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Left to die in a car with two gunshot wounds to the head and one in the arm, Stephanie Powe refused to take her last breath. She miraculously dialed the car phone and told a friend, “I’m not playing. I’ve been shot two times in the head…”
She gave her location, kept herself alert by talking, bit her acrylic nails to make sure she could still feel. On that day, February 19, 1992, Powe’s life changed forever. But after hospitalization and a year of arduous rehabilitation, she was walking again. She had lost her right eye and had 50% usage of her right arm, which was her dominant one.
“I prayed to be saved,” said Powe, now 44. “I said my parents couldn’t handle it, my sisters were too young; my brother would hurt. I thought I had too many things to do in life, but I didn’t know what.
“For the past 20 years I’ve been on a journey to find out why I was saved.”
She was born and raised in Chicago, one of 10 children. Her father had five children from a previous marriage before he married her mom and had five more. She is the oldest of her mother’s children.
“I grew up on the Southside of Chicago in a typical middle class house with four bedrooms. My mother was an RN, my father worked for General Motors,” said Powe.
But her father was also a numbers runner and he taught his teenage daughter how to earn money shooting pool, rolling dice and playing poker.
“When you get money like that and it’s coming in hand over fist, you seek it in all kinds of ways,” said Powe.
At the age of 20, with her father’s backing, she opened a jewelry store called “Miss Prissy’s.” Some of her best customers were drug dealers who impressed her with the amount of cash they had. Before long, she was dating a dealer she met at the car wash.
“He didn’t sell on the streets. He would meet with Italian guys and bring in kilos.” she said.
He was older, drove a new Cadillac, wore Armani suits and she would later find out was a member of the notorious Gangster Disciples.
“I could buy what I wanted, drive what I wanted– and travel,” she said.
They had been dating about nine months and were living together when they were both arrested. Powe was charged with possession of cocaine and being affiliated with a gang. Her parents got her out on bond and the experience frightened her enough that she vowed to change her life.
“I started going to church every Sunday,” said Powe, who ended her relationship with her boyfriend. “He was in prison, anyway, for another charge. I told him I wouldn’t turn state’s evidence.”
She enrolled in cosmetology school and got a part-time job. She did, however, continue to talk by phone with him and she asked him for $20,000 to take care of bills he had left her with.
“He told me he had the money and all I had to do was meet with these guys and they would give it to me,” said Powe, adding, “I don’t know if I was arrogant or naive, but I didn’t believe they would hurt me.”
When she got in a car with them they drove off. Her boyfriend called on the car phone and Powe remembers he kept asking who she was sleeping with and told her, “If I can’t have you, no one can.”
The three guys in the car kept asking if she was cooperating with police. As they drove, she paid attention to every street sign and field they passed. At some point the men pulled over, shot her and ran.
They didn’t count on Powe living. She identified two of the three men, both of whom were found fatally shot before their court date. The third man was later incarcerated for two other murders. The drug charges against Powe were dropped and her ex-boyfriend was charged with giving the order to have her killed. She doesn’t like to mention his name in public because she said, “that’s my way of not giving him any more power.”
The most difficult injury over the years has been to her self esteem. She hated her glass eye—and the memories that the eye reminded her of.
“I couldn’t make eye contact with anybody,” said Powe. “When I looked at myself in the mirror I’d ask , ‘Oh my God, why?’ I remember going to the ocularist for cleaning appointments, and I sat there and cried until he put the eye back in. My eye affected my self esteem. My confidence was completely shook.”
A friend occasionally asked her when she was going to write a book about her experience.
“I didn’t want to put myself up to be judged, to openly talk about what happened—and to talk about a prosthetic eye,” said Powe.
Then at the end of 2010 she prayed for a month and asked God, “Tell me what am I supposed to do.” After one prayer session, she went to the gym for the first time—and ran into the friend who always asked her about writing. This time when he asked Powe if she was ready to write her book, she surprised herself and said, “Yes.” She recalls, “An overwhelming relief came over me.”
She finished the book earlier this year. On February 19, the anniversary of her shooting, she had what she called “a completion party, to create a new memory for me on that day, instead of constantly going back to that dark place of pain,” Powe said.
She also began speaking publicly about her life. She had never thought about herself as a victim of domestic violence, but she realized that indeed she was. She became an ardent advocate against domestic violence.
“I want to eradicate domestic violence,” said Powe. “I want to counsel, educate and build self esteems. That is my mission and my purpose.”
Shortly after the publication of her book someone introduced her to Rev. Torrey L. Barrett of Life Center Church in Chicago and he eventually hired her as Director of the Violence Prevention Initiative for his organization Keep Loving Each Other (KLEO).
“I took to Stephanie’s story so much because I lost a sister to domestic violence and her name was Kleo,” said Rev. Torrey. “We do a lot of violence prevention but we never had anyone with the passion for domestic violence and she is able to focus on that. She’s extremely dedicated.”
This year, for the first time in many years, Powe looked at herself in the mirror.
“I hold up my head and say I am still a beautiful person and have something to offer,” she said.
She still has a bullet in her spine and deals with daily pain from arthritis and an arm that she said is like carrying dead weight around.
Nevertheless, Powe explained why her life is so good. “Everyone knows my story. I don’t have to carry this burden. You can say whatever you want about me, I’m good; God has my back.”
Faces of Hope: Survivors of Abuse
1. Media mogul Oprah Winfrey was abused by a relative at age 9.Source:AP 1 of 8
2. Singer Mary J. Blige was abused at age 5.2 of 8
3. Poet Maya Angelou was abused by her mother's boyfriend. (AP)3 of 8
4. Tyler Perry was abused by four different adults during his childhood. (Retna)4 of 8
5. Actress Monique was abused by a family member. (AP)5 of 8
6. Queen Latifah was abused by a family member. (Retna)6 of 8
7. Sugar Ray Leonard was abused by a coach when he was an amateur boxer. (AP)7 of 8
8. Vanessa Williams was abused by the daughter of a family friend. (Retna)8 of 8