He was an ex-convict, serving eight years in prison on drug and robbery charges. Today, Sam Pollinzi and his wife Sherry work every day to rescue exploited women from prostitution and sex trafficking – an industry directly linked to the issue of abortion.
In an exclusive interview, Sam and Sherry Pollinzi unveil the hidden realities of sexual slavery in America… and share stories of women transformed at Restored Hope Ministries, their safe house in downtown Dallas noted by the Dallas Morning News as a place of “unconditional love.”
Photo for illustration: Billy Wilson / Flickr
Bound4LIFE: Sam, what first inspired you to help people in these desperate situations?
Sam Pollinzi: At 15 years old, I started using heroin. I did the drugs to escape reality, the pain I had from not being understood and problems at home.
I became a heroin addict. When they caught me stealing, I went to prison on a 40-year sentence. In prison it was like I was in a trance: doing what I had to do day-to-day to survive. I thought I’d never be out to see my parents again – brothers, sisters, anybody – because I had so much time. I had lost hope.
After two years in, a guy came up to me one day and asked, “Do you know Jesus?” I said, “Yeah, I know him. I used to pray to him before I’d go do a robbery.” I was being smart.
“Seriously, do you know Jesus?” he persisted. “No,” I said. He told me about the Lord. I was raised Catholic so I had some training; I decided to give my life to the Lord that night – not with him, but by myself. I said the sinner’s prayer, accepted Christ and in prison started living for Him.
When the guy talked to me about Jesus, I didn’t lift off the bed. Light didn’t come in through the cell bars or anything; but I did feel a peace in my life for the first time ever.
I asked God, “What do you want me to do?” And He said, “I want you to help hurting people.” I stayed in prison another six years. When I got out, I started working with ex-offenders and drug addicts. Some years later I married Sherry.
Sam Pollinzi serves as Executive Director of Restored Hope Ministries (Photo: Josh Shepherd)
Bound4LIFE: Were you ready for this work, Sherry?
Sherry Pollinzi: Sometimes I think, We’re the last people who should be teaching people how to get set free. But God reminds me that He prepared us for this place.
Sam used to be a drug addict and I had trials in marriage due to past abuse. We both took a lot of baggage in with us. I had dealt with alcoholism.
Now with these women we’re helping here at Restored Hope, we are able to go through steps of showing them how to let go and let God – how not be in denial about the things that have happened, but face them. It’s not you that’s going to set you free from it, He is. The Lord will.
Bound4LIFE: Where does the cycle begin with sex trafficking?
Sam Pollinzi: Every one of these girls has been molested, raped or beat up as a child or teenager. Every one of them. And it can happen to anybody.
Sherry Pollinzi: Of some women, people say, “She chose that.” Because there are women who aren’t thrown into sex trafficking by men, they do it because they don’t know anything else. Maybe their mom didn’t set a good example. Or she had men come in and she felt used, so she thinks Why not make money off of it?
People may say, “They knew what they were doing.” But you have to look at the hurts and pains that pushed them to that point of believing, This is all I’m good for.
Sam Pollinzi: Even as early as high school, a girl will go to a party when the parents are gone and all the kids are drinking or doing drugs.
Her boyfriend says, “Let’s go to the back room.” After they get through, the boyfriend leaves and other men come in, one at a time. When the girl tries to get out, the door is locked and they don’t let her out. All weekend, there could be 50 men that go through there.
And then she’s supposed to go take a shower, rinse off, and go back to school on Monday? She’s a victim, and society is just now realizing this. Unless we give her a way out through this safe house, she is never going to get out and change.
Sherry Pollinzi: At Restored Hope Ministries, we take them through steps so they can lay all that stuff down, and see that God created them for a purpose. His intention wasn’t for them to be abused or sold.
The question arises, “If there’s a God, why did He allow that to happen?” But God didn’t create robots. We live in a sinful world. There are people out there who do bad things – they may even be your father or mother or brother or sister. God can turn all of that around for His glory, for you to be able to help somebody else.
Photo for illustration: Dmitry Ryzhkov / Flickr
Bound4LIFE: Our culture presents this lifestyle in a different light than you’ve exposed here.
Sam Pollinzi: The young woman hardly ever gets the money for the trick. Pretty Woman, Client List, Fifty Shades of Grey – that is all fantasy. That’s not what we deal with. We deal with hurt, broken, raped, abused women who’ve had their teeth knocked out.
One girl wouldn’t look at me when she sat here with Sherry and me. I said to her gently, “Look at me – what’s wrong? I am trying to help you.” She said, “A man has never talked to me like you talked to me.” I said, “What do you mean?” She replied, “The only thing a man has ever told me is what room to go to and what act to perform.”
There are no Pretty Woman situations in real life. What’s real is pain and abuse. Another girl told me she was sick one time, and the guy threw her off a second-story balcony. It’s not glamor.
Sherry Pollinzi: We always say that God never wastes a hurt. And He doesn’t. He can take what is horrible and He can turn it around to where you’re not mourning anymore.
Because you can help somebody else and pull them out of that darkness that they’re living in, thinking that there’s nothing else in life except for this. All things are possible.
Restored Hope Ministries takes in exploited women from downtown Dallas and beyond (Photo: Ax Becerra / Flickr)
Bound4LIFE: It may surprise people that you are talking about Dallas, Texas, known as one of the most-churched areas in the United States – yet these issues exist below the surface.
Sherry Pollinzi: People used to think sex trafficking was just in Cambodia or overseas, but it’s right here in our own backyard.
Sam Pollinzi: Texas ranks number two for human trafficking crimes in the nation. Dallas has more than 68 strip joints, and “VIP” sections in those places involve prostitution and sex trafficking. Houston’s port is the number one or two port for sex trafficking – women being taken abroad.
People don’t know: it’s in their apartment complex, at massage parlors… so many places hidden in plain sight.
Sherry Pollinzi: And oftentimes those most affected are sitting in the congregation. They come to church and get filled up with a little hope, but that life is all they know.
They go back out there and do the same thing – because either they don’t have skills, or didn’t earn a high school diploma; or they had such a bad home life, they look for any way to get out.
I know these women are in the church because they’d go through our Celebrate Recovery classes. “Why don’t you get out?” I’d ask. “I don’t have any way to get out,” they’d say. “I’ve got to pay rent, I have to eat, I’ve got a car payment…” A lot of them will have a child, and they don’t have other skills.
Coming here, they get a chance. “What is it you’ve always dreamed of doing? We want to help you get there,” we say. Some we help get into school, for some jobs open up – because they’ve taken classes here where they gain skills in Microsoft Office.
We will do anything to help them get out of that situation and empower them to say, “I can have a real job. Maybe I can get my GED, maybe I can have a normal life.” They can! And we want to help them get there.
Sherry Pollinzi counsels women at Restored Hope Ministries’ safe house (Photo: Josh Shepherd)
Bound4LIFE: When a pre-born child comes into the picture, how do you counsel a young mother who may see abortion as the easy way out?
Sherry Pollinzi: We have had some girls who have come in and been with child – every one of them have chosen to keep the child.
A young woman may begin to say, “I can’t afford the baby and have no way to take care of it.” But there are so many resources now to help women with children, we’ve seen women change their mindset once we talk them through it.
Even if they say, “I’m in an abusive situation, I don’t want the child to be abused.” There are ways to get out, programs that will help you.
Sam Pollinzi: A lot of the girls who are in this industry have had two, three, or even four abortions. It’s tragic.
The biggest aspect of women choosing abortion is the fear. After the baby is conceived and growing in the womb, that’s when the most fear overtakes a young mother. We have experienced talking her through having that baby. Once the baby is born, all the fear goes away and she loves that baby.
There are situations where another couple adopting the child is best. A couple in our church took a girl in, she lived with them until having the baby, and the girl is grown up now. (Editor’s note: One woman recently shared her story anonymously with Bound4LIFE.)
Photo for illustration: Jane Fader / Flickr
Bound4LIFE: You’ve surely counseled women where, tragically, their child was conceived in rape…
Sherry Pollinzi: And we’ve seen God redeem those situations. Recently two women at Restored Hope both found out they were pregnant. We found a lady who was willing to work with them, and both of them had their babies. One of these moms could’ve easily said, “I cannot be there, so I’m just going to abort him.”
But they didn’t. Something that was planted in them here, they took with them when they left with their pregnancy. We connected them to ministries, and today they are both raising their kids.
We even had one of our girls graduate the program who had her child taken away, because she was an “unfit mother” is what they said. Then going through this program, she did everything the state asked her to do. She showed them that, through Jesus Christ and salvation, she wasn’t the same person.
It was a battle, yet the favor of the Lord was evident from that judge. He saw something in her that nobody else could see. She received custody of her child, and now lives right down the street from us.
Sam and Sherry Pollinzi speak at a recent Restored Hope Ministries benefit (Photo: Jen Sulak / Pink Light Images)
Bound4LIFE: Many people will see this work as difficult and messy. Why should Christians be involved?
Sam Pollinzi: In the lineage of Jesus, there were four prostitutes. There are countless stories in scripture, like how Jesus forgave Mary Magdalene.
If you had everyone stand up in a church congregation, you will have women who are courageously raising kids without fathers; people who have been to prison; prostitutes, strippers, escorts… every kind of broken situation in the world is in the church. The church needs to do what it’s supposed to do: help those people.
We’re finding it true more and more that churches are not standoff-ish. They are coming and getting involved. Now, it’s a ministry where your heart gets broken every day. That’s why there are not a lot of ministries like this: people quit, and they close them down.
The Lord told us to show them Christ – and if they stay, they stay.
We don’t care if you’re Baptist or Presbyterian or Catholic or Assemblies of God, it’s about the Body of Christ doing what God calls you to do. Everybody pitches in to help.
Photo for illustration: Geoff Meyer / Flickr
Sherry Pollinzi: The church is realizing, If we don’t start reaching out to our community, we lose our witness. It’s easy to sit in church – even to volunteer and do church things. It’s another thing to go out like Jesus did into the streets, through the towns, and take the church to people.
One way you can do that is by helping hurting people who are out there. Jesus didn’t sit in the church. He was out in the streets, laying hands on the sick, setting the captives free. If we don’t go out and touch people’s lives, bringing people in, then who is going to?
We have to start reaching out into the cities, finding ways we can help people instead of expecting people to come to church. One way is we host women here, and we introduce them to God.
Restored Hope Ministries, a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization, is funded primarily by donations.