Shelly grew up in the 1960s. To look at her now--a home owner, peer support specialist, artist and jewelry designer--you would never guess the lifetime of struggle she endured.
Growing up, Shelly was bullied because she was overweight. By her own omission, she was rebellious and didn’t get along with her dad. She had ADHD before anyone knew what it was and was labeled incorrigible as a teen.
Sex Trafficked as a Teen
Shelly ran away hoping to find relief on the streets, but instead was held hostage and tortured by a pedophile. She escaped when she was 19 years old.
The next five years were a blur. Shelly ended up with a bad crowd and became addicted to drugs. She knew she had to get away and took a bus to her mom’s house. She got clean and tried to start a new life. Shelly had no work experience and had a hard time finding legitimate work.
Drug Addiction and Prostitution
She started working as a dancer in a strip club. She loved the limelight and attention. She was able to travel for work and earned plenty of money. But the atmosphere in the clubs started getting darker and scarier. Also, during this time, she got married to a man who owned a meth lab. Drug addiction and prostitution followed.
She was arrested a few times. She would go on and off meth, then pain pills. She tried to start over again.
Shelly was almost 50 when she had a realization. “I couldn’t live with myself if my mom died knowing me as nothing more than a strung out dope whore.” She was sick of her life and decided she couldn’t do it anymore. She knew this was the last chance to make a change.
Starting Over with Dignity
Shelly went to the Catholic Charities Dignity program to help break the cycle of prostitution. The program is run in conjunction with the City of Phoenix Prosecutors office.
Though Shelly only stayed in the program for five months, she got the start she needed to begin a life her mom would be proud of. Shelly also got connected to other resources like the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence (NACDD), where Shelly now works offering peer support.
Shelly has been in recovery from drugs and prostitution for six years. She calls her time at Dignity “monumental and a giant stepping stone” to her new life.
Shelly’s mom passed away a year ago but acknowledged Shelly had become a new person and was proud.
“I’m just starting to live life now, and I wonder how many years I have left. I’m working to stay in recovery and work on my mental health. I paint canvases and do bead work, it’s very satisfying,” says Shelly.
Shelly also comes to speak to women in the Dignity Diversion program. She was once in their shoes and hopes by volunteering to share her experience, others can relate and get help earlier than she did.