BY KACIE GRICE AND CHRISTIAN DOWNES
PHOTOS BY DELLA CHEN
For Summer Prescott, the definition of home is not one most of us would recognize.
Without the familial compassion that many of us take for granted, Summer attempted to find home–initially, within the framework of abandoned houses, with relatives, within the arms and hearts of those who were unable to truly care for her. She sought safety and security from those she loved, and in its absence, chose solitude–the origin of the hardest-won independence. Over the course of years, Summer simply learned to survive the searching. She uses what she discovered to shelter others, and to teach them how a home can be made with a love that is just and generous.
Summer was born a healthy girl in every respect to parents who loved her. When Summer’s father died before her third birthday, she would have to compete for her mother’s attention against a changing cast of boyfriends, drug and alcohol abuse. Despite the circumstances, Summer’s affection for her mother and little sister remained strong.
Through the years, Summer adapted to a constantly changing environment. Her mother’s boyfriends were often unstable and dangerous (one of these men was later suspected for the Green River Killings). Summer explained that one of the ex-boyfriends broke into the house to kill her mother’s new boyfriend. She remembers him sitting in the kitchen glaring at her with a lighter in his hand, setting fire to her favorite pencil.
“I don’t know why that affected me so much–it was just a pencil–but I was crushed”. She described the impression as strange, whereas other past, violent acts seemed to her like part of her story. She saved the pain of these incidents for moments when she felt safe to feel them.
Often, Summer spent long days alone at the nearby lake. She stayed in abandoned houses. She would regularly wake up there and go to school. The abandoned houses provided her refuge–for a time–but Summer had difficulty adjusting to the growth of the family, and became increasingly belligerent when her mother remarried.
At thirteen, Summer was sent to Mountain Park Baptist Academy, a place she describes as fire and brimstone. Her parents hoped she would find guidance, but for the next 19 months, Summer found cruelty, combative leaders, and children made to behave like soldiers. She found a different kind of love from her schoolmates–those who shared a similar suffering.
Summer was forced to memorize scriptures by writing them hundreds–even thousands–of times. She recalls writing First Corinthians 13:1: “Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels but have not love, I have become sounding brass or a clanging symbol.”
With a tender gratitude and genuine esteem, Summer understood their actions as contrary to the teaching, but says she is grateful. “They were like clanging symbols, but God showed me that.”
A close friend of Summer’s was killed–an incident motivating her to return to her family. This turned out to be temporary. “I was taken into foster care, when my Step Dad and I had a fight. We were both charged for assault, but the police took me to Juvenile Hall–my parents said they did not want me with them. I was at the detention center for only a few hours while I waited for a case worker to come take me to my first of many temporary houses.”
She had a new caseworker each time she was transitioned, and was abruptly moved around so often that she never had the chance to really know any of her foster parents. Summer remarked. “I was rarely in a home for longer than 3 days. They cared about the money (they got for foster care) not us, and didn’t trouble themselves to make any bluff about it either.”
But there was only one home where she felt cared-for. It was a home where rules were clearly established to protect the girls. Yet, even the time she spent at this home was short-lived.
One morning she was given a bus ticket and told not to return until 7 o’clock. Summer was devastated. She had never ridden the bus alone. She had no idea what she was doing–or where to go. Summer was certain that no one understood her or had the power, or desire to care for her. “I didn’t age out of foster care, exactly, I ran away.” She said, emphatically.
At 15, she left foster care and lived with her Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) sponsor. “I was not addicted to drugs or alcohol but I liked being a part of a family, and I found that in AA.” There she met a 32-year-old man. “He let me live with him in exchange for cleaning.”
The arrangement eventually became grim. “He tickled me and then kissed me. I tried to stop him and then gave in, thinking if I don’t do this I won’t have anywhere to go.”
He told her not to tell anyone because of their age difference. “This was the most desperate time of my life.” Summer said. Later, when she discovered she was pregnant with his child, she moved back in with her mother.
While Summer was still pregnant she met another man at AA, and fell in love. he was supportive during her pregnancy, and the couple married–but the happily wasn’t ever-after. A rift grew between them, ending the relationship. Though Summer felt guilty and flooded with shame, she wanted a divorce and a place of her own.
Despite being a single parent with a divorce in progress, she wanted to be a responsible provider, inspired by the simple dream of an apartment, a car, and a safe place for her children.
She began dancing at a popular strip club, after her friend boasted of making a thousand dollars a night. Dancing was not quite the way Summer understood it–you were supposed to touch. “You are a self-contractor, with lots of fees. It costs money to rent the stage, half of the cost of each dance goes to the club. If you don’t make enough you acquire a debt to the club–until it is worked off.” She explained.
“It is not much more than an average minimum wage job. Prostitution was encouraged.” Summer said the bouncer would shine a flashlight to alert dancers of a potential bust. One of her coworkers said point-blank, “Look around you–If you can’t strap on a condom and finish the job, you aren’t going to get by…so get out”. Get out she did. Summer met a drug dealer who helped her get out of dancing and find work as a server.
Summer then fell for one of her coworkers. He moved in with her and the relationship mutated gradually into violence. At one point, Summer had been beaten so badly, she thought she would die. Her head was so swollen that her face was unrecognizable. Though she had no plan, she found the courage to press charges, and see the man sent to jail.
Life took on a rhythm of child support, and longing. She sometimes got to visit her daughter for two days at a time–but no more than twice a month. The darkness stretched beyond her sight. Summer dragged herself to a church full of elderly people, where she could barely hear the sermons. “[God] was protecting me and was with me,” she added.
Summer befriended a man from AA who owned a tattoo studio and held bible studies. She recognized enormous changes in his life, and decided to check out the church he attended. Summer sat through all three sermons that day, listening over and over to the sermon about God being a father who never leaves us. The pastor apologized for fathers who had left. He spoke of avoiding the examples of people in church or people in the bible, following the example of Jesus in the bible.
Summer would come in every week and look around and see young people like herself. She didn’t feel alienated, judged or excluded. Summer reflected, “God protected me from so much…it’s amazing” She said, listing the things that she is surprised never happened to her. She never got into prostitution, was never addicted to drugs. When she was beaten, she hadn’t been killed, and somehow had the clarity to leave.
Soon after, Summer met a really cute guy. The two talked about the bands they liked. He took her iPod and downloaded every song by Tool and A Perfect Circle for her.
Summer, blushing and giggling, exclaimed “I fell in love with him on the spot”.
He began to go to church with Summer, but she didn’t know what he would think. She was shocked when he became a Christian.
A little while later he came home from a church retreat and said, “I am not supposed to be sleeping with you. I want you to be my wife.” Summer knew he adored her son and daughter as his own, and they began to make wedding plans. Just before the wedding, Summer discovered she was pregnant. They were overwhelmed with excitement.
Some changes came with ease, while others were jolting. Almost immediately after the wedding her husband lost his job. “But we were surrounded by community. It was so humbling. The church has helped in crazy ways. People showed up from my community group with everything we needed for the baby. We got so much baby lotion that we still had some four years later! They paid our rent and made it easy to take the help–and ask for it–because they just said its God’s money. I learned how to see this for myself. What I have isn’t mine. It is His for me to give. My car isn’t mine–it’s His, so I can give a ride–things like that. It changed our life–having people serve us.”
In addition to her roles as a wife and mother, she is a volunteer with REST: Real Escape from the Sex Trade. She especially loves to serve women that have suffered from trauma that is similar to hers.
Summer also has a deep affection for the former residents of Mountain Park Baptist Academy (the institution was shut down after two resident boys murdered a classmate). She has reconnected with, and is encouraged by them, helping one another work through their suffering, and needs.
These days, Summer is relentlessly hopeful and feels at home in her story. “When I was a child I wanted most to be loved; now I want people to know they are loved–no matter what situation they are in.”