I met “Clutch” the beginning of October when the air was still warm and many travelers were making plans to get out of Denver before the air turned brisk and cold, much like how it is this morning as I write this post. He came off as tough, a little on edge, due to how the day was pan ning out, but incredibly intelligent and driven. He approached me when he noticed my camera sitting in my lap. We got to talking and he asked if I would take his photo so that he could send it to his family, and let them know he was okay. Of course I jumped at the chance and I began to ask him about his life story.
“I was born in South Carolina and then we moved to Rochester NY near Syracuse, and I lived there until I was 10 years old. But then my Grandfather passed away and we moved down to Florida: my Mom, Dad, two sisters and brother. I lived down there pretty much ever since 1998. My golden years were spent down there. Elementary school, Middle school, High school, well for the time that I was in High School,” he said.
Clutch eventually enrolled in online school and graduated early with a 4.0. Although society typically applauds students who can accomplish school early by labeling them “driven” and bound for success, Clutch believes that due to his early success, he found himself in more trouble.
“I wasn’t really too thrilled with school so I homeschooled myself and finished early. It’s both a curse and a blessing at the same time. I got done with school but I had so much time on my hands, I ended up just ripping and running the streets without any care. I’m kinda doing the same thing now, I’m just a little bit smarter,” he said with a laugh.
Having that much free time, he quickly found himself leading a life that eventually lead right to prison.
“I was put in a juvenile program when I was 17 and then got out a couple years after. But when I was 19 I went to prison for aggravated battery with a weapon for bodily harm and a strong arm robbery. I got set up basically” he said. “I was selling drugs, and there was a dude who wasn’t happy with my services. So he made up a bunch of lies to his wife’s brother who was a sheriff and he got me roped off. I was stupid, young and naive and I spoke too much when the police came to question me about it, I sealed my own fate. I was young and stupid. I’ll be 26 this month, so I’ve done a lot of growing up.”
Although he’s spent a good portion of his young adult life in the prison system, Clutch claims he tried to make the best of his time.
“I got my degree while I was in prison. I went to prison pretty young, I was 19 years old and got out when I was 23, and I tried to make the best of my time. People would get involved in politics and the negatives of prison. I just wanted to work in the kitchen, workout, eat and go to school. I made the best of it. Unfortunately studying horticulture turned out not to be really a lucrative career choice but it made me knowledgable, I’m sure I can use it in a couple different fields of work. Plus I can not just grow my food, but I can tend to livestock too. I can basically generate my own homestead if I wanted to. Plus since I lived in Florida I’ve had a lot of landscaping experience, so I can do all sorts of tree work and construction. I could pretty much build a house from the ground up.”
Although Clutch has had no serious felony trouble since 2010, when I had spoken with him he had just gotten out of jail after spending a month in Salida for driving on a revoked license and not going to court for the ticket, so his next step is to get back home to Florida.
“My whole family is out there…I’ll probably catch a train out of here with some friends or maybe by myself. I’m headed back that direction because that’s where I want to be. Well it’s not really where I want to be, but that’s where I need to be. Get my life back on track ya know, so I can come back out here. I originally came out to Colorado because I was cultivating marijuana and it was really cool and very profitable, kinda thought I’d be able to do it again when I came back out and it just backfired on me. I’m really starting from nothing right now,” he said.
Sox Place is a place where street kids, travelers and gutter punks can be “okay.” It’s a place where they can gather themselves after time in prison or even just a tough day out on the streets, and re-plan their strategy for life. Many times I have seen kids walk in knowing almost no one and be embraced by the community here as one of their own with little to no judgment. I haven’t seen Clutch since that warm October day, so I’m hoping he made it to Florida and has been reunited with his family.
Exclamations of “How horrible!” Tears in the eyes of emotional women. Heads shaking. Questions, “How could someone do that to the innocent?” Mouths gaping in shock. Angry sighs. These are often our reactions to videos, statistics, and presentations on human trafficking… and should be. We should want to cry out for the innocent. We should be angry at those who exploit others – those who allow human trafficking to happen.
We should want to do something.
But how many times have we seen a presentation or heard a statistic about trafficking victims just to throw a few dollars – whatever minimal cash we happen to have on us – in the donation jar, discuss the horrors of the situation on the way home, and wake up the next morning feeling fine?
When is it time to do something?
“But human trafficking is a problem in faraway lands… it’s a job for social workers and missionaries. There’s nothing I can do besides give a couple of bucks when I hear a presentation.”
Wrong. Traffickers bring women and children to the U.S. from other countries right under our noses – Denver is one of the top ten U.S. cities for child sex trafficking (www.projectrescue.com/resources). But what about the blonde haired, blue eyed girl who looks like she’s been used up, standing on the street corner? What about the U.S. citizen who needs quick money to feed his drug addiction?
What are we, as a community, doing that makes it so people can’t meet their basic needs without selling their own or someone else’s body? What did we do for that girl when she was 14 and was kicked out of her house? A pimp was there, ready to “love” her – where were we? What did we do for the drug addict so that he could get help for his addiction and find a good paying, legitimate job? Where were we when he turned to drugs to ease the pain of abuse or neglect?
I could give quote and statistic a million times over as to why we need to get involved, but I don’t think I need to repeat the multiple presentations you have undoubtedly heard. The issue is less about statistics or categories (who deserves to be categorized as a victim) and more about every person deserving to live life to the fullest. My only plea is: If not you, then who is going to do something?
What are you going to do?
Read Part II for ideas and what Sox Place is doing.
Written by Kara Knight