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Carissa Phelps.                   PHOTO/MIKE RHODES

By MIke Rhodes

Editors note: This is a shortened version of a longer story that appears at

Carissa Phelps was 12 years old when she was forced into prostitution on the mean streets of Fresno. Carissa’s mom had taken her to Juvenile Hall as an "out of control" youth. She ran away, eventually living with the families of friends, cleaning house and watching younger children. She did not attend school. Carissa said her friends uncle "put his arm around me and said I’m going to take care of you and you're going to take care of me. I was terrified of him, I knew he was a drug dealer, but I thought I had to follow along. I was 12 years old and just a baby.”

Carissa Phelps has returned to Fresno to put a spotlight on the sexual exploitation of youth, which she says is still happening today. She says "it was really easy to be abused. All I was looking for was love and attention." "He took me to a hotel. I tried to get out of the window in the bathroom, but it was too small. I then had sex with him, it was the worst experience of my life. This was supposed to be someone who could be trusted, an adult."

The first person she met after leaving the hotel was Shondra, a prostitute, Shondra’s pimp took Carissa into a world where she was sold for sex, raped, and sold for crack cocain. Carissa said,"I wanted to die." She said she gets asked why she didn’t go to the police. "They were seen like the enemy." When a police officer did pick her up, Carissa says, "He did not take me to a hospital where I should have gone and be treated for rape and trauma. He took me to jail."

It was in Juvenile Hall where things started to turn around.  Teachers helped her study Algebra and get rape counseling and therapy. She soon attended a continuation high school and then college. "When I went to law school I was trying to change what happened to me from happening to someone else. I always knew, when I was 12 years old, that if I made it out of this that I would come back and shine a spotlight on that little 12 year old girl, that is walking down the street that is scared and alone, so that the right people can see her and help her and the wrong people won’t be able to get her so easily."

"I thought I could change the world with law. I realized, that laws can change and things stay the same on the ground." She asked, "how could I actually change the system? Why is it big money and big corporations that are controlling us? She went to business school and later left a coveted job in a private equity fund.  Carissa came back to Fresno. She wanted to come back to Motel Drive and tell the story."

Her documentary ( will be touring at movie festivals around the country and in places where at risk youth can see it.

Since her return, Carissa has been involved in community organizing. She says, “You can drive down to Motel Drive today and find children, ages 12 - 17 that are being sexually exploited. These young girls are going back to pimps that are beating them up, choking them, telling them they are worthless pieces of crap. If that was happening to children, or even adults in a workplace, we would stand up and do something about it.”

Needless death
Al Williams with wife Sherri, homeless and in a
wheelchair, was arrested and cited for using a
bathroom at McDonald’s. PHOTO/MIKE RHODES

By Al Williams

Editor's note: Sherri Williams was a participant in the class action lawsuit against the City of Fresno to stop them from taking and immediately destroying homeless peoples property.  Her husband Al has been a leader in the struggle for homeless peoples rights.

FRESNO, CA On December 20, 2007, my wife Sherri Williams passed away. It is my opinion, and the opinion of others concerned, that she died a needless death, at the very young age of 45 years old, because of inadequate health care.  This problem must be fixed now.  I don’t mean hire some firm for $150,000 or more to study the problem, I mean it’s time to GET-ER-DONE now. We the homeless, the dis-placed, the poor, are sick and tired, of being sick and tired.  Myself, among others, blame local government, starting at the top, with Mayor Autry, the City Council, their hired buddies, and please don’t leave out Larry Arce, and the Rescue Mission, and lately the Poverello House.

Let me explain, starting with adequate health care.  Community Hospital receives $20,000,000 a year, if not more from other donations to provide adequate health care for the homeless, the displaced, the poor.  I ask you this question.  Why are people such as Sherri Williams, who was homeless the last two years of her life, handicapped, confined to a wheelchair because of a pro-lapsed rectum, and uterus, declining health, because of her condition, refused medical care, which resulted in her death? 

On Sherri’s previous three visits to Community Hospital, doctors attempted to get her into surgery, but the big bosses at Community Hospital, who tell doctors what they can and cannot do, or putting it in lay term, who will live, and who will die, refused to grant Sherri the surgery she needed to save her life.

    What they did was discharge Sherri, with an open wound, (prolapsed rectum), into a open dirt field, with no shelter, except a sleeping bag, and yes, she became ill once again, with an infection in her intestine’s, which could have been repaired had the proper surgery been done.  Now Sherri is no longer with us.  I now ask you this.  Don’t doctors take an oath to save lives?  And if so, why are supervisors ordering doctors to go against this oath?  Personally, I feel that it is time for some replacements of the supervisors, period.  Does the mighty dollar override human life?  That is not the oath of a doctor.  So, what are we going to do?  I say, GET UP, STAND UP, FOR YOUR RIGHTS.  Let us not have any more needless deaths.

Therefore, starting on the 16th of February at Roeding Park after Food Not Bombs at 2:00 PM, we will have a weekly workshop to end homelessness now, not in ten years. All interested people, homeless and otherwise are invited, especially homeless advocates.

This article originated in the People's Tribune
PO Box 3524, Chicago, IL 60654, 773-486-3551,
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