DALLAS (CBS11) – On a countryside road in a remote area of Dallas, Jammie Kelley said she was left her for dead back in 2004.
She was a prostitute.
“I’ve been on the side of the highway. I just happened to live through it,” said Kelley. “Nobody would have been looking for me, nobody would have known I was missing.”
At the time, the FBI noticed a big problem on highways nationwide: Hundreds of women disappeared. Their bodies were discovered years later.
The FBI found that the women were murdered by truck drivers who became serial killers.
So the agency began the Highway Serial Killings initiative.
Joe Costa, now DeSoto’s Police Chief, worked in the Dallas County Sheriff’s Office when law enforcement noticed the trend.
“It’s a problem throughout the United States,” said Costa. “There are hundreds of truckers that are serial murderers, and this became an issue for us.”
Costa said he worked with Sgt. Louis Felini of the Dallas Police Department and the University of North Texas Center for Human Identification in Fort Worth which began a pilot program to help save women’s lives.
The program is called the Prostitute Diversion Initiative, in which police asked prostitutes to voluntarily give authorities their DNA.
“If they did go to that prostitution program and they were victims, we would be able to identify who they are,” said Costa. “We had one identification which is a huge success.”
That was in 2013 when a prostitute died in Fort Worth. Because she had previously given her DNA to authorities to store, they were able to identify her.
“The DNA database allows women to have a voice and be known,” said Kelley. “I believe in human dignity. I believe every person has the right to be treated with that dignity.”
The initiative also helps women who had misdemeanor prostitution charges end their time on the streets.
After 19 years as a prostitute and nine felony convictions on drug and theft charges, Kelley credits the initiative with saving her life.
She said she was ready to help other women leave prostitution behind. When the initiative began in May 2007, Kelley said she became one of the first participants.
Had she not joined to help the other prostitutes Kelley said, “I probably would not have survived and would probably have gone back to the streets.”
Kelley was also helping herself. She got married, went back to school and got a masters degree in social work and became a licensed social worker.
Kelley is now Director of Admissions at the Nexus Recovery Center in Dallas. The agency helps low-income women and their families break the cycle of addiction.
Kelley believes she is making a difference.
“I was put on this earth to show women they too can survive,” said Kelley.
What began as a pilot program is now a part of state law.
It requires 22 of the largest counties in Texas to maintain a program similar to the Prostitute Diversion Initiative in Dallas County.
Since this program began, more than 466 prostitutes have signed up to be in the program in Dallas County.
“If it helps one person get out of that life and become a model citizen, then it’s a success,” said Chief Costa.
While looking at an old mug shot from her days in jail, Kelley’s eyes began to water as she reflected on her former life.
“I see the hurt little girl became the woman I am today. She is very much a part of who I am and where I am. She needed to exist for me to be where I am today,” she said.
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