Clemmie Greenlee - Waking Up In America

Clemmie Greenlee

Transcript of S2 EP14 Episode: Survivor of Sex Trafficking Clemmie Greenlee Turns Pain Into Compassion

TAJCI:
Today on Waking Up in America I’m talking to Clemmie Greenlee, the founder of Nashville Peacemakers. Clemmie’s story begins with horrendous experiences of child rape, abuse and sex trafficking. After almost three decades spent on the streets in and out of jail and in a drug addiction, Clemmie’s life was restored and she found a way to turn her pain and suffering into forgiveness and into helping others to get out of darkness and sense of hopelessness.

BUMPER:
I’m Tajci. At 19 I was a superstar and I was lost inside. I left it all behind, switched continents and started all over. Years later I found myself lost again, this time in the American Dream. This is a story about awakening. About living the life you were created for. About going inward and discovering the joyous and purposeful person you and I are both meant to be. This is Waking Up in America.

TAJCI:
I am deeply grateful to bring you today’s story and today’s beautiful and powerful guest Clemmie– Clemmie Greenlee. Thank you so much for being here.

CLEMMIE:
Thank you for having me here on it.

TAJCI:
You’re a founder of National Peacemakers, Community Organizer-Advocate for Homeless and Formerly Incarcerated People, recipient of Open Society Foundation Grants investor by investor and philanthropist George Soros. And in 2007 you were declared Nashvillian of the year. How does that, how does that all make you feel knowing where you came from?

CLEMMIE:
Oh my God, I still pinch myself. I still think I’m in a dream, just won’t wake up. I really don’t want to wake up, that’s the thing.

TAJCI:
Yes.

CLEMMIE:
Because coming from my lifestyle of just horror, my childhood is just horror. And knowing that someone is recognizing me now for work I’m doing, it’s a miracle.

TAJCI:
Yes and I’m asking that especially because a part of your story is something that I want to discuss here and bring up is that judgment, is the feeling sense of helplessness where you said you felt like nobody asked what happened to you. You felt like nobody cared when you were going through all this suffering as a child. And now to get the recognition, unfortunately had to go through so much. So let’s go back and take us to Clemmie at five or six before the hardship started.

CLEMMIE:
Well I do know for a fact at five I was dreaming  of becoming a nurse. I wanted to be an RN. I wanted to go all the way. And I always had a tender spot in my heart even that little that I want to care for people. When people start crying I want to go up to them and grab their hand and I want to know why they are crying. At six I really had that dream shattered. That’s when my life really went underground because six years old is when my father’s drunk man, a friend started coming in the bathroom whereas we were taking a bath, me and my two little sisters. I tell people all the time I can’t think of the playground, the skates, the jacks and a ball.

TAJCI:
Yes.

CLEMMIE:
I just don’t have that memory.

TAJCI:
And you said in one of your talks that you, and I was so honest and out there and just put it up in front that you were born with three strikes against you?

CLEMMIE:
Yeah. I said I was born with three strikes because one, I was born black. Two, I was born a woman. And three I wanted to two alcoholic parents. So that was my three strikes right there. I just had no way out, no upbringing, and no no one to look forward to teach me what they couldn’t. Not saying they didn’t love me they just weren’t sober enough to show me and help me figure out the things that I needed to figure out being the oldest child. I have an older brother, he’s one year older than me but we have different fathers so he had the father that—because his father was a preacher— so he had the father that came and got him and took him to places about bought him stuff. And we had to sit and watch that, you know, watch him come home with all the nice little outfits and the nice shoes and the stuff we just only wish we had because my father’s paychecks went to either a Budweiser at the liquor store or wherever he laid his hat was his home. One of those kind of stories.

TAJCI:
So the horrendous stuff started at six but when did the horror really start?

CLEMMIE:
I think the horror really started with me, because let me say at eight years old they started messing with my sisters. I had two sisters under me and so I wanted to kind of get them off of my sisters. Just hearing them at night crying and screaming and I know what they screaming and crying about because it was the same screaming and crying that I had. So at eight years old, I started just asking them to leave my sisters alone and do whatever y’all needed to do to me. And they did and so I was kind of terrified on one sense but I was glad on the other because my sister, my two sisters did not have to go to bed worrying every time they hear the stair creep. But they also still have to hear me screaming though, from all of that. So I went through all that until about ten is when I started really reaching for the liquor and beer and cigarettes because now I want to try to seduce this pain and I wanted to know what does liquor and all this was doing to make them act like that then maybe do it to me.

TAJCI:
At ten years old?

CLEMMIE:
At ten years old is when I took my first drink.

TAJCI:
Wow! And then tell me about being pulled off the street at 12.

CLEMMIE:
So we moved from what I call the country town to the city and we moved in a projects called James Casey Homes and we still stay there now. And that’s really, really where the horrifying moment of my life started. Because in the projects like that low-income, you have churches to come out and help people, you know, singers and entertainers come out because they want to do up a soup kitchen or pass out stuff on Thanksgiving, Christmas, Easter. So we had men as in the neighborhood, they would come out and pass out—little pretty dresses, pretty necklace, shoes, you know, bracelets, and then when they come to my neighborhood I would always, I would take it because I always wanted a pretty dress. What little girl doesn’t? And so I took the dress, I took the shoes and bracelets, whatever they were giving me and come back again and I’m like, “Oh yeah, so it’s like these are some good people. They just want to help the families who can’t afford to get this for their kids.” But it came with a price tag that I didn’t know about. And so one day out of nowhere I was walking to the store to get something for my mom, bread, meal, something. And this big black car pulled up and so today I know now it was a black limousine but it was a big black scary hearse to me because it was scary, the men in it were scary. They get out and grabbed me and put me in a car they were saying it was time for me to pay them back. And I was like, “Pay you back?” and it was the stuff that they had given me and I’m like “I don’t have money. My mom and dad are drunk. They don’t have good jobs,” and blah, blah, blah.

TAJCI:
It’s a horrifying situation and we’re going to find out what happened next to Clemmie Greenlee, my guest today on Waking Up In America when we come back.


TAJCI:
We’re here with Clemmie Greenlee who’s sharing with us the horrendous story of experiences that no child should ever experience and yet you just didn’t seem to be able to catch a break, one thing worse than the other. Here you are at 12, your abuse started at 6 and it sounds like you have nowhere to go to ask for help and then at 12 you got snatched, literally snatched in a limo. You had to pay back for a dress that you were given. What happened? Where did they take you?

CLEMMIE:
They kept me from hotel to hotel, state to state, neighborhood to neighborhood. Sometimes I stay right in the neighborhood. But no one pays attention to stuff like they do now today. Neighbors aren’t nosy like I think they should be. You see these little girls running around today are crying out for help because they are being sold. They’re not prostituting, they are being sold. And so I was just tortured. I was tortured and just raped over and over and over, beaten, stabbed in my back.

TAJCI:
And you said that when you even when you would end up in the hospital nobody asked, “How did you get there?”

CLEMMIE:
Right. I always was mad about when you end up in the hospital and you are 12 or 13 or 14 and you have all these wounds from down from your private part, to being stabbed, to being your eye knocked in, why nobody wants to bring a social worker in then? And all the times I went in and out of juvenile trying to run away and getting caught. I kept going to juvenile. Why juvenile didn’t want to know why she keep coming in here for, why the school didn’t look for me? I didn’t never go to school probably once or twice in my whole life. Why did anybody look for me and that’s the biggest thing I say to people. You know, you have to start looking for people. Notice that little girls and little boys are missing from your neighborhood if you see they haven’t moved in a U-Haul.

TAJCI:
But it used to be like that, especially I hear the stories of African-American communities where the were taking care of each other.

CLEMMIE:
Yeah, it used to be where Ms. Margaret knows Mr. Smith across the street and Leroy and all of them getting to your butt until your mom come from work.

TAJCI:
Yes. What happened?

CLEMMIE:
I don’t know. Fear, safety things.

TAJCI:
You also talk about judgment. Do you also talk about how girls are judged and say, “Ah, she’s no good. Let her.” And they let her die?

CLEMMIE:
Yeah, I’m on the street at 12 or 13 years old, with lipstick on and a short dress and high heels shoe. How could you point your finger at me and say, “Look at that fat ass girl”, you know, “She should be ashamed of herself.” Instead of saying, “I know she don’t want to be dressed like that. Let me find out what is going on with her.” No one ever pulled over to ask me why I am on this corner, why I got all this makeup on, “Look at how young you are. You need Jesus. Let me pray for you,” anything!

TAJCI:
Tell me what happens when you now reach out to the young people.

CLEMMIE:
When I reach out to them I know how to tell them, “Look you are me and I’m you. I know exactly what you got on and I know what you’re doing. I know your pimp is over there on the left-hand corner. That’s him with the blue hat on and I know how to peep all that out.” But when somebody like you will come up, it will automatic shut down any defense with judgment. And that’s why I tell people when you’re going out for them like that, takes somebody who has already been there. Like somebody who can speak that language. Quit trying to be the hero and she-ro of everything. Sometimes you have to go home and reach back in a bat and let this other person come.

TAJCI:
Let’s go back to so now you are you’re stuck to the streets and you say you were in and out of jail how many times?

CLEMMIE:
Well my arrest record says over a hundred times. And I tell people all the time that the society and the system should be ashamed of this, not my parents, because they do not even asked questions about how I’m running in and out and it’s always prostitution or misconduct or assault and battery. I’m fighting and yelling, fighting people trying to get away. And you know I had a baby at 13 years old and didn’t get to go back and raise that baby. So I’m angry. I’m angry about this baby and angry because nobody has gotten me. I in my early, my late teens, I’m in my twenties and I’m still getting pitched from man to man, town to town, state to state. I’m still going through all of these that nobody is looking for me by now. So I’m angry. I’m hurt. I want to die. So I didn’t really want to live like that, I just did. For what? I’m going back to the same things, nobody’s coming for my rescue and then when I went back to jail for the last time I was hoping that they was trying to give me twenty one years because I had stabbed one of my tricks and I was trying to kill him but I’m glad now that he didn’t die because I’m living this new life. But I wanted to because that way I knew I would have been protected, I still wouldn’t have to be coming back out, you know, going through what I went through. So the 21 years in prison vs coming back out here to society I would have taken it.

TAJCI:
It sounded better than what you had.

CLEMMIE:
Yes.

TAJCI:
We’re talking to Clemmie Greenlee and I hope you’re listening with an open heart and really trying to understand because Clemmie is not unfortunately the only one experiencing these things.


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TAJCI:
Today I’m talking to Clemmie Greenlee, an amazing, amazing woman who suffered so much and yet found a way or someone found a way to finally reach you and say, “I do care”. Clemmie, you changed my life when I even just heard about you. I was changed. So, thank you.

CLEMMIE:
Yeah.

TAJCI:
Let’s talk about your son.

CLEMMIE:
I never did make it back to my son. I think the time I didn’t make it back around I was a full blown junkie, homeless, just out of it, no education and didn’t know who I were. And he was like I think 12 or 13 himself. They had to show me who we were because he didn’t grow up with me so again I did not stay there because I was still running from the same guys that say that I owe them. So when I got back out there, oh, I just lost it. I just didn’t care. I mean I just, wherever they took me and I was like a slump washcloth. You can just use me off, that’s it. I mean that lasted for another 5, 6, 7 years.

TAJCI:
So finally you got to Regina Mullins who we had on the show,

CLEMMIE:
Yes, yes.

TAJCI:
Brought you to Becca Stevens and Magdalene Program, Thistle Farms.

CLEMMIE:
Yes.

TAJCI:
And you said a beautiful sentence, “She gave me a hug before she gave me a bath.”

CLEMMIE:
She gave me a hug before she gave me a bath.

TAJCI:
So now you find your healing here.

CLEMMIE:
Yes.

TAJCI:
And after you finish the program you go out and you reconnect with your son.

CLEMMIE:
Yes.

TAJCI:
Now sober.

CLEMMIE:
Yes.

TAJCI:
Clean.

CLEMMIE:
Yes. Two years of sobriety. Two years of knowing that somebody do love you and I can love again and I can have a different beautiful life. And so all I want to do is go find my son. To show him now that I know how to be a mom and I know how to help him and get him some help and we reunited. And like maybe six months after that he was murdered. So

TAJCI:
And what you did then?

CLEMMIE:
You know after that I didn’t want to use that to go back and drinking and drugs because he wouldn’t want me to. He saw me clean, he saw me clean. So I wanted to use that to go back and help. I’m going to help some ladies and some young guys and I’m never going to step over here. I’m never gonna roll my window up. I’m never gonna point fingers and judge them. I’m going to open my arms and I’m gonna tell, you come here. You got somebody to call, you got somebody that’s going to be on the other side of that door, you got somebody who’s going to stand beside you and help you all the way. I’m gonna walk you like elementary. I’m gonna be right there, Kindergarten got all the way to each step until you get to where you need to get in your life. I never put the pain on anybody that was given to me. So I think the day that me asking for Regina Mullens and asking for whoever this God everybody’s talking about to come into my life and it happened. He’s showed me a whole new world, a whole new life.

TAJCI:
You know, but with you, like you said, after your son was murdered, after all of this that you went through now you go out and you’re not angry. You show mercy.

CLEMMIE:
Yeah, yeah.

TAJCI:
You show this inhuman—I think it’s impossible for us humans to even do this.

CLEMMIE:
Yeah.

TAJCI:
And then you go and you show forgiveness and mercy. And not just that, but you go and I heard somewhere you actually gave to the person that killed your son?

CLEMMIE:
Yes, I was looking for the mother and the son who murdered my son. And it wasn’t to hurt them. I wanted to help them. I wanted to love the son and help him through this because what was he going through before he pulled that trigger and I know the mom didn’t raise him to go out murdering nobody so I wanted to help them first. And if I can help them then I can help myself and it can make me be able to go back out on the street and just help the rest of them and let them know that I’m here. I’m going to love on you until you love on yourself.

TAJCI:
Turning the suffering, the pain, the ugliness, the horrors, into forgiveness and love.


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TAJCI:
We’re talking to Clemmie Greenlee and there’s so much to your story and I know that soon there will be a movie, a real in-depth, because your story has so many aspects that would help us—that helped me to understand, not really understand, but get a glimpse into the understanding of what’s happening into also an invitation to try harder, to open up our eyes and our hearts and not turn the other way and not just judge but ask, “What can I do to help?” How can I forgive and love and not judge more. Mother Teresa says if you are so busy judging people you don’t have time to love them. And you’re living proof of that.

CLEMMIE:
Yeah, wow.

TAJCI:
So you know I had a few of my viewers I shared with them that you’re going to be on the show and then one of the ladies said “I don’t, I can’t ask a question. I’m speechless by Clemmie’s courage and strength.” And Desiree from Chicago asked, “How do you find strength to get through life’s challenges like you did?”

CLEMMIE:
Wow, well of course I know now it is the God that’s in me. But my true strength is, I couldn’t save my son, I’m going to help save yours or your daughter. Every time I run into a young girl that’s trapped, they are those eight young girls that I left back here. So I have to be determined to go help these six young girls that is in front of me. Every time I say I want to give up I don’t have to strength, nobody helped me, blah, blah, blah, I see that image in my face and I’m like, “No, I’m going to get them. I’m going to help.”

TAJCI:
Yes because there’s no system. The system is us.

CLEMMIE:
Yes, the system is us.

TAJCI:
Yes. And you shared that you are looking for other Clemmie’s

CLEMMIE:
Yes

TAJCI:
In other neighborhoods because that’s how we can change the situation.

CLEMMIE:
Yes, yes. We always have to go to neighborhood and you look for the grass root organizations. I’m not saying the corporate is not. They are doing a job but we get overlooked so much and there’s much can be done with the grass root organization that knows everything in the community—from the who lives in the houses, to who’s picking them up and who’s strange cars are coming through your neighborhood.

TAJCI:
And you are doing such a great job and I will encourage the community leaders, the viewers, if you’re watching, call up Clemmie and set up. She’ll come and teach you, right?

CLEMMIE:
Yes, I do training.

TAJCI:
Oh you do, great!

CLEMMIE:
Yes, yes.

TAJCI:
Thank you, Clemmie. Thank you. Thank you. I can’t thank you enough.

TAJCI:
Alright. So I’m going to ask you these fast questions.

CLEMMIE:
Okay.

TAJCI:
Alright. What makes you most alive?

CLEMMIE:
I was left a grandson. I was left with a 10-month old grandson so I made me feel like I got a second chance. He was 10 months old. That means I had a fresh charge to start with.

TAJCI:
Your biggest joy?

CLEMMIE:
My biggest joy is that I found freedom. I had a chance to find life,

TAJCI:
What is your biggest fear?

CLEMMIE:
My biggest fear that the system won’t recognize enough of us— of what we went through— and change some laws.

TAJCI:
What one thing you wish it didn’t exist?

CLEMMIE:
Corruption.

TAJCI:
If you had a magic wand you’d ask for?

CLEMMIE:
I will ask for peace and freedom for everyone to have.

TAJCI:
Favorite hero?

CLEMMIE:
My favorite hero is me.

TAJCI:
You best relax when you?

CLEMMIE:
I best relax when I watch Lifetime.

TAJCI:
You have hope in?

CLEMMIE:
I have hope in that my legacy would never die and it will continue to carry on.

TAJCI:
Music or sports?

CLEMMIE:
Music.

TAJCI:
Favorite food?

CLEMMIE:
Spaghetti

TAJCI:
Blue or orange?

CLEMMIE:
Blue.

TAJCI:
Sun or Moon?

CLEMMIE:
Moon.

TAJCI:
Grass or lake?

CLEMMIE:
Lake

TAJCI:
River or ocean?

CLEMMIE:
Ocean.

TAJCI:
Summer or winter?

CLEMMIE:
Winter.

TAJCI:
Singing or dancing?

CLEMMIE:
Dancing.

TAJCI:
What our world needs is?

CLEMMIE:
Love

TAJCI:
And this year I claim?

CLEMMIE:
Peace.

TAJCI:
You brought us T-Ran as your music selection and thank you so much. How did you run into him?

CLEMMIE:
I was trying to do a fundraiser and I was just on the internet looking for something. Then I ran across a poster, T-Ran Gibert. That name just caught me and the pose he had with the praying hands up against his chin. And just so young searching for the Lord like that. When I met him in person it was just a glow that came in with him, just all over him and I was like, “You got to help me,” and he was like “Let’s talk and see what I could do.” He was so humble and when he just asked me, “Well tell me a bit about you, Ms. Greenlee.” And when I just started talking, you know, you ask me one question and I’m gone. And I think I saw him tear up and mens don’t do that. And so when I saw it I was like, “Oh my God. he’s not only humble, he’s got a spirit in him.” And I told him. I said “You got to come along and team up with me and help me out. You’re going to help me and I’m going to help you and see how we’re gonna do this.” And he said one word, “Let’s make history.”

TAJCI:
Yes, yes. And you guys, well you and T are making history.

CLEMMIE:
Yeah.

TAJCI:
We’re so honored.

CLEMMIE:
And when he told me that the song came from my story it just blew my mind. It took a second we had to talk and all of that song came out of him like that.

I’m in a place of nowhere.
Come and find me.
Come and save me.
I’m in a place of nowhere.
Come and find me.
Come and save me.

My love is fading.
My heart is racing.
I don’t know how, long I’ll be here.
I’m going crazy,
This life don’t phase me.
I need someone to help me stand.
I need your hope.
I need your peace.
God, I need you.
I’m on my knees

I’m in a place of nowhere.
Come and find me.
Come and save me.
I’m in a place of nowhere.
Come and find me.
Come and save me

My heart is bleeding
My soul is leaving
I feel so cold inside
This world is taking, a hold of me.
I need someone to help me stand.
I need your hope.
I need your peace.
God, I need,
I’m on my knees. Yeah

I’m in a place of nowhere.
Come and find me.
Come and save me.
I’m in a place of nowhere.
Come and find me.
Come and save me

Come and find me, come and save me
Come and find me, come and save me
I’m so lost without you God, I’m so lost
Come and find me, come and save me

TAJCI:
I know there are some of you who don’t really want to hear stories like Clemmie’s because they’re uncomfortable, because they’re hard. But the only way toward healing is to hear them, is to seek them out and then to really ask yourself, “how does this affect me?” and “how can I help?” Go to NashvillePeacemakers.org and find a way to connect with Clemmie and her work because it is the model that works. It is the model that’s going to provide the healing and a change where it’s needed the most. Visit WakingUpRevolution.com to share this episode with as many people as you can. Thank you so much. We’ll see you next time.