(September 9, 2019) – Growing up in the Central Valley, Debra Rush wanted the same things many other young girls do: a boyfriend, good friends and tons of fun. She never anticipated that those simple desires would take a turn for the worst when she was kidnapped and forced into human trafficking as a teenager right here in the Central Valley.
Rush survived years of guilt, shame and emotional abuse, but in the face of it all, she never lost sight of her goal of a different life. Nearly a decade later, she began her path toward healing by opening a community-benefit organization called Breaking the Chains for survivors of human trafficking.
Author Penelope Childers had retired from a career in the federal government and began writing feel-good, short stories in popular books such as “Chicken Soup for the Soul” in 2010. However, through meeting Rush, Childers quickly found her niche in collaborating to write the stories of individuals who’ve encountered unimaginable struggles and used unquenchable courage to overcome them.
Despite being two very different people from very different worlds, their paths crossed at a small coffee shop when Rush boldly requested that Childers write her story. Rush’s story was so different from Childers’ past work, she had little interest in writing Rush’s heart-wrenching story.
It wasn’t until a close friend asked Childers to participate in volunteer work for women transitioning out of prison that she got her first exposure to people who defied social stigmas. Although hesitant to visit the Central California Women’s Facility, Childers visited the prison and met women who shifted her perspective on people and her writing.
“I gave a class to eight women, and only one of them had finished high school,” Childers recalled. “But let me tell you this: Some of the women I’ve met in prison are the most awesome people I’ve ever met.”
Childers became good friends with the women in the facility and looked forward to hearing their stories and learning why they were incarcerated. She found herself intrigued with their lives and shared the opportunity Rush had proposed the previous year.
With the support and influence of her incarcerated friends, Childers finally decided to write Rush’s story.
The first time they met to discuss the book, Rush told Childers she would share stories that she had never told anyone before and felt relieved after doing so. The two women’s collaboration created the opportunity for survivors of human trafficking in the Central Valley to share their stories in their book, “A Cry of the Heart: Human Trafficking, One Survivor’s True Story.”
In an effort to bring light to human trafficking, Rush and Childers will speak at the College of Social Sciences Speaker Series at 6 p.m. Sept. 10 at the Henry Madden Library Room 2206. The event is free and open to the public.