A person who catches a glimpse of a dream is unstoppable no matter what their economic conditions are
She has written and published her 5th book, not to mention owning property in her community and giving back to others. Gloria Woodson has come a long way from riding on the back of trucks, held in by a rope, using the backs of another person as a pillow, traveling from camp to camp, living on camps, using bathrooms with no running water, drinking from the same cup (Her story in The Never Ending Back Streets Of Roots)
Gloria Woodson was born in 1939 in Belle Glade, Florida. She began her life at five years old working the bean fields with her grandmother. At eight years old, while traveling with relatives from one camp to another, one of her uncles raped her. Within hours after the rape Woodson laid on the railroad track waiting for a train to run her over. Instead, the hand of the white conductor reached out to save her and return her to her caretakers, who took her and brother John, Jr. back to Belle Glade.
Gloria’s first inspiration came from a voice she heard while walking in an alleyway one day: “You’re going to write a book and be rich.” Not knowing how to read and write, she responded to the voice, “I don’t know how to read and write, how am I going to write a book?” Woodson never thought any more about that day.
It was too far to think ahead. She had to deal with the realities of her day, field work, her a means to an end. Anything was better than what she had, so she thought. She knew she didn’t want poverty, nor the stinch of the labor camps.
Another spark of hope came for Woodson in New York, where she walked into a department store, and saw women dressed in nice clothes, shopping. It was then she knew she wanted that for herself.
At 18 Woodson having been violated by rape, filled with rage, looking for love, teamed up with a lover who would later trick her into prostitution. Poverty opened the door to rape and rape to anger and anger led to revenge using her body as a tool, so when the pimp came along with the idea to make big money using her body because he didn’t want to work, Woodson had already been set up for it. Gloria’s lifestyle changed. She had finer clothes, better places to sleep, a higher quality of food, cars, etc., a big price not to work the fields.
Woodson spent years in this lifestyle. She saw women come and go. Some died before they could get out, but one day her friend, another prostitute, was getting out. Woodson asked her how she was doing it. She shared how to skim money from the pimp. Woodson took her advice to skim money but decided to stay. Instead of getting out, she and the pimp decided to go into business together. He was pursuing other interests and wanted her to run the business for him. As she began to put the business on top, her business savvy blossomed their partnership into a successful operation. He trusted her to handle the money and make decisions.
This lifestyle was not without a price. Woodson ended up in jail one last time. This time she was facing a 75 year jail sentence. It looked pretty grim. But something happened on this particular jail stay, Woodson accepted her fate and turned her life over to God. A decision that led to her release after five months. She never did the 75 years.
Looking back Woodson reflects on her reasons for prostituting: “People thought I was a big fool. I wasn’t prostituting to feed a drug habit like most girls on the street. I did it for my pimp.”
Woodson’s story of survival from the labor camps and poverty is one modern day immigrants face. Lack of education and no citizenship status in the United States, breeds not only poverty, but forces destructive choices to survive. The faces are the same: Spanish, Haitian, African American. The mal-treatment hasn’t changed. The commonality: little or no education, no citizenship status, desperation.
Woodson calls it “Modern Day Slavery” that never ends because you will always have the poor and uneducated. According to Woodson, when you are hungry, you do whatever you have to do to eat, or feed your family. That is how you survive poverty.
Breaking free of the migrant camps, doing field work, starts with a dream, a vision. That vision can be simply going into a department store, seeing people shopping and seeing yourself being able to shop and dress like those shoppers.
Her story proves that a hopeless situation can be turned around, using what you have with purpose. She believes helping each other is the key, each one pooling resources to help one get out, with a promise to come back and help another. Today, after being sentenced to 75 years in prison, and released in five months, Woodson is free to shine as the person she was all the time. Her life is dedicated to helping the poor. She works as a Chaplain to the prison system and has authored several books on street life, sharing her story of migrant work, prostitution, etc. She is also a property owner in her community as well as operates F.O.R.C.E., an organization that helps women in transition from prison back to their families.
Her words of caution: No matter what situation you find yourself never put all of your eggs in one basket. Skim enough off the top to help yourself. Using what you have may not be socially correct, but if you have a dream, know what you want, and don’t let your deeds define who you are, you will beat the odds.