- Associated Press - Monday, December 22, 2014

ST. LOUIS (AP) - A St. Louis charity will open a home next year where a small group of women who are trying to escape from a cycle of prostitution and prison can rebuild their lives.

Christine McDonald has spent months visiting prisons searching for women who have survived a life of prostitution, just as she did, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported http://bit.ly/1t15MmM ). They will be the first residents of the 10,000-square-foot home being opened by Magdalene St. Louis.

The women will live there two years and will have access to free food, health care, counseling and job training.

McDonald was a prostitute for 20 years in Kansas City, Missouri. After one particularly violent night, she knew she had to get out.

It wasn’t easy. McDonald bounced in and out of prison from 2002 to 2005. She has stayed clear of prison and prostitution for a decade, and she wants to help others escape that life, too.

She said the type of help she’s offering wasn’t available when she left prison.

“Nobody acknowledged this was something we had to morally come to (as a society),” McDonald said. “I know the hell they lived and I know the hope we can offer.”

The location of the home will remain secret. It will house 7-10 women when it opens in April.

The home cost $65,000 and is being renovated with money that took years to raise, said the charity’s executive director, Tricia Roland-Hamilton.

“We’re not just building a home, we’re changing a culture,” Roland-Hamilton said.

Roland-Hamilton said many people believe these women choose a life of prostitution, but they don’t. Many young runaways, like McDonald was, fall prey to pimps who provide shelter and food until they eventually expect something in return.

After that, it’s hard to get out, especially once the arrests start piling up.

“In many cases, women who are involved in sex work have drug addictions, and those drug charges are actually worse for finding jobs than any other kinds of charges,” said Kristin Carbone-Lopez, assistant professor of criminology and criminal justice at the University of Missouri-St. Louis.

That’s why the Magdalene home will also develop a social enterprise, or a business, that the women can run together. It’s similar to a program in Nashville, Tennessee.

“It is so exciting, the hope that I feel inside for these women,” McDonald said. “They’re going to have a chance to heal, to be loved, to be accepted and to be independent confident women that have a chance to do, and become, anything they want to be.”

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Information from: St. Louis Post-Dispatch, http://www.stltoday.com

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