Part Two: Trading Stilettos for Boots and Worn-out Jeans
By Will Johnson
GRAPELAND – In part one of this series published in the Sunday, Feb. 18 edition of The Messenger, readers were introduced to Teresa Richenberger, who left her East Texas home of Deadwood (near Carthage) at the age of 14, moved to Houston and fell into the dark world of the sex trade. Sex, drugs and alcohol quickly became a way of life for this East Texas teenager.
Fortunately, after several failed attempts, Richenberger was able to escape the tentacles of that world and has recently opened a home in Kilgore for women and children coming out of the sex trafficking industry.
The home is known as Rahab’s Retreat & Ranch and according to their website the home “… is a voluntary, faith-based program serving victims of sex trafficking and women in the sex industry free of charge. Women who have been physically, emotionally and sexually abused as well as those coming from jail will find a safe haven at Rahab’s Retreat & Ranch. We serve women of all socioeconomic backgrounds as well as women who have children. We also serve those who face a combination of life-controlling issues such as self-harm, drug and alcohol addictions, depression, unplanned pregnancy, homeless and broken women.”
Part two of this story picks up after her first attempt to leave the life she had found herself in.
Even though she had found her way into church and had support from a college professor, Richenberger said her attempts to get out of the sex trade were one big lie.
“Of course, I was lying my head off to all of them about what I was trying to do and how I was getting help. Come on! How do you expect me to go work at a $9 an hour job when I could make hundreds or thousands in a night at the club?” she questioned.
“The thing was,” Richenberger said, “I never had anything. The money I was making all went to booze or drugs or partying. It is a vicious lifestyle you get in. The abuse comes along with it. I have a scar six inches long on my back from where a man body slammed me over the corner of an entertainment center. There’s a girl in our home right now who has 38 staples in her head from where her ex-pimp beat her with a garden rake. He left her to die.”
Changing gears somewhat, Richenberger was asked about the college professor who had come into the club and offered his help. She indicated she had her initial doubts but emphasized he was genuinely a good man who helped her out of a dark place in her life.
“He helped me to get clean and sober,” she said. “He is now married and we’re still friends. I thank God he was in my life. He’s a tremendous guy who was in AA when I first met him.”
When asked what AA had to do with this, Richenberger explained she was dancing at a strip club in Houston when he first walked in and sat down. “I asked him if he wanted to buy me a drink and he pulled out a sobriety chip that said he had been sober for seven years and I was like ‘Hey, gimme another shot of tequila.’ He said he wanted a coke and when he said that I thought he was some sort of sicko just working a game, but he was genuinely sincere,” she said.
She explained after she fully committed to getting sober, the college professor gave her a job on his ranch cleaning the manure out of horse stalls.
“I left everything behind. I had nothing. I went to work at the church cleaning bathrooms and I worked full-time at his ranch cleaning the barn. That was where my healing started – cleaning horse manure out of barn. I traded my stiletto heels for a pair of boots and worn-out jeans and never looked back,” she said.
“I had been tormented and harassed to a point of even thinking about taking my own life – even after I became a Christian,” she said. “It seemed like there were these demonic spirits and other things that would come into my home and torture me. I could literally almost feel chains around my arms and legs.”
“I thought I was crazy,” she said. “I thought I was becoming one of those schizoid girls out on the street. What? Just because I danced in a nicer club didn’t make me any better than the girls walking the street. I couldn’t tell anyone this. Who was I going to tell? I’m already a druggie so no one is going to believe me.”
The internal conflict for Richenberger took on an even darker side when she described how it was almost like there was a battle for her soul between God and Satan.
“I wanted peace. I wanted to be able to rest without these voices popping into my head. You see these girls in the lifestyle and they become tormented and confused. I was there! I know all I wanted was peace for my soul and I really thought the easiest way to achieve that would be to kill myself,” she said.
As she began to turn towards God more and more she began to believe there was hope.
“Thank God I found Jesus. I wanted Jesus to clean me, I wanted to be able to walk outside and breathe fresh air. To me, cleaning a horse stall, it was like you had just given me a million dollars. I didn’t have to worry about performing,” she said.
“I didn’t have to worry if my hair looked the best that day. Be real, if you go into a club and there are 40 other girls and you need some money for your fix or you need some money for something, you better look good,” Richenberger added. “It was always a performance. I didn’t care if I was PMSing or having a bad night. It was always, ‘Put your game face on girl! We’re gonna go out there and it’s party time!”
She said she would have never believed it was possible but she found peace working in the barn.
“I could put my hair in a ponytail and wear a ball cap and not worry about my body looking a certain way in order to be loved, or liked or to feel some self-worth. I was hanging out with a bunch of animals, cleaning horse stalls and I loved it. I would go out there and groom the horses and they would love me just for who I was,” she said.
“I felt like I had been set free. I had been set free from the things that held me in bondage for so many years and stole so many years of my life. It stole so much of my time that I’ll never get back.”
For more on Teresa Richenberger’s journey out of darkness see future editions of The Messenger.
Will Johnson may be contacted via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org .