Like so many other girls who wind up in prostitution – estimates range from 70 to 90 percent – Dana was sexually abused as a child.
“I was molested at the age of seven,” she said. “I think that’s what got me started [in prostitution.] I was always wanting a man’s approval.”
Before long, she was working in a brothel and abusing drugs and alcohol. Eventually, she went to jail, where she met a woman who told her about New Friends New Life.
“When I got out of jail, I knew I didn’t want to go back to living that kind of life,” she said. “I went to New Friends New Life. That was a new start for my journey.
Dana began attending Wednesday night meetings, which include dinner, a Bible study and a life skills session required for participation in the New Friends New Life program. These meetings offered her something that had been missing from her life: a community of women whom she could trust.
“I was used to being around women, but I was kind of a loner.” Dana said. “We used to bicker about who could bring in the most money… I used to be ready to fight other women, you know?”
At New Friends New Life, however, Dana found true friends. She found women she could relate to and confide in, women who would change her life.
“I learned how to bond with women, and it was women that were just like me,” she said. “It took a minute, but I was able to open up and share some things with them.”
As Dana continued to attend Wednesday night meetings and grow her network of support, she became a protégé in the NFNL program. As a protégé, she was partnered with an advocate, Michelle, who served as her mentor as she transitioned to self-sufficiency through conventional employment.
Michelle helped Dana budget and set goals, encouraged her to go back to school and supported her as she applied for and ultimately got a job in business administration.
“I’ve had jobs, but I would quit them. This time, I made up my mind that this was something I was going to stick with,” Dana said. “I never had a job where I liked to go to work. But this one, I love it.”
The most important thing that New Friends New Life did for Dana, however, was bring her closer to Christ.
“I was spiritually, mentally, physically bankrupt,” she said. “When I was in prostitution, sometimes I would go to church. To be honest, I even prostituted with the pastor. That’s what made me stay away from the church.”
However, participating in weekly New Friends New Life Bible studies, Dana rediscovered God.
“I built a relationship with God when I thought God had left me. And he hadn’t. I had left him. He was still right there,” she said.
Her journey was not without its challenges. The most difficult part, Dana said, was learning how to be a mother.
“My mom raised my children, then I got my children back,” Dana said. “After all those years, I didn’t know how to be a mother, so I took parenting classes.”
Through New Friends, Dana also received counseling services. Though she admitted that she was reluctant to open up at first, her counselor and her advocate eventually encouraged her to talk about what she had been through during one-on-one sessions.
“I have so many scars,” she said. “I would go out there, work the streets, wait in the house, give them my money. I almost lost my life a few times… [Through counseling] I was able to deal with a lot of things that I hadn’t dealt with in years, like being molested.”
Dana graduated from the New Friends New Life program in April 2010, and now aims to serve as a protégé leader — a role model, resource, and friend for current and incoming protégés.
When Dana first starting coming to New Friends New Life, it was a huge help “just to know that I wasn’t by myself, that other women were going through this,” she said. By sharing her story, Dana hopes that she can help other women turn their lives around, just like the women of New Friends New Life helped her.
“New Friends New Life really helped me learn how to be responsible, learn how to be a mother, learn how to love me… If it wasn’t for their program, I don’t know where I’d be. I’d probably still be in the whorehouse, waiting for a man to pick me, pick me.”