Part Three of a Three-Part Series
This is not the first time her name has been in the newspaper. While interviewing the 21-year-old woman, it was offered to identify her in the story as an initial, perhaps “J,” or that the article would use an alias or pseudonym in place of her real name.
But Jessica Lorraine Stephens said, “No.” Readers saw her name in the paper when she was arrested in Conyers and charged with prostitution and cruelty to children in the second degree. And now she says she wants them to see her name and read how Kasey McClure and her 4Sarah program in Rockdale County changed her life and the future of her two daughters.
Jessica’s story begins the way it seems so many stories begin of women and girls who find themselves in the sex trade industry. They grew up in an abusive home.
“Every single day — every single day — I was scared to get on the school bus because my stepfather would beat me when I got home,” Stephens said. “I had black eyes and my mom would cover it with makeup. He’d pull chunks of my hair out. My mom would say, ‘You’ll be OK.’”
She says her stepfather began sexually molesting her when she was 8 years old.
“I have a twin sister and my stepfather adopted her,” she said. “He was very abusive to me and my older brother. He molested me for five years and would tell me I was the pretty one. He said if I ever told my mom, he would take my younger brother and go into the witness protection program and we would never see my younger brother again.”
By the time she was 13, Stephens was in foster care.
“I had really bad anger issues,” she said. “I was a really, really angry kid. I got on probation at 10. I was kicked out of every school I went into. Almost as soon as I got there, people at the school would just put in a referral (to get her transferred). I never trusted anybody, and when I would get close to the people, they would turn on me.”
Stephens lived with foster families and was placed in group homes throughout the state of Georgia with her only friends being the other children living in those facilities.
“I went to a group home, and I started acting out,” she said. “I went to a foster home. I was 17 and about to be 18 when the foster mom kicked me out at 7 a.m. on the morning of my 18th birthday. She had told me I didn’t have to go to school on my birthday and that we would go get our hair and nails done. Then my birthday came, and she was mad because I didn’t do the dishes. She told me either pack your bag or walk to school. I packed, and she called DFACS.”
Through a special program, the foster care system got her an apartment at the age of 18, but Stephens admits she was not mature enough to handle it. Soon after she moved into the apartment in Atlanta, she reconnected with those friends from the group home, including one whom she says was with a pimp and invited her to a party.
“They picked me up and not thinking that it is what it is, I just thought I would hang out and drink,” she said. “It started out as a pimp in a house. I stayed and in one day I made $1,000. That night, they gave me $100. They brought me back and I was really drunk. The apartment security guard was supposed to keep an eye on me and saw I was really drunk. That was strike one.” Strike two came sometime later when police were called to break up a brawl at her apartment, Stephens was no longer allowed to live there.
And then a friend called and asked if she wanted to come to Florida. That friend was into “posting,” and soon Stephens would be, too.
“She sent me a Greyhound ticket and when I got there, I got on Backpage, the website that later got shut down,” Stephens said. “I stayed in motels a while. I owned a whole bunch of cats. It was just crazy.”
Backpage was a website marketplace for buying and selling sex. Participants called it “posting” when they listed themselves on the website. Posting only made life worse for Stephens.
“When I was posting, it was the money, but I think it was just a survival tactic,” she said. “It was addicting in a sense. I said, ‘I’ll do this’ because I didn’t want to get a job. But then I got miserable. I didn’t have food to eat. My babies didn’t have food. I got denied on WIC and food stamps. It’s like a tug of war. You want to get out, but you don’t know how. It’s difficult to get out of it.”
Through one of her friends, she met Brian Javori Belcher and a year later, they had their first child together, a daughter.
“I had been posting for a whole year, but got pregnant and was still living in a hotel,” she said. “Life was difficult. After my first baby, I was still working and posting. It came to a point where I just left the hotel and went to live with a friend on Bouldercrest Road. She was crazy. She took my money from me. She had a gun. She would lock me out for 12 hours, 24 hours or for days because she didn’t want me in there with her stuff.”
Stephens said it was difficult living in hotel rooms with her baby. When she moved into the Bouldercrest apartment, she gave her baby to the child’s father for six months. The young woman was living through nightmarish situations with some of her clients robbing her and others drugging her. And then she and Belcher got back together and she became pregnant with her second child. Shortly after the baby’s birth, Stephens would be arrested again.
Arrested first when she was just 19, Stephens says she got caught up in a sting in Gwinnett County and was charged with prostitution. When she failed her probation because she said “living in hotels everyday, it’s hard to keep track of the day,” another warrant was issued. Her next arrest made headlines in the newspaper as Stephens and Belcher were arrested and charged with prostitution and pimping during an incident at the Motel 6 in Conyers on March 13, 2019. Their first child was 17 months and their new daughter was only 7 weeks old.
Both children were in a van with Belcher, who was 29 at the time. According to Conyers Police reports, an officer was patrolling through the parking lot of the Motel 6 on Dogwood Drive when he saw a man park his van and leave the two small girls inside unattended. When the man returned, he was taken into custody on charges of reckless conduct and driving while his license was suspended. Stephens came out of a room at the motel to take custody of the children. Further investigation revealed her earlier arrest for prostitution and that Belcher had been arrested in 2016 in Gwinnett County for keeping a place of prostitution and pimping. The hotel’s surveillance video also showed unknown males entering and leaving Stephens’ room when Belcher was away with the children, according to reports. A search of the hotel room reportedly turned up other evidence and Stephens was charged with prostitution and cruelty to children in the second degree while Belcher was charged with pimping, keeping a place of prostitution and cruelty to children in the second degree. The two children were placed into the custody of their grandmother and DFACS was notified.
It was Stephens’ lowest point in life, and it is where McClure found her. Stephens began calling homeless shelters and searching for a program that would help her regain custody of her daughters. The Conyers Police officer who arrested her told her she wanted to help change her life. The officer told Stephens about 4Sarah and referred her to McClure. It was McClure who called her back and Stephens said she “picked me up where I was.” 4Sarah gave Stephens a place to live, helped her finish her high school education, counseled her and helped her get a job. McClure went with her to the job staffing agency and helped her fill out the paperwork. Stephens saved the money from her new job for three months and McClure helped her rent and furnish a mobile home. She also helped her get her daughters back. Still involved in Stephens’ life, McClure hosted a birthday party for one of Stephens’ daughters at Chuck E. Cheese’s and took the mother and two girls to Christmas at Stone Mountain.
“She really changed my life,” Stephens said. “When I was with Miss Kasey, I did what they told me. Go to a program. Finish the program. Finish high school. Get a job. Now my case is closed. It’s the program. I couldn’t have done anything without the program. It was the turning point I needed.”
On Feb. 1, Stephens turned 22. She has hopes of someday working in law enforcement and helping others like her get out of a life that is spiraling downward. She is grateful to the 4Sarah volunteers and residents of the house where she lived saying they taught her how to have a better life and be a better mother. And she has a growing group of new friends.
“When I was in the program, it was mandatory to go to church,” Stephens said. “The first week after I finished the program, I said, ‘OK, I’m out of the program and I don’t have to go to church.’ But I started to feel sad, like I was missing something. Then I knew it was important for me to get back into church. I’m making good friends there all the time...
“When I was younger, I would lash out a lot. I always got into altercations with people. I didn’t know how to talk to people. Every time I would talk to people, there would be a problem. Now everything has changed. It’s just amazing.”