Excerpt for Helen's Scars: A Memoir About Abuse and Prostitution by
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The extraordinary confessions of a young woman’s battle with abuse, drug addiction and prostitution

A Memoir

Johanna Sparrow & H. Smith

Smashwords Edition

HELEN’S SCARS Revised. Copyright © 2017 Johanna Sparrow & H. Smith

All rights reserved. Published in the United States of America. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, graphic, electronic, or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, taping or by any information storage or retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publisher.



I would like to thank God for what he’s done for me in my life, as well as thanking my mother and father.



Facing the Truth

No Love from the Streets

A Life of Drugs

The Smell of Death

My Crazy Normal Life

Drowning in Helen

My Transformation

Finding the Will to Forgive

Mercy and Grace

What I Learned


Thank you, Helen, for allowing me to tell your story. It has been an honor and pleasure capturing your life as you lived it so long ago. Many who read this will see your pain and struggle. You are an overcomer, and God's mercy and grace is upon you.


I tried to kill myself that evening, and nobody in my house had a clue. I took a couple of mamma's old sleeping pills, hoping to make it quick and painless because I was tired of living. I am young with my whole life ahead of me, folks would say, eighteen is far too young to die. I knew my future was no good because I had a family who didn’t give a damn about me.

Maybe if I went to sleep and never woke up, I would be doing those around me a favor. But in the end, death didn’t even want me, and I woke up hours later wondering whether I had died, only to realize that for me, death was the air I was still breathing. Trying to escape this world through suicide would not be easy, nor would it be my only try, it would be one of many.

I’ve been told, “Helen, maybe you shouldn’t write that story because people will look at you different.” I am not ashamed to tell the world how I got to the place I am standing today. I am telling my truth about how I felt growing up in an abusive home and with a life of hell on the streets. I promised God that I would use my life as a light if he saved me, and he did. I would never wish my past on anyone; and by telling my story, I pray it helps someone to change their life and to seek God’s face. I thank God I don’t have to answer to man. If God wasn’t ashamed of me, why should I worry about what men think of me? They weren't there with me through it all when I had no one and no family.

My family was confusing at times. One minute we got along, and the next we were fighting and calling each other names. I did not know how to feel in my family. Did they love me or hate me? I would be included one minute, excluded the next. And although we had moments where we laughed and got along as a family, it didn’t last. My place in the family was confusing, as was the treatment I received. I thank God I did not lose my mind, but I still lost something within. I am not perfect, nor do I pretend to be a holy, pure soul, perfect in all things. People who think this way are fooling themselves, and they are afraid to look at their own life in the mirror.

I’ve done wrong, I’ve been hurt, and I have hurt others, yet I am big enough to own up to my responsibilities. This story may not be for everyone, but it's for someone, and God has laid it on my heart to not be fearful in telling you how he pulled me out of the gutters of New Orleans, LA.

I was born and raised in the Desire Housing Project, one of the worst projects in New Orleans. I was different, and my family called me names. But I also knew that my onyx complexion made me stand out in my family, and they may have been jealous of me. Sure, everyone in my family varied in shades of black and brown, but I was the darkest and most beautiful of them all, not to mention fine as wine. As a part of a large family, many knew who we were without announcing our names. But I had a secret, namely that I sensed that no one in my family cared about me, not even my mamma. I was the third-oldest girl and the sixth-oldest child among all my siblings.

I remember being locked outside of my home by my older siblings when I was a young girl, lasting until mamma got home. I also remember being called crazy and stupid by many members of my family; you know, the folks who are supposed to love and protect you. This treatment only intensified as I got older, and fighting for my place in the family was something I had to do every time I turned my back. What did I do to deserve such treatment and abuse? Why was I hated in my own family? No matter what I did to make nice with my siblings, it was never enough. It seemed like my own mamma had her chosen few among all the kids to love, while excluding me from everything and everyone in the family. And the sad part is that everyone knew what was happening.

I felt like trash at times. They all ate and got washed up for bed, leaving nothing for me because they had me locked up in the hallway. I went to bed hungry many nights, yet no one cared enough to stop the bullying. The way they treated me in my family played on my mind day and night, and I knew that no young girl should have to go through what I was experiencing. I also knew that this was something no child should ever have to face, but I did, and their treatment of me only got worse as I grew older. Looking to escape, I jumped into marriage, only to find where hell truly existed, which was at the end of my husband’s fist. He would beat the hell out of me, but I learned to make whatever sense of life with him I could, as I had done in my home fighting with my siblings. It was just another prison of punishment dealt out to me by someone who also claimed to love and protect me, but who actually did not. When you have to fight for your place in this world, you become something ugly to survive.

Here lies my story of turning to the streets for love, money, attention and drugs. I’ve seen a lot of things walking the streets of New Orleans over the years, I was one of them. I was forced to fight men as if I were a man myself, and got the nickname Mr. Helen, but I fought everyone. I learned to tune out my pain in exchange for fake love dished out through drugs, prostitution, abuse and knocking men on their asses.

Telling you my story will not be easy, but I know it will be worth it in the end. Although names and places have been changed to protect the innocent, I must warn you that this will not be a pretty read; you may not know what to think after a few chapters, but do know that I was a broken woman walking the streets. My story may be shocking to some, sad and funny to others, but everything I tell you is true. I am not ashamed of telling you about my struggle and my pain, simply because I was not well at the time, I know it now more than ever. You could never know what you will become when life seeks to destroy you through the ones you love. I am no longer that person today, I found my way back to myself and out of my darkest hours in life through the grace of God. I thank him every day for giving me life, and pray that you find encouragement and strength in my story. It’s clear that I’ve overcome a lot. Every day, I seek God’s face, and know that if I can make it through my darkest hours of life, so can you.



The Year Was 1979

Sit down, shut up and don’t say a word. You’re stupid, dumb, crazy and a thief. Don’t anyone listen to Helen because she’s a liar. Move out of the way, Lurch, no one believes you.

Snickering is what I heard from those in the family while my sisters, brothers and mamma tore me down. I could see how they looked at me, they didn’t like me, and their dislike beamed from their eyes whenever I passed by.

Don’t tell her she’s cute, because she’s not. “Hit her!” one of my sisters or mamma would say, fighting would break out in my home, and no one stepped in to stop it. “Ya'wl go get Helen,” someone would say, which translated into “Jump her, fight her, and do whatever else you want to her.” I had to look over my shoulder for fear of being jumped on by my sisters every day. What had I done to deserve this? This was no way to live, but for me it was just a normal life.

When your life is damaged, you turn to everything in search of a way out, knowing that no one can help you. This is what happens to a young woman when her family won’t claim her, but calls her names instead of showing her love. Who or what does she turn to for help or some way to escape the horrors of her life and the pain she’s been given? Here lies Helen’s story – one of grief, pain and struggle. You know life is no damn good when no one in your family will help you battle your demons, yet enjoy the money you make prostituting yourself around town. How about falling in love with an abuser, being beaten by a man you thought loved you? If I wasn’t fighting at home with my family and brothers and sisters, I was fighting my husband and drowning within. Bullied by everyone who claimed to love me and protect me, I became a monster on my way to the bottom of life.

If someone said that getting into such a lifestyle killed me, I would have to disagree because I was dead long before drugs took over my life. I didn’t care who I hurt or wronged along the way. Maybe I was crying out for help, except no one heard me, or I was sick of life and living got in my way. I’ve made so many mistakes in my life and experienced so much pain that I had to ask: Why me? I have always been a fighter; but from time to time, I gave in to my pain and sought to take my own life. I could never get it right, or maybe death had no interest in me.

From the time when I was young, I felt like my mamma put me on hold by doing things for me at the last minute, if at all. While my other siblings received nice things, I did not. School time was horrible because I was the last person to receive school clothes, and what mamma got for me was nowhere near what she had brought for my other siblings weeks or days prior. I knew I was the black sheep of the family by how everyone treated me. Although I was a child, I knew no one liked me in my family; and as they wished me gone, I wanted to be far away. Days and years went by, and nothing in my home changed. I wanted a relationship with mamma, but something was always wrong. My siblings felt they could bully me into doing anything because of how mamma treated me. I learned at a very young age to hate the life I was given.

As I became a young woman, it was my older sister (who will stay nameless) that took me under her wing and ran to my aid and defense when things at home had gotten too much for me to handle. From my late teens to my early twenties, I found that I had to defend myself and my actions within our family. I would cook and clean, and while doing everyone else’s chores, I got little to no respect. My mother went around town telling folks what an awful daughter I was, when this could not have been further from the truth. I could never understand why my mother would make me out to be lazy or see me as a nobody. She'd give everyone in the home money, except me. She even had the nerve to give young women who visited our home money. This happened more times than I could count, but I did not stand by and let it happen. No, I went after mine. I would ask my mother if she had given my siblings and friends money, because they would tell me and ask me if I, too, was given money, knowing I wasn’t. I ran to her, only to be turned away empty-handed.

No was her answer about having given anyone money. And no, I could not have any. How can you give everyone else around you and not me, your own daughter? This was my question to her, and oftentimes she would look me straight in the eyes and say, “I don’t have it to give.” How could a mother lie to her child? What ever happened to if-you-give-one, you-give-them-all? This did not exist in my family because my mother enjoyed building bridges between her children and herself. I needed to get out, I needed my space or someone to love me and protect me, because it was not there for me at home.

I met this fine chocolate man one day, and we spent a lot of time together away from my family. He lived on the opposite side of the river. Still, it was not far enough, because my mother would call me to come home and cook and clean the house, even though my other siblings were at home and could do it. I felt like a slave, and even the man I was in love with agreed. I fell in love and got married to him in 1980; and yes, he was everything I wanted. Most of all, he was a strong, fine black man. I knew I was going to be happy and away from my troubled family. I knew things would change for the better, and they did, marriage was like a walk in the park during those first five years, sweet as cake. I mean, life was good. We lived everywhere in those five years of marriage – from his mother’s home, to our own place, to my mother’s home, to a place of mine – but he was too messed up to do right.

I must have had my head buried in the sand those five years of what was supposed to be “live happily ever after” when I found out that the love of my life was running the streets with other women and doing drugs. We could not keep anything because of his heroin addiction. I was tired of him fighting me every time I moved. I was faithful to him, but clearly he was being unfaithful to me, and realizing it changed me instantly. I knew that there was no one I could truly trust, everyone in my life lied and let me down. My husband changed how he was behaving towards me due to sleeping around in the streets with crackheads and doing drugs. He was no longer the man I met and fell in love with, he was nasty and abusive to me as if he hated me like everyone else. Where was my protection, huh? Now, who was I going to depend on to protect and take care of me? He started to stay gone more and more, and left me with no financial support. I found myself once again in need of everything, but with no one to turn to for help. God knows I could not go to my mamma’s house again and risk having to fight my sisters and brothers. My husband and I were living with his family after getting married. Things continued to get worse, and in the mid-80s, my husband’s family was burned to death in a house fire. He received a large settlement. How would you know he had stopped caring for me? In place of financial support and protection, he beat me with his hands. Yes, we fought all the time, night and day, so I would have to learn how to fight him back or die trying to get him off of me. He was on heroin that bad, and I thought he was sleeping with men at one time, because I would come home from work and find him with this dude. No matter what he was doing, he would stop and go with the dude. I even asked him if he was seeing that guy. If I understood nothing else while being beaten, I realized what I needed to do when he was done.

I did not leave him because he abused me, it was as if I expected such treatment or was used to it because of what I had gone through at home. As bad as things were with my husband, I refused to go back to my mamma’s house. I saw him no different from everyone else. He stopped loving me for all it was worth, and I was angry inside because of it. At night, his warm touches upon my skin felt cold and clammy; I realized once again that I was alone and not loved by anyone. He looked for love elsewhere, throwing me away like my family had done before him, yet I got it. I was not going back home to be called crazy, stupid and dumb anymore by anyone. I needed to fix my life somehow. What could I do to make it better? Which was what I thought about night and day, you heard me? I was lost and afraid, but I was willing to fight my way out and up if I had to. Even though I was working, I started getting government aid. I expected that life would change now that I had cash coming into my hands, but it didn’t. My family continued to be against me and calling me out of my name. They always had something negative to say about me. But my husband was no different than my family, I had to leave him because of the abuse, except I had nowhere to go and felt I could not turn to anyone in the family, not even my auntie because she was just like the rest of them, abusive and calling me of out my name. God knows I wanted to punch her in the mouth a couple of times, but my mother would tell me, “Leave my sister alone!” I told my mom one day, “If I hit my sisters, what makes you think I won’t hit yours?” She said nothing to me after that statement.

Everyone loved talking about me and leaving me out of their lives until I had money. When the money was gone, so were all of them. I did not walk around with hatred in my heart, like they did for me. But when my brother was in jail and on drugs, I had to work and take care of him by buying him clothes. This was too much for me, and I got on the rocks and needed more money. The money I was working for along with the government aid I received was no longer enough, I still had to pay bills, dress myself and buy food. Since I was not getting enough money from working and government aid, I did drugs to be with men.

The men I met were soft, easy-going types, and I would get their money by stealing it or robbing them. I liked this new way of life, crazy as that may sound, but it was easy for me to get money without having to worry about anything. Men loved me, that was for sure, they loved my dark complexion, sexy legs and round booty. And I was all of that and then some.

One day in 1989, I met this man, who I will name Tim, at a corner bar room. Tim was an offshore man, he would come home every twenty-one days and give me money. We spent a lot of time together laying up in different places. After knocking him out with sex, I would take all of his money. Once he woke up, he would look for his money, but it was gone, I had it. I would try to go to sleep, but I would have smoked so many drugs that I could not close my eyes. I was doing crack, and it left me restless. This guy Tim had a live-in girlfriend. One day, something told me to go home, I kept hearing “Go home!” in my mind, and I was like, “Lord, why is my mind worrying me like this?” When I made it home, a lady I know called me and asked me where I had been, and I told her I was home. She said, “These women around here looking for you with guns,” and I was like, “They is?” I was thanking the Lord all that day for keeping me safe by not running into that situation.

Men would come and see me, and when they did, I would drug them with sleeping pills by placing it in their drink, which would knock them out cold, and I would then take their money. When I was done robbing them, I would sit them in the hallway, and when they woke up the next morning, they would wonder how they got on the ground out in the hallway. When I opened my door, I would ask them, “You still in the hallway?” They did not have a clue about what had happened to them, and I did this a lot, especially if I didn’t want to sleep with a man.

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