She knew the rapist. He was from the neighborhood, one of the bad crowd she had begun to hang with a few years prior. Resist? Impossible. While raping her, he kept a pistol aimed at her head. If she reported this to the police he would kill her and her family.
This was in November of 2003. Sasha was in shock and in fear of being in her neighborhood where she would see this man. “I just had to run away.”
Thus began her long slide into homelessness. After contacting the Department of Human Services, they took her to an emergency shelter. She stayed for a year.
While hanging with a bad crowd as a younger teenager she had started drinking. Taking drugs. Not going home some nights. Sasha wanted to be part of the crowd and she needed something to numb the emotional pain she felt over being called, “Cyclops,” in high school.
Why the mean-spirited nickname? At age fifteen she was in an auto accident. The airbag deployed, then exploded in her face. Acid in the airbag propellant blinded her in both eyes. “It was terrifying not being able to see,” she said. A month later, the vision in her left eye came back. But she is blind in her right eye.
In late 2004 she qualified for the Job Corps and moved to their dorm in Southeast. The program became her refuge. “All I had to cling to was the Job Corps,” Sasha said. She stayed on the campus for almost two years.
They liked her and were impressed by her abilities. And Sasha didn’t need to get her GED because, in spite of all her emotional pain, she had still managed to get her high school diploma from Bethesda Chevy-Chase High School. Yet by this time in her life, depression had her in its nefarious grip. She went out to clubs. Still drank too much alcohol. Still took street drugs. Self-medicating for depression.
The Job Corps “helped her learn a trade,” she said. Marketable skills. She studied accounting, office administration, data entry, general business and computer skills.
A large bank was partnering with the Job Corps at the time. They needed someone like Sasha who had graduated with a Certificate in Business Technology. They hired her in 2007. She worked in banking for three years.
But her depression grew deeper, and with that, her need for drugs and alcohol grew as well. Committing suicide would often dominate her thoughts. In 2010 she left the bank.
By this time she had a child. Few shelters allow children so she bounced around from her mother to her father to her sisters. This did provide emotional warmth, which Sasha craved. But she could not shake her depression. Nor her dependence on drugs and alcohol. Her mind was filled with negative self-talk.
One day in the bathtub she almost gave in. She even started to slide down into the water. She was going to drown herself. But she didn’t. Something inside stopped her. Sasha is strong. Scared that she almost killed herself, she began watching YouTube videos about positive self-affirmation and slowly started feeling better.
Something else caused a major change in her thinking. Her brother-in-law’s DVDs about Ancient Egypt, whose Kings and Queens were men and women of color. “In history class they kept showing us movies about slavery. Black people lied and told me about the inferiority of black people!” Her teachers left out the successes achieved by people of color not only in America but throughout history.
This gave Sasha a determination for self-study. She loves history, science, technology. “I’m amazed about the universe.” She hungers for knowledge. For learning.
Being in banking gave her an interest in business and she has started her own: MyItWorks. She provides herbal wraps for people to help their bodies detoxify and energize. And she has finally received a Section 8 Federal housing voucher. Sasha is no longer homeless. After more than ten years, She has a permanent place to live which cannot be taken away. Her little girl has her own room.
“I chose to be a survivor and not a victim,” Sasha told me. But Sasha you are far more than a survivor. You embody the triumph of the human spirit over adversity.