was honored by Goodwill Easter seals as the "Metro Participant of the Year" an award that is given to participants that have made major inroads in their life and has progressed in positive ways.
She will also be placed in a pool to be nominated for "Participant of the Year"
In addition, Latriste was 1 of 5 individuals chosen for the "Micro Grant Recipient of the Year" This was an award that was selected from
369 recipients that received a $1000 grant. The award was based on those that best utilized the $1000 grant.
Latriste has spoken at several of Goodwill Easter seals events such as;
"Day in the Life" This is for new employee orientation for people starting at Goodwill Easter seals
"Job Club" Participants that are enrolled in our programs seeking employment, she is someone we ask to come in to help motivate other ex-offenders.
Recently Latriste was asked to speak at an awards banquet for our "GIVS" program, a program that is a resource for housing, car repairs, etc.. This program helped her in the past, because of her success, they asked her to speak at their event.
Latriste Graham is the founder of Coming Out of Bondage, a program that serves women leaving prostitution. I have been clean and sober for over 5 years, since October 2007.
I grew up on the west side of Chicago, Rockwell Gardens projects, surrounded by drugs, gangs, abuse, prostitution, violence, and murder. At the age of 12, I took my first drink and smoked pot for the first time. My uncle would reward us with beer and pot for cleaning his home. By the age of 14, I was drinking daily, not going to school. By the age of 15 I started taking pills, and for the first time, I sold my body for cash. By 16, I was a gang leader in the projects.
At the age of 18, I had my first child. Soon after, I had my second child. My children’s dad was also a gang leader. This lifestyle was all I knew. Things progressed leading me to more drugs. At 21, it was heroin, by 23 I was using crack. Even though I was using regularly, I felt like I was still in control of my life. I was also in a relationship with a man who was much older than me, who took care of me and my kids financially. My drug use was taking over my life and led to serious gang violence. At the age of 23, I went to jail for shooting someone. I was charged with aggravated assault. I was in jail for 90 days, and then on work release for 18 months. The time spent in corrections did not lead to positive changes in my lifestyle. I started selling drugs to make money. I was also using daily. I was fighting, violent, in and out of jail. I was out of control. At the age of 27, the older man I was involved with left me. I was selling my body, stealing, all for heroin. These were dark times. I didn’t realize it at the time but was addicted to heroine. It was such a violent lifestyle, in so many ways. I have both physical and emotional scars from these years of violence.
In 1994, I went to treatment for the first time. Unfortunately, 30 days in recovery was not enough. I didn’t know any other life, so I returned to doing the same things, drugs & prostitution.
In October 2007, I went to treatment in Chicago. It was another 30-day program. While I was there, my roommate told me about her experience and what it was like in MN. It took some convincing and work, but my treatment counselor helped find someone to sponsor me in MN. I secured $100 for a bus ticket through a family member. I came to Minnesota with nothing, aside from these few contacts for aftercare. I started my recovery, attending prostitution and drug support groups. I got into transitional housing. After 1 year clean, I returned to Chicago to see my sister. She was on the same track as I was, 30 years in prostitution. I wanted to let her know there is a way out. While she wasn’t ready to leave, she did call me in 2011, to see if I could help another woman who was prostituting and very vulnerable. I was able to help this woman. I got her to MN and helped her transition out of bondage. I helped several women since, each leaving the streets of Chicago and the lifestyle that was so damaging. I did this through street outreach and the passion in my heart to help these women. Eventually, my sister did make the decision to leave, and she has been sober 2 years.
My street outreach efforts include going to Chicago 4 times a year, talking with women on the streets, leaving my number with them, posting flyers. I have created some eligibility criteria and explain my expectations, what women need to do in order for me to help them. If they are serious and ready to leave, I buy them a bus ticket to Minneapolis, meet them at the bus station and bring them to Century Plaza to get signed up for assistance. We sign up for a rule 25 assessment, get them into a treatment program. These women go into a shelter until they can get into a treatment center or shelter. Through Micro-Grant funds, I have been able to provide basic needs such as hygiene items, clothing, food or other immediate needs.
I know the damage that prostitution, drugs, and abuse can have on a woman from my own experience. These women and children need a fresh start, and they need to know they are cared for. I am still healing from my own experiences. Each day it seems I am understanding and appreciating the beauty in life a little more. I notice things now that I would never have noticed. I have strong faith in God, which has played a big part of my recovery. I am passionate about helping these women and children create a safer, better, happier life.
I continue to work with my church. I have connections to mentors who continue to help me with planning, and organization. We eventually want to be able to provide housing support for the women.We currently are in search of a house or property that can meet that purpose as the need is great to meet this purpose.