever want to get away, call me. I’ll help you.”
NR: Oh wow.
JF: And so I called her up and I said I have no money, I had 25 cents in my pocket. And she’s like, no problem. Get a taxi. Come to this place. I’ll meet you there. I’ll pay for the taxi. So I was like “Right. Okay”. So I threw some stuff in the bag and I walked out the door and I’m thinking he should be here any time. He’s definitely going to come now, because I left him a message that requires him to respond and beat me to keep me in order. And so I know he’s coming now and he could come from any direction and we’re right on the corner and I’m standing there, I hid behind a big trash dumpster. And I just remember looking at the road thinking: “Okay, which side of the road should I go on to hail the taxi? Because if it comes from this direction, he’ll see me and if he comes from that direction… Where would he be coming from? Where was he today?” And I’m trying to figure out which road to go to and I don’t remember leaving from behind the dumpster. My next memory is I’m laying down in the backseat of a taxi yelling: “Go! Go! Go! Go! Go!”
JF: I don’t remember what happened in between, just a blank.
NR: Probably all the fear and the adrenaline.
JF: Yeah, exactly. I got to her and she paid the taxi. She helped me to stay. So I went and stayed with her for a couple of days but had no money. I couldn’t go make money because he’s looking for me. He’s leaving messages on my voicemail system saying “if I find you, I will kill you and all of this kind of stuff. And I’ve got other guys looking for you. Like I’m just like, oh, Lord, what to do. I don’t have any money. I can’t go make money. I’m in Las Vegas, which is a six-day drive from Washington DC where my family is.”
NR: Oh wow, that is pretty far.
JF: So what am I gonna to do? And so I called my parents and at first my mom was very hesitant. Like, I want to come home. I need to come home. I didn’t tell her I’m about to get killed. Because that would freak her out. So I was like, I’m ready to come home. I want to start over.” And she was just very hesitant because of my three younger sisters. As far as she knew this was all my choice. Last thing she heard from me was: this is a valid career choice. So does she want to expose my three younger sisters?
NR: I understand that.
JF: And I don’t blame her at all. And she didn’t say no, but she just said:” I don’t know what to do.” She was kind of like hesitant and then my dad got on the phone. And I was like, “Dad, I’ve run away. He’s gonna kill me if he finds me. I’ve got to get out of here. Even if I can’t come home. Can you help me get somewhere?” And he said, “No, no – we’re bringing you home,” and so he was able to find me a bus ticket from there and send $20 To the Western Union. He’s like: “That’s all I have. I don’t have any extra money, other than that. But, yeah, I bought your ticket and I sent you 20 bucks and get home to us.” Okay, great. I have a way to get home now. But here’s the problem. These pimps they always have like these little sidekicks that work with them and stuff, usually young boys who aspire to be a pimp. And they hang out at bus stations so they look for runaways. So one of the ways that they recruit people is they go to the bus stations, these little sidekicks, and they will wait for, you know, the bus to empty and they look for any young girls that no one comes to pick up. And when she’s still sitting there, obviously no one’s coming to get her and they’ll say: ” Hey, do you need a place to go. Are you okay? I’ve got a friend who can get you some work.” You know, they give you some new clothes, whatever, and they entice them and they often do that. So I’m scared. I already know he’s looking for me. They’re usually already at the bus stop anyway. So how am I going to get a ticket and wait for the bus, then get on the bus without anybody seeing me and taking me to him.
JF: And let me explain why he would be threatening to kill me right now. Even back then, this was 1998. So even back then before human trafficking was a buzzword. There was a 10 year sentence on any pimp who was found to be guilty of pimping and pandering in the United States. In most states, it was about 10 years. So I’m now dangerous to him. If I go to the police, he’s going to prison.
JF: So the better thing is to catch me and either persuade me to come back or kill me. But most likely if I run away his hold on me is broken and he knows it. And he’s just going to try to kill me. And I saw more than one girl go and disappear over the years. So it was a legitimate fear. So I got to the bus station and I’m just kind of peeking inside the window to see if I see any familiar faces. I’m petrified and I see that the ticket counter’s clear now there’s no one there, so I run in, “I need a ticket, I need a ticket now and my dad sent me money in the Western Union. Can I have the money now please, hurry, hurry!” and I just ran into the bathroom and went into a stall, locked the door. Like literally holding my breath. I’m thinking “they are gonna come in, they will kick this door open, that’s going to be the end”.
JF: And I’m just sitting there holding my breath. And eventually after some time passed I realised, nobody was coming and I started breathing normally again. But then, what am I going to do when they call my bus? I can’t stand in the long queue.
JF: Because surely someone will see me then. So what do I do? And so I just decided that when they call for my bus, I’m just going to run out the door and go straight to the ticket guy, cut in front of the whole queue and get right on the bus, right. And so I’m peeking out of the main bathroom door and they’re calling for our bus and I just beeline straight to the front of the ticket guy and I’m like: “I gotta go on this bus, right now, right now.” And he’s just like: “Okay, lady, what’s your problem?” And I’m like: “I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I gotta get on this bus.” So I get on. I go all the way to the backseat and I’m laying down in the backseat. I’m peeking down the aisle and I’m just waiting. I just, I’m sure someone’s gonna get on this bus and grab me off it. I’m just absolutely sure I’m out of here. I was terrified. I mean, I don’t know that I’ve ever been that scared many times ever in my life. I was just terrified. But the bus loaded, the bus started, the bus pulled out.
NR: What did that feel like?
JF: And no one seemed to get me and I was like, Okay, maybe this is really going to work. And then we made our first stop and a lot of stops along the way right? And I wouldn’t get off. All he had to do is call the bus station and find out what the route is to Washington DC and he would be waiting for me. So I wouldn’t get off. Next stop – I wouldn’t get off. Next stop – I wouldn’t get off. A day and a half had already gone by, I’m starving. Thankfully there are bathrooms on the bus. But I’m starving. But I won’t get off the bus. He could be waiting for me. And there is this little lady on the bus. We stopped again. And she reached over and she said “Honey, you need to get off this bus and eat something?” I was like
: “No, I’m fine.” She said: “Are you running away from a bad boyfriend?”
NR: Bless her!
JF: Oh my bus angel. “Yeah, something like that.” She was like: ” Well honey, you have to get off. You’ve got to eat. You’ve got to stretch your legs and I will get off first and I will look around to see if there are any bad characters.”
NR: Oh bless her!
JF: “If it´s all clear – I’ll give you a sign like this. Okay?” And that just kind of gave me the courage. It’s been a day and a half. I’m sure I would have seen him, because you know every time we stopped I’m like looking out everywhere. I’m sure if he was coming, he would come by now. Maybe I just need to do this. And so she gets off, she’s looking around. So sweet. She was actually even changing buses. We stayed together for the whole first four and a half days of the bus trip. Well, $20 wasn´t enough to feed me for the day.
NR: I can imagine.
JF: So she ended up giving me money and feeding me and everything. She was my bus angel. I can’t remember her name to this day but…
JF: I remember her.
NR: So when you said you changed buses, did she go to a different bus?
JF: Yeah, no she was, well after four days. Yeah after, but she was going generally the same direction for the first four days. So we were together for the whole first four days.
NR: And did you feel alone, when you split from her?
JF: Yeah, at that point, I was feeling more confident that this was going to work out. And now my thoughts are turning towards, how do I prove to my mother that I really am going to change? And that was more of where my focus was going. And she’s like: “Well, if you come, you have to have a job, you have to contribute.” So I was thinking, I was making a plan, before I even got there. I had worked since I was 15 years old, different jobs and stuff. So getting a job was not a big deal for me in my mind. So the day the bus landed in Virginia and just outside DC, September 1998, I got off that bus. I went home, changed my clothes, showered and went out and got two jobs on the same day.
NR: Oh, wow!
JF: Yeah, I was not joking.
NR: And what was it like to see your parents again? Your whole family?
JF: I think I was so focused on just getting the job and everything I don’t really remember. I could imagine it felt great to be in a safe place and everything, but I think that also, I just felt this sense of urgency to figure stuff out, to just figure it out. Just figure out the life, figure it out, do this – do that and there was a little bit an aspect of fear that he could show up, but I don’t think that lasted very long. But I’ve always felt very safe with my dad being there and stuff. So yes, I lived with them for, I guess about six months or so. And then I got my apartment, got a better job. And then I got an even better job and a better place to stay. For three years. I was just trying to put myself together. I was still drinking on the weekends, but it was limited to the weekends. It wasn’t crazy like it was before. I was careful what kind of people I hung out with. But I was still really broken.
NR: And what did you do with that brokenness? Did you seek counseling? Did you speak to someone?
JF: I remember, I called the county health department. Okay, this is long before anybody was using the word trafficking of human beings. The only thing we used trafficking about was drugs. And prostitutes were criminals. It was a different kind of situation than today. I called the county health department and I said: “Do you have anything for like ex-prostitutes?” And the lady’s response was: “Can you hold on a second?” And she came back with, well we have a “Battered wives’ group. Actually probably would have been very helpful. But in my mind, it was like no, no, that’s not it. And I just hung up. For that first three years, I didn’t have any help at all. I just was figuring it out on my own. And I could see myself responding to situations in the way that I had been conditioned to respond even with men and stuff. Like for instance, one time my boss, who was a male, called me into his office to talk about something. So we were chatting, and then another male employee came into the room and said I need to talk with Dan “So can you excuse us for that Jessica?” and I acted like I didn’t hear him. And I waited until Dan said: “Okay, just go we can finish this later.” And the reason I was doing it like that, because in my pimp and ho world, if another pimp was visiting, I had no ears, eyes, anything for this man. I acted as if he didn’t exist. If I even slightly acknowledged him my pimp would beat me in front of him to prove who’s master over me.
JF: Yeah. So if the other pimp would say: “Go close the window.” I act like he didn’t even exist, and then my pimp would say go close the window and I go close the window. And they would test you all the time.
JF: So now I was transferring that conditioning to this workplace and I remember that happening a lot outside of the office. Why do I do that? These are not pimps. I’m not prostituting anymore. Why are you doing that? Don’t do that. And so I was just catching things like that on my own. For the first three years, I had no counseling, nothing. And I was a hot mess. I mean, it looked good on the outside. I had a good job. I had a car, had a nice place I was renting. I was looking at buying a house. But all you had to do was give me a good shake, and you’d hear all my broken pieces rattling inside me.
NR: And did you have friends, like were you able to relate to people in a very normal way like friendship? Trust, build trust again with people?
JF: Yeah, some of them, but some of them, I fought a lot when I was on the streets, like fistfights and so I had to learn pretty quickly not to bring that into the workplace. That people call me out or say something to me or whatever. And my first instinct was well, we can settle this right here right now. And I had been very violent on the streets and I was having to continually remind myself that people don’t get violent in this kind of life.
NR: So it’s a different life.
JF: Yeah. Yeah, but then, in 2001 my father got saved, gave his life to Jesus.
NR: How amazing!
JF: Shocked the heck out of everybody. And he asked me to go to church, and my sister’s to go to church with him. And I told my dad: ” I can’t go to church with you.” And he’s like: ” Why not?” “If I go to church with you, God’s gonna send lightning and fires all to a crisp.” And my dad looked at me and he said: ” If I can go, you can go.”
JF: And I couldn’t argue with that. So I went and kept going and even started singing in the choir, but I was still partying on the weekends. But then, something happened one day, and we were singing a song “Open the eyes of my heart Lord”, and I had actually gone to church as a child, with my grandparents and I grew up in the church actually. And I recalled when I was younger, and we would sing worship that something would happen. It would be this warmth, this connection with God. I hadn’t felt that since I’ve been back at the church. And at this point, I think I’d been back at church for a couple months actually. And I just said “Lord, are you still there? Can I feel you again?” And at some point, I really tried to feel Him you know. Oh, I’ll feel bad and nothing happened. And finally, I had like this picture in my mind of a brick wall around my heart. I remember the Bible says something about sin makes the heart hard or whatever, but : “Aren’t You like all powerful and almighty? Can’t you just break this thing down?” And before I even finished that thought it felt as if you physically punched me right now, that’s how it felt like.
JF: It hurt and I fell to the ground and just started weeping. And I am so sorry. And – I can feel His love trying to embrace me almost like a warm blanket and I remember trying to push it away and saying: ” No, I am too dirty. You can’t love me like that.” And I just hear Him say, “I don’t care. I love you”. And I pushed it away and said: “No no, I knew better. I knew better.” He said: “I don’t care – I love you. “
JF: And whatever other excuse I’m broken. I’m dirty and wet and He said: “I don’t care”. And then finally, I just woke up and said: ” Please love me, I need someone to love me.” And that day changed everything. They got me connected with a couple in the church who started just walking the journey with me. They didn’t know anything about trafficking and PTSD and which I had plenty of and all this. They didn’t know anything about all that. All they knew was how to love Jesus. And they really embraced me in their family and they even let me babysit their children, which I don’t think up to today I would let someone that was that broken babysit my children, but they did.
NR: Incredible, and that was like instilling trust in you.
JF: And they just walked this incredible journey with me for years and years. Lots of ups and downs, lots of valleys, lots of mountaintops. In 2002 I was in New York City at a prayer event. And, I had an encounter with the Lord where he called me into full-time ministry. I was still trying to quit smoking cigarettes at this time. Like, I was still so rough around the edges. I loved Jesus, I was in His word. I was in church, I was really committed to the Lord at that time, but I was still rough around the edges. There’s still a lot of things being healed and worked out and I was like: “Me? In full-time ministry? Missionary? I’m an ex-prostitute, Lord.” It’s one of the top five clear things God has ever said to me. He said,” Don’t you ever call yourself that again! If I say you’re a missionary, you’re a missionary. End of story.”
JF: And I just remember saying: “Okay. Okay. I don’t know how, I don’t know where, I don’t know what. But okay.” And sure enough, two years later, in 2004, I drove cross country back to Las Vegas where I started my first full-time ministry position being a house mom in a safe home for ex-prostitutes.
NR: Incredible. Wow. And how did you get connected with that safehouse?
JF: I have been putting some feelers out. You know, okay, if I’m supposed to go to ministry, what’s that look like? And I kind of eventually, originally, I thought, well, if I came from this prostitution / trafficking background, shouldn’t that be where I go into ministry?
NR: Yeah, that was what I was thinking.
JF: I was looking at other stuff too, like youth at risk, you know, just different things. But I hadn’t quite started thinking about international ministry yet. I was more thinking in the US. But somehow I ended up getting in touch with this lady that was running this ministry called “Winds of change” in Las Vegas and, it quickly captured my attention, because she was literally going out into the streets and talking with the girls on the street and reaching out to girls in the strip joints and in Vegas and stuff like that. And that sounded really attractive to me. So I contacted her and she invited me to come out and visit. I didn’t want to go alone, because I hadn’t been back to Vegas since I left there. And I didn’t know if I would see people I knew. It had been from 98 to 2003 when I went to visit, so it’d been five years and these guys moved around so much that I didn’t expect to see any, but I wasn’t sure.
JF: I was really nervous until the wife of the couple that mentored me went with me. And we stayed there for three days and by the end of the three days, I said this is what I want to do, Lord. I want to do this. And He confirmed it in so many ways. I don’t think it was a mistake to be there. But I quickly found out when I did go to join them in 2004. I committed initially to six months. I found out that I just didn’t really have grace for it. And I didn’t have a lot of patience for it and these women in their brokenness. I don’t know if it’s just that they reminded me too much of my brokenness?
NR: Quite possibly
JF: Or what, but I just didn’t have patience for them. I found myself saying things like ”just get over it.”
JF: And part of it was that I actually healed from a lot of things very quickly. Some things slower, some things quicker, but it was just, I don’t know.
NR: And when you say healed was this just spending time with God and being loved by community, by the couple there?
JF: Yeah, absolutely. It was the community. I mean, my whole church community knew my story and walked the journey with me. This couple being intentional and sharing life with me, it was really life on life. I mean, there wasn’t a week that I didn’t see them at least two or three times in the week like you know. We did life together and they just loved me. And every once in a while they gave me like a book to read together with them. Like Redeeming Love by Francine Rivers was one of the ones we did. I saw so much of myself in her especially at the end when she just couldn’t believe that this good thing had happened to be for her. You know, like, there’s so much of her story that related to me, like I just cried through the whole book the first time. I’ve read it several times.
NR: Oh really? I’m in the middle of the first few chapters. I have had to put it down because there was a lot that I identify with, especially where she moved to the farm with him. And she had gone to the farm with him. And she said: “But I can go be a prostitute in my little house and earn money” and I was just like, that’s really sad that you want to strive to make it work for yourself, and I think God is saying “you don’t need to be striving”.
JF: Yeah, absolutely.
I often encourage people. If you want to understand the broken mindset that keeps women like us captive. Sometimes we don’t need a pimp to keep us captive. Sometimes it’s just the lies the enemy does within our own minds that keeps us captive. It creates a jail that is stronger than any handcuffs or locked doors or cages. And so if you want to understand that “Redeeming Love” by Francine Rivers is a great book to read and understand, get into the mind and really begin to understand what that’s like.
JF: But I think probably that being said, I think part of the best gift that my mentors gave to me was learning how to think God’s thoughts about me.
JF: So after that six months in Las Vegas, which I feel like even though ultimately that wasn’t the area of ministry I was going to be called to, I almost had to go back there. It was that full circle of really seeing God has truly broken this off of my life. I am a new creation, I am not this person any more. Even my best friend when I first said I was going to go to Las Vegas to work with this ministry. Her first reaction was panic: “But what if you get sucked back in again?”
NR: I agree with that.
JF: And I had to see that I’m not that person anymore.
NR: A new life in the same city.
JF: There wasn’t a city getting sucked back into it because that woman actually doesn’t exist anymore. But what I learned was that long before being a survivor of trafficking, a victim of trafficking became part of my story, God already had a plan for my life.
JF: He had already envisioned what my life would look like surrendered to Him even before I was born. And the moment I started that journey with Him once again, He started putting me back on track to match that original dream.
NR: Where you are right now.
JF: Which is where I am right now.
NR: Wow Jessica. And what are you doing right now? You’re speaking of “ministry”. What exactly are you doing?
JF: So I have been in full time ministry for 17 years within a cross cultural overseas ministry for 15 as a missionary. I’ve done everything from running secret underground discipleship schools in China. To training missionaries in South Africa and counselling drug addicts in South Africa. To pioneering new church planting ministries in the Himalayas above India. Today I train and coach indigenous church planters in South Asia. And I’m currently working on a project to start a new training, missionary training and sending hub for Chinese speakers in Taiwan.
NR: That is very exciting.
JF: Very exciting.
NR: And Taiwan. Do you feel called to that space right now?
JF: Oh yeah, absolutely. My first overseas missionary assignment had been in China.
JF: Many years ago. And so I speak the Chinese language. And I’m very excited to be back in a Chinese context, although very different instead of communism. It’s democracy and it’s a very different setting, but the culture is very much the same, the language is similar. And so I am very much excited about being back in the context of the Chinese people.
NR: Lovely, so what are you doing in Cape Town?
JF: Well, COVID, of course, has frustrated a lot of people’s plans, including mine. So I’m unable to return to Taiwan right now as their borders are still closed. But I did serve with, I work with organization called “All Nations”, and I served with the hub that we have here in Cape Town for several years. So they invited me to come back and help them teach in a church planting training that we just had. So I got to be a part of teaching and training 15 church planters for Mozambique and Armenia and South Africa and all over.
NR: Wow, that is incredible
JF: That was fabulous.
NR: And we get to meet – what an honour
JF: I really believe this is part of God’s plan for me
NR: Absolutely. Absolutely. Wow, thank you, Jessica, for sharing.
JF: It’s my pleasure.
NR: As I was praying about today, I normally would have asked you a whole lot of questions – but as I was praying, I really felt God saying, share your testimony, share the love, that He’s kind of poured through you and made the new living you today. And the verse that came to mind was Ephesians 2, 10: “We are God’s masterpiece, you are God’s masterpiece. He has created in us a new image of Jesus Christ so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago”. And that’s basically what you said. So that just reminds me how wonderful God is. I think for all of us that we can be redeemed. A new person in Christ and a new life in Christ.
NR: Such a beautiful story.
JF: Well, my encouragement to you guys, and I said this the day that we met is that what you’re doing is so important to rescue these young children, from these situations and you never know who that child might be.
NR: So true
JF: Nobody ever imagined that me, this ex- prostitute would go on to be an international missionary training and sending other missionaries and doing work all over the world. You never know that child might be the next Billy Graham or the next Heidi Baker. Or the whatever you know
NR: Absolutely, absolutely
JF: You never know, and so the work you guys are doing – but even if not, every child – every life is so precious, so valuable and He has dreams for everyone. And so you guys get to play a part in that in seeing this dream come through in their lives.
NR: Absolutely. Very excited. It’s all very new to me as I have shared with you. Still getting my feet in there, but I do feel that’s where God is placing me right now. I just want to trust the process.
JF: Well, thank you. Thank you for what you do.
NR: And thank you for sharing and just being so vulnerable and so open I’m sure your story will bless so many.
JF: Well that’s my prayer.
NR: It’s a beautiful story. Thanks, Jessica.
Dear friends and key stakeholders, thank you for joining us on today’s podcast. Our aim and heart for these podcasts are to bring awareness on human trafficking. To highlight the atrocity this crime is to humanity. A reminder that human trafficking is a multi- billion Dollar industry, which is sadly the fastest growing worldwide and second biggest crime after drugs. It is far more organized than many care to believe.
Our aim of the podcasts is to bring clarity and understanding of what exactly what human trafficking is and how it impacts victims, survivors. We hope to highlight the roles of various stakeholders and how we can all be part of the solution and bringing an end to what we know as modern-day slavery.
We invite you to join hands in fighting against human trafficking, follow us on our social media pages: @freetofly.org.za on Instagram and on Face Book, @freefly.org.za. Do check our website out and sign up to be a volunteer or donate towards the building and running of our safe house for children who have come out of human trafficking. All details will be put in the link below or our last slide.
For those of you who do not know, Free To Fly, are an organization that is currently starting up one of the first safe houses for children who have been rescued from human trafficking in South Africa. We will be offering a home that will provide a space to heal, recover and be set up to be free to fly. Please follow our journey on our website.
Till next time, take care and be sure to share and listen out for the next podcast. Thanks friends!
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