A Closer Look at Carol Thorton-Gamble and “Off The Streets”

When trying to think of adjectives to describe Carol Thorton-Gamble, I am at a loss as to which words will do her justice. “Rock Star” is undoubtedly the first that comes to mind. End Slavery Cincinnati wanted to interview her in regards to her work with Off The Streets for our August Newsletter on “Pimp-Controlled Prostitution”. Carol took time out of her very busy schedule to speak with us. It didn’t take long to see what an influential impact Carol has on the women she serves at Off The Streets – a program that assists women in prostitution move towards recovery, empowerment, and community reintegration.

Carol herself is able to relate to these women through her own experiences and she developed this program with this peer-based service as the foundation. Eighteen years ago, Carol was recovering from drug addiction after living on the streets for about thirteen years. Since then, she has not only helped herself, but helped so many others. After assisting to create one of the first programs available for women recovering from addictions in the area years ago, Carol had plenty to share with us about her experiences.

Q: What are some of the most difficult issues you encounter on a daily basis in helping the women at Off The Streets?
A: There’s been a shift to more serious drug abuse. It’s moved from crack and cocaine addictions to heroin and opiates. We’ve had to implement random drug screenings to keep everyone safe because it’s hard to tell when a woman is addicted to heroin. They still look almost natural. It makes their recovery a lot more difficult as well because the detox is much more frightening. It takes a lot longer to build their confidence because the women are terrified of withdrawal. If you don’t catch the user early in their addiction, it spirals out of control and it becomes very difficult to get clean.

Q: I can’t even imagine what these women must go through on their journey towards recovery. What do you think these women struggle with the most when first entering the program?
A: Learning how to take care of themselves and learning life skills. Previously, all their decisions had been made for them. Most have not had a job in years because they have been working the block. They need to build the self-esteem to return to society and need direction because they often feel like they can’t make it or that they don’t have anyone to help them with the small things.

Q: It makes sense that being able to relate to the women in your program creates a unique dynamic and is so influential in implementing positive change. How do you think this approach has specifically contributed to the success you’ve had with Off The Streets?
A: We can identify with them. We are women who are familiar with the situations and hardships with living on the streets helping other women. Their whole life they have dealt with people who have no clue about their life. We tell them the truth coming through the door. We have recovered, we can relate some of our experiences to theirs and once they see how real we are, they begin to trust us. Some test the system, because previously no one was understanding these women. When I was in their position I was ashamed and it was all about rebuilding trust with people and learning how to trust someone. But the main attraction to the program is the promotion of hope for the ladies. We try to have each lady’s situation identified further than just drug abuse and find the underlying situations to truly help them towards recovery.

Q: In your experiences, do the women who have been under control of a pimp have a more difficult rehabilitation process?
A: The bottom line is: when there is a pimp – it is trafficking. And yes, when trafficking is involved, it is harder for them to trust us. The women have bonded with their trafficker and now they need to learn how to be alright with themselves. We try to keep them away from the area they have been in so they are unable to be wooed back in. It’s hard for them to get strong on their own so they are able to stand and be okay on their own when previously they have been constantly told that they would be nothing without this man. I encourage the ladies to remember what they wanted to do with their life before it spiraled out of control. I tell them, “You don’t have to give up on your dreams, we’re just going to work it out right now.”

Q: As someone who has developed a successful career and helped to reform the lives of so many women and get them on their way, what would be your advice to anyone looking to do reach out to others in a similar manner?
A: You have got to have a sacrificial heart and you’ve got to have a non-judgmental attitude. Each woman ended up out there for a different reason even though the end result is usually the same. If you can’t keep an open-mind you will run them away and they will continue to rebuild a wall against people.

It is with Carol’s valuable knowledge concerning the inter-connectivity between prostitution and addiction as well as the realities of the women’s experiences and rehabilitation process that we are able to begin to build this essential open-minded attitude.

Authors: Emma Stegman and Catherine Lok
August 10, 2013


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