My name is Sheyka, and I have learned that it means “wisdom and leader of community.” For years I did not use this name. I put on a mask and changed my name many times to avoid knowing my true self. It has only been through the agape love of CARITAS, paired with a well of gifts inside my soul, that gave me the strength and dignity to put on my crown and reclaim my name; to reclaim myself. 

My twin, Shante, and I started life on an army base in Missouri in the middle of nowhere. Both of our parents were in the military. We were given a childhood of resources, good schools, garden parties, and a comfortable home. But that was only on the outside. If you peered in the windows of our house, you would see what heartbreak lurked within: an alcoholic, abusive, and philandering father; A mother who handed out hugs and encouragement with the stinginess of Scrooge; who was abusive and cruel to us both. The wounds of hurt and pain had been passed down from one generation to the next. Hurt people hurt people. Fear was ever present, combined with deep feelings of abandonment and lack of self worth. Role models for a healthy family were nonexistent. As I grew into a teen, rapes became a constant companion. 

The first one occurred by a random stranger who grabbed me from behind and violated me without words. The desecration of my innocence continued through rapes by several  family friends, relatives, and others. And the fear escalated. My heart and soul had become so clouded, so murky. My only sense of self was to protect my soul by creating a hard shell with no identity. I became truant, sneaking out, and committing wild acts of self destruction. I eventually ended up in a juvenile home. Pregnant at 15, I gave birth to my beautiful little girl, Jessica, at age 16. Upon graduation and moving to Texas, the sabotage of self continued and turned into “dates,” drugs, jail time, and almost being convicted for murdering a man who had been my confidant and friend. Life had no meaning and no future. 

Crack cocaine. When this monster reared its ugly head, it became the sovereign, the  ruler, the director of my life. The first blast of this powerful drug lifted all those feelings of abandonment, inadequacies, fear, frustration, confusion, despair, and sorrow. It was the most enticing balm on the wounds of my soul. Crack cocaine quickly became the who, what, where, when, why and how of my existence. It is difficult to describe this loss of self; a person, a holy creation. Even my love for my children, which now numbered three, were not enough to pull me back from this hell. They were living with my dad and stepmom as I did not have the ability to care for them. My life spiraled out of control and trafficking came in to take over. A pimp took me from city to city around the US where I had to perform all sorts of sexual services. He also had a habit of leaving me on the street, homeless, penniless, and craving the drug over and over, only to find me again and demand the same: sex for drugs, drugs for sex. 

For the next ten years, this was my life. Many times I was close to death and finally ended up in Tucker Pavilion, a place which offers help for mental illness in Richmond. I had experienced two episodes of drug induced psychosis which were scary beyond belief. It was here that I was given information which would lead me to CARITAS and the Healing Place. I had not used my given name for years. During the times of prostitution, I was called Raspberry, Diamond, “D”, Twin, Phoenix, Jade. These names kept me from facing all the fears in my heart, all the abandonment, confusion, and despair that had been my constant companions from a very young age. But buried deep inside of all this trauma and abuse was still the wise, strong woman named Sheyka. 

On March 17, 2021, I entered The Healing Place at CARITAS where I would start the difficult journey to regain my dignity, my character, and my trust. I was so relieved to find safety which had been absent for so long. As I started to work through the Restart program, there was a lot of help. But I still wasn’t ready to surrender. I was not ready to be vulnerable. I could not trust yet. The wall I created around my heart was thick with anger, despair, distrust, and deep sorrow. I did not think that anyone would truly want to help me, to advocate for me, to guide me without any demands and without any strings attached. 

On July 4, while walking to a nearby store to pick up a few things, I saw my former pimp. My heart raced and it all came flooding back. The monster that had ensnared my soul was not ready to let go. I relapsed. The pattern of sex for drugs jumped back in to claim me. Three days later, the pimp drove me to the Healing Place so I could pick up my belongings. This is when the miracle happened. July 7, 2021. The alert quickly went out to the staff and to other participants. To my sisters. 

“She is out there and we need her to stay!” 

As if in a tug of war for my very being, those wonderful angels were not letting go. I was crying in anguish when I saw them, but I was too weak to embrace what they were offering. 

“I cannot do this! I can’t!” I pleaded over and over. 

And you know what they said in reply? “You may not be able to right now, but we can! We can do this for you and with you.” 

The pimp was taking my bags and putting them in the trunk, but they didn’t stay there. They were quickly lifted back out by the staff. This back and forth continued while women held me tight, letting me know repeatedly that they had me and weren’t letting go. Like a rescue on a churning sea, I was brought aboard the boat. And this quote from Isaiah 43:1 went through my head: “Fear not, for I have redeemed you. I have called you by name, you are mine.”

Right then and there, I took off my elaborate lashes, my heavy makeup, and garish jewelry. I took off those old names. I put on my crown as a child of God and reclaimed the name I was given at birth. I reclaimed myself.  

The road to recovery was not easy, but this time I knew I had to keep going. I became absolutely committed for the sake of my children, for my relationship with my dad, and for myself. It became personal and I had a taste of the freedom I could attain. It began with self care and a mentor. Miss Quelina Jones would do my hair and she casually taught me about self-respect. I learned to dress differently to reflect Sheyka, not Diamond or Raspberry. Being able to video chat with my children and hear them say, “I love you mama” and to be able to say it back to them was another miracle. 

Sheyka with First Lady Youngkin’s team

The Restart program lasted two weeks and I moved on to OTS 1 and OTS 2. Phase  lasted 7 months. It was during this time I was issued a warrant for my arrest for a previous crime. This time I was not hiding. Working the Twelve Step program of AA, I knew that hiding was not an option. I was facing my past, making amends, and working towards future goals. CARITAS and Ben Carr helped me get professional legal services. I was sent to jail for 30 days, but I was not alone. The wings of the angels in CARITAS could pass through any bars in prison. Money was provided by my fellow AA members so that I could have hygiene products, food, and transportation. They encouraged me as I continued along the path. And finally, the file was closed and I could begin the Works Program at CARITAS

At my graduation from the Works Program in June 2022, I was given this quote specifically chosen for me: “Keep your face to the sunshine and you cannot see a shadow.”–Helen Keller. 

I found all the good and great things in me. I am charismatic, a hard worker, encouraging, strong, a warrior, and liberated. I am free. CARITAS was able to unlock all the doors which I had slammed shut. My name truly has meaning again. I am wise and I have become a leader in my community. And I think I forgot to mention: my last name is Lyon, and I am one fierce woman! 

Written by Sheyka Lyon and Barbara Schaedel