Thursday, October 16, 2014

‘OVERCOMERS’ – A Story of Survivors

Tajuana Clark fought as much as she could to stop the onslaught of verbal, psychological and physical abuse for nearly half of her 8½ years of marriage. After reaching the breaking point, she bolted with her six children and ended up homeless on the streets of Memphis.
     More than 11 years of marriage also ended for Dione Pruitt, who was subjected to her husband’s cruelty of verbal, psychological and physical abuse. She vamoosed with her five children, risking it all. With nowhere to turn and no one to turn to, sleeping in the car was her only recourse.
     According to The National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey: 2010 Summary Report, about 1 in 4 women (24.3 percent) and 1 in 7 men (13.8 percent) have experienced severe physical violence by an intimate partner.
Tajuana Clark (seated), Dione Pruitt (left)
and Wanda Taylor. (Photo: Wiley Henry)
     The survey also reported that nearly half of all women and men in the United States have experienced psychological aggression by an intimate partner in their lifetime (48.4 percent and 48.8 percent, respectively).
     Count Clark and Pruitt among the ranks. They were victimized by men purporting to love them, men with a propensity for violence, the third leading cause of homelessness among families. Their stories are similar and all too familiar. But then they found solace and renewal at LINCS (Ladies In Need Can Survive). 
With intense training, they were able to turn their lives around.

From crisis to rehabilitation…

     LINCS is a non-profit “home away from home” in the Frayser community for women who have been psychologically and physically abused, incarcerated, or struggling with poverty, substance abuse and homelessness.  
     Since LINCS’ opening during the summer of 2013, seven women have completed a structured, intensive training program: Drug and Alcohol Intensive Outpatient Program, Counseling, Anger Management, Domestic Violence Education, Parenting & Life Skills Coaching, Job Readiness, Career and Financial Planning, Educational Guidance, the Health and Wellness Program, First Aid/CPR and SIDS Training, and Housing Assistance.
     “We can house four women at a time, but I won’t leave a lady out because I can’t house them,” said Wanda Taylor, LINCS’ CEO and executive director. If the facility is full, she continues to extend a hand to feed other women or refers them to other facilities.
     “Every woman who comes through the door, I mentor them and provide services to get them back on track,” said Taylor. “Other programs deal with the addiction. I deal with the core issue, the root cause.”
     Women in distress are referred to LINCS by churches and a number of organizations, such as the YWCA, The Salvation Army, Friends For Life, Serenity Recovery Centers, Inc., and Project Homeless Connect Memphis.

Tajuana Clark: Failure is not an option

     “Being at the center taught me that dreams do come true,” said Clark, who underwent a rigorous training program to address her myriad problems. “I got into a good program so I wouldn’t be stuck in bondage.”
Clark received counseling, went back to high school to get her diploma, got a job, and then matriculated at National College in Memphis to become a pharmacy technician. Then it was on to Tennessee Academy of Cosmetology after National College closed its doors.
     “My career goal is to be a nurse practitioner,” said Clark, 30, who never thought any of her dreams would come to fruition. “I felt like I had a learning disability, but I was encouraged that it wasn’t too late for me.”
Once in school, Clark made good grades – A’s and B’s. “I knew I had it, but I felt I’d taken too long to get my diploma.”
     “Tajuana has completed the program and has done exceptionally well since she’s been in school,” said Taylor. “Now she has a positive outlook on life, no longer receives public assistance, and was reunited with her children after finishing the program.”
     As Clark recalls, “Ms. Wanda” was trying to get the center open when they met.
     “She stayed friends with me and loved me where I was. She encouraged me when I was going through not to give up. I felt like I’d failed myself and everybody, but she let me know that failure was not an option.”
     Clark fought mightily to turn her life around. “I was empty and had no more fight in me,” she said. “But then I knew I was a winner. I just thank God that I didn’t end up at a dead end.”

Dione Pruitt:‘There is no turning back’

     “I’m free, I got peace, and I’m going to keep it like that,” said Pruitt, who has her own home now and a vehicle. Her children also were returned after the threat of domestic violence had ceased and after she was no longer homeless. Thanks to LINCS, “I’m just blessed.”
     Pruitt says she is stronger now than she was before. “I’m still processing and healing on certain things,” she said. “But I’m there. There is no turning back. I’ve come too far. My goal is to get my GED, own my own business, and just live life.”
     LINCS may have been Pruitt’s saving grace. She will graduate this month with her GED. “The only people I can really trust is Ms. Wanda and Ms. JoAnn Lee, my godmom,” said Pruitt, 33.
     “Dione was very timid because of all the abuse that she’s gone through,” Taylor said. “Her self esteem is at an all time high and she’s learned to love herself all over again.”
     Love had been fleeting or nonexistent, Pruitt claims. “When I left my husband, I was homeless and slept in my car. My oldest child was with me; the other children stayed with their fathers,” she said. “I stayed six months at the YWCA and got a referral to LINCS.”
     When Pruitt finally got herself together, her bearings straight, she surprised her daughter. “She was the first to see the house. The others came after a month. They were happy and running everywhere. So I just let them have a good time.”
     Pruitt said she was never told she was beautiful. “Now I know I’m beautiful,” she said confidently. “Nobody can take that away from me.”

Wanda Taylor: ‘I’m an overcomer’

The women that Taylor has helped to get back on their feet are mirror images of herself. She grew up in a single parent household in public housing and likewise endured verbal, psychological and physical abuse.
     “My mom battled alcohol and my dad was addicted to drugs. So I was raised in the streets and grew up with gangsters, prostitutes and drug dealers,” said Taylor, who once lived with her brother and sister in both the Claiborne Homes and LeMoyne Gardens housing projects.
     The environment that Taylor was accustomed to was dangerous. She’d endeared herself to the underbelly of life and engaged in the type of illicit behavior that could’ve cost her life.
     "At 11, I was introduced to cocaine, alcohol and sex,” she said. “I started experiencing domestic violence at 15, dropped out of school in the 11th-grade, and became a teen mom. I had no morals and values.
     “I was so confused. I was selling drugs, stealing, in and out of the court. I’m the face in incest, homelessness, substance abuse, incarceration – everything. I lived at The Salvation Army twice, in a vacant apartment with my children, and out of my mom’s car.
     “I was shot at, stabbed, almost burned alive, and tied up. Guns were pulled on me countless times. And I also went through an abusive marriage – almost three years,” said Taylor, the mother of two adult children and three grandchildren.  
     In 1992, Taylor made a decision to transform her life. She found Jesus Christ. In 2002, at the age of 28, she received her high school diploma. At 35, she’d received a cosmetology diploma, technical certificate in Substance Abuse Counseling, and an Associate of Science degree in Human Services both from Southwest Tennessee Community College. She also earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Business Management at the University of Phoenix.
     “I’m an overcomer,” she said.

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