Triumph, Loss, Obstacles: Women of the Well changing ladies' lives

Triumph, Loss, Obstacles: Women of the Well changing ladies' lives
Summer Dickerson is helping other women survive dangerous, or near-deadly lifestyles.

LOUISVILLE, KY (WAVE) - He appeared in 55 movies. But none of Hollywood actor Victor Mature's films has a plot anything like the real story of the Louisville woman who lived in St. Michael's cemetery using Mature's massive grave marker for shelter from the weather.

"I knew no one could touch me and no one could harm me there," said a 56-year-old woman, who asked to remain anonymous.

After her husband of 30 years left, one son was murdered, and her other son overdosed on heroin three years ago, the former schoolteacher turned to drugs to numb the pain, and paid for the drugs with prostitution.

"I felt that I had no options," the woman said. "I felt no one cared. I felt alone."

Three years of prostitution, drugs, visiting her severely disabled son in a nearby nursing home, then sleeping in a place that symbolized her life. Then she left the cemetery March 15 to visit "the other side."

"She picked me up from the graveyard that day," the woman said. "I didn't know where I was going, didn't know anything about Esther's House."

She was delivered to a house on West Market Street, where her story shocked nobody.

"I've been buried alive," said Summer Dickerson, who also founded Women of the Well, a survivor-based ministry. "I've been in torture chambers. I've had guns in every orifice of my body."

These days, Dickerson runs Esther's House and still runs the streets, trying to find other women who need to take a detour to detox and change their way of life.

"Some people bring cats and dogs home; well, I bring people home," Dickerson said.

Gang-raped at the age of 15, then trafficked in Georgia, Florida, New York and Kentucky, Dickerson's final deal was with God during her "last call" in Louisville's east end.

"A .357 was pulled on me," Dickerson said. "My best friend had been killed a year to the date of my last call. She was shot in the face and four times in the back with a .357.

"Gun to my head, I just said 'God if you could help, I'll never post again,'" she said.

Since then, you may see the signature bright red hair in neighborhoods that have been condemned, rescuing women who have been condemned and restoring their faith in sanctification.

"I just had this fire in me," Dickerson said. "I wanted people to understand it's happening right here in our city. We're not waiting on a big white van to kidnap anybody. It's done through manipulation, done through finding that vulnerable spot."

Sometimes she's successful, like the time she got a 38-year-old woman to Esther's House on Valentine's Day.

"I called her and hid in a bus station five hours and she got me a bus ticket out of New York to here," said a 38-year-old woman who asked to remain anonymous.

Sometimes Dickerson comes close, such as finding a woman still wearing a hospital bracelet, who'd just delivered a premature baby three days earlier, out trying to turn tricks high on heroin and heading for another fix. Dickerson and a friend got the woman to their car and were about to take her back to Esther's House, but the pimp rolled up and forced the new mom back to work.

"I just show them," Dickerson said. "I don't tell them anything. I just show them I love them."

Sometimes Dickerson loses: One or two girls a week, she says, by overdose or worse.

"Next phone call I get, she's being stabbed, and I heard all that," Dickerson said.

But in three years, Dickerson said she has helped more than 1,000 women. It starts with the care packages she fills with hygiene products and carries to women on the streets. Her program first consists of detox and two weeks of nothing but love. Then she helps them get food stamps, medical and addiction treatment, plus counseling, parenting and budgeting classes.

In the end, what's the secret? What gets some women out of the graveyard of prostitution and drugs?

"If they just had someone to say 'I love you' today, or 'You're beautiful' today, or 'we know you can do this,' sometimes that's all you need," the 56-year-old former schoolteacher said.

"The love, it's amazing," Dickerson said. "Especially when you've never experienced it."

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