Working with a $40,000 a year budget, more than 30 women have been sentenced to the program, and only one or two have relapsed so far, though it is too early to measure success. The program is unique not only because it is court-ordered — unlike other private projects — but also treats the women after their release, sometimes for up to two years.
District Court Judge Maria T. Jackson has sentenced 20 women to the program, working closely with Griffin to monitor their treatment.
“Society has not been addressing the problems of the prostitutes and the women who come in for possession of controlled substance and theft. They’ve been locking them up when they should be dealing with the other, the underlying issues, which are the majority of these girls come from abused homes,” Jackson said.
“They are the victims and they’ve been treated like criminals,” she added.
When they’re released, Griffin first takes the women shopping, “cause all they have is hooker clothes,” she said. Some go to drug rehab or a halfway house. Many require job training. And all must attend Griffin’s external workshop every Wednesday for at least 18 months.
Griffin said most programs ban cursing and require participants to sit nicely, but she found that doesn’t work with women like Chambers who were initiated into the culture at a young age.
“I accept them for who they are. They come in, they call body parts what they called them in the street. At first they say ‘bitch, ho.’ I get to see who they really are and who they were … and then I know how to start tapering it down,” Griffin said.
Chambers said her mother was an international prostitute who got her into the business when she was 9. Talking about it was difficult, and in church she felt like she had a “scarlet letter.”
Recently, some of those videos resurfaced online and she was asked to identify them for police. She was in a period of drug recovery, but seeing the films made her relapse, she said, leading to her fifth arrest in Texas in seven years.
Now, with the support from Griffin and the other women in her group, she has hope she won’t go roll back to a life of getting high and selling her body.
“I mean you just can’t get out, but this program right here shows you how to get out cause it makes us worthy that we are women,” Chambers said. “We’re not just a piece of meat, that we’re women and I’ve gotten a lot of hope.”