By Rahsaan Thomas
Speakers Marya Edgar and Billy “Faheem” Fuller gave accounts that put faces to the victims of sex trafficking at the Restorative Justice (RJ) Symposium held inside of San Quentin State Prison.
“Thank you for taking on tough subjects like transgenders and this subject that is so painful for many of you,” said RJ sponsor and Berkeley Professor Mary Elliot. “We did it in here because there is enough love to hold it.”
Edgar stood before guests and incarcerated men inside the Catholic Chapel and spoke about breaking the abuse and mental slavery that entrapped her in prostitution.
Edgar says her biological father held a gun to her mother’s belly and threatened to abort her. After the abusive man went to prison, Edgar’s mother married someone else, an older man that beaten her with a belt.
“I became accustomed to being beaten by somebody who loves me,” said Edgar.
At 16, Edgar met a man through a female prostitute that needed to bring in a new girl in order to escape the life.
“I saw a handsome older man; he saw an opportunity,” said Edgar.
He led Edgar to believe she was his girlfriend in order to get the 16-year-old to prostitute. Whenever she tried to leave, her pimp threatened to tell her family, hurt her family or attack her.
“One time he told me to leave, and I tried to do so, but he beat me with a belt,” said Edgar. “I thought I was in a domestic violence relationship.”
Edgar says that people shouldn’t gauge whether a prostitute is giving them consensual sex by how they act.
“If you meet a hooker, she’s happy, cheerful, excited,” said Edgar. “Maybe a John won’t realize she has been forced.”
Edgar never stopped going to school. When the police arrested her pimp for robbery, Edgar says she started to break away. The break became complete when she heard a fellow female student was killed by her husband and realized that could have been her.
Today Edgar is an engaged, 25-year-old social worker and a mother with a master’s degree who gives the glory to God for her survival.
“Now I’m able to assist as a survivor advocate,” said Edgar. “Sharing my story and leaving little nuggets help me heal.”
Edgar is also part of the Sex Trafficking Exploitation Prevention (STEP) program started by Louis Scott, who is serving over 200 years for pimping and pandering.
Scott grew up in a household where pimping was socially acceptable. His mother was a prostitute and his father a pimp.
“RJ teaches us crime impact,” said Scott. “I don’t know the full harm I’ve caused. Not everybody is as strong as Ms. Edgar was. I’m doing everything in my power to stop this. When you hear guys talking about pimping this and that, now you have a face.”
Scott, who hosted the May 7 symposium, has created a pamphlet with information on where to get help. They’re placed in Planned Parenthood locations, where prostitutes go to get free condoms.
Fuller spoke from the byproduct of sex trafficking perspective. His mother was a 13-year-old prostitute who left him with his grandmother.
“At 10 grandma died, and I had to go live with my mother, a heroin addict living in a whore house,” said Fuller.
Fuller’s mother beat him when he cried for being hungry. When he learned that he had a 3-year-old sister, he realized that it was his job to keep her from being beaten for being hungry. One time he says he stole potato chips from one of the prostitutes but didn’t mind being beaten because his sister didn’t go to bed hungry.
“When my mother went to jail, the ladies in the house started doing things to me,” said Fuller. “At 10, I had this idea that if I didn’t take it, they would do it to my little sister. It destroyed me as a kid. I’m 56-years-old now. I’ve been in prison for 38 years. I think the only reason I’m alive today is because my little sister needed me.”
Fuller grew to hate adults and vowed to kill one when he grew up.
“At 17, I killed a man who did nothing to me except be an adult,” said Fuller. “I am extremely sorry. My past doesn’t justify the things that I have done.”
The time came when Fuller had to forgive his mother in order to heal. That moment came when his mother was on her deathbed.
“Everything I went through was all about forgiveness,” said Fuller.
Music enhanced the symposium. Antwan “Banks” Williams and Jessie James Smith rapped out against sex trafficking.
“At 12 they all called her fast, because nobody knew about her past…” Smith rapped on “Cry.”
Doing a solo, Gino Sevacos sang, “She wants to run, she wants to fly away, forced to have sex at a young age…”
Sevacos was inspired to write the song after the One Million Rising organization brought in sex trafficking survivors, and he heard their stories.
“The music was amazing. It was powerful,” said Edgar.
The use of restorative justice is spreading. It is offered in Solano State Prison to men who have completed Mary Jo Bauen’s Parenting Program.
RJ is also used in Florida and the Bay Area instead of jail for crimes involving victims, including robbery, burglary and sexual assault, according to Sia Henry of Impact Justice’s Restorative Justice Project.
“Police, Probation or Disrict Attorneys can send a case to our organization prior to being charged,” said Henry. “We meet with the young person, victim’s family and their supporters in a conference. Everyone comes up with a plan to make everything right. The plan must make things right for the victim, their family, the community and themselves. They have six months to complete the plan or the case gets sent back to the referring agency.”
Henry says Alameda has the longest running program and their recidivism rate is 11.8 percent; the average recidivism rate for the state is 54.3 percent within three years according to a 2014 California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation Outcome Evaluation Report. Henry hopes to see neighborhoods use restorative justice instead of calling the police because draconian sentences don’t make sense.
“I don’t think the people who are making the decisions in California are inherently evil, necessarily,” said Kelsey Quigley, a Berkeley Law student. “They just have no clue. I think before you pass a law implicating prisoners you should have to go to a Restorative Justice circle or at least meet a prisoner. I met the men here. They changed my perspective – on the law, on life, on everything.”
By Rahsaan Thomas