Christina Martell came close to death a few times during the nine years she roamed the streets of West Palm Beach, stripping and doing whatever she needed to feed her drug habit. She said she didn’t have a care in the world. If she died, then oh, well.
Now, things are different.
“I have a purpose in life today,” said Martell, 26. “That’s why I’m here … to talk to people to make them understand you don’t gotta live like that anymore.”
That’s the message the West Palm Beach Police Department is trying to send.
The department already endorses the Prostitution Impact Prevention Education program for first-time offenders, but in August, it started a prostitution diversion program, in which those arrested on prostitution charges have the option of going into a court-approved rehabilitation program instead of facing jail time.
The goal was simple, said Capt. David Bernhardt, police spokesman: “If we save one young lady from the life of prostitution and bring her back to her family, we’ve considered it a success.”
In the months since, 12 women, including Martell, have been put into a program.
On Thursday morning, Martell stood next to West Palm Bach police officers and administrators from Faith Farm Ministries, a faith-based addiction recovery program, at the organization’s west Boynton Beach campus. She has been in a rehabilitation program there since December and has about seven months left.
She recently got her high-school GED and is looking forward to being with her family and her son, Blake, who is almost 2 years old, once she gets done.
“I never thought I would be like this,” Martell said. “I never thought I would be loving, caring, friendly, outspoken, but God’s changed my life. I never thought I’d be in a Christian-based program, but now look at me.”
Since 2005, Martell has been arrested about 20 times on charges including drug possession and prostitution, jail records show. After her most recent arrest in December, she said prison was the next step. She’d been in short-term rehab programs several times, with no lasting success, so she opted for the court-approved program.
Now, she spends her days reading her Bible and singing before working a 9-to-5 shift either in Faith Farm’s thrift store, at the hot dog stand, making jewelry or baking bread.
“You don’t have to live like that anymore,” is what she said she would stress to those still on the streets. “(But) you have to be willing to change.”
She thanks her family, Faith Farm and West Palm Beach police for getting her off the streets and helping her grasp a new lease on life.
“I never liked police officers, but I would say today it’s a (humbling) experience,” Martell said. “Officers are actually cool … I wouldn’t be here today without them.”
She said once she completes the program, which is offered for free by Faith Farm, she wants to go to school for nursing or cosmetology or maybe, just maybe, to become a police officer.