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Law Grad Credits Stint in Juvenile Hall for Turning Her Life Around

Posted Jul 24, 2012 6:00 AM CDT
By Debra Cassens Weiss

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A UCLA law and business grad is telling the story of a difficult childhood that included forced prostitution in a new book called Runaway Girl: Escaping Life on the Streets, One Helping Hand at a Time.

Carissa Phelps tells NPR she was just 12 years old when she ran away and was coerced into prostitution by a pimp who took her in. She worked for the pimp for 10 days until police made a traffic stop and arrested the both of them.

“What I experienced was not prostitution,” Phelps writes in the Huffington Post. “I was 12. I was abused. There was nothing about it that made me feel like I was in control. It was the opposite. I belonged to someone. He controlled me. He played games with me to get me to obey him and to make sure that I knew he was the boss.”

When Phelps returned home she dropped out of high school and got involved in crime. When she was arrested for joyriding in a stolen car, Phelps was sentenced to six months in juvenile hall. She credits the experience with turning her life around.

"For the very first time, my counselors were consistent, and I was able to get into therapy, go into family therapy, group therapy, with other little girls who had similar experiences, and just receive help for what had happened,” Phelps tells NPR.

A fellow student made a documentary about Phelps when she first arrived at UCLA. Since graduation, she has committed herself to working with other troubled teens.

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