Prostitutes and People with no faces…REALLY???

people with no faces

By Kenneth Justice

~ Awhile back I was sitting at coffee one morning and I couldn’t help but notice the woman on the other side of the café who had tears streaming down her face. To be honest with you, I happened to be really busy that morning and the last thing on my mind was striking up a conversation with a woman in tears. I’m ashamed to say that I ignored her tears and kept on working.

After I finished my work I began putting my laptop and papers away when the woman walked over to me and said, “Excuse me, do you mind if I sit down with you?” At this point I felt bad for having ignored her for the last hour and I told her she could.

It turns out she had grown up in a wealthy suburb, earned a Masters Degree in teaching, and used to work as a music teacher at a nearby community college. However, by her account she married an abusive man and after one thing led-to-another she found herself divorced, an alcoholic, and for the past year she’d been working off-and-on as a prostitute to earn extra money.

She didn’t ask me for money, “I just had to tell someone my secrets” she said, “If my parents were to know what my life has turned into they would never speak to me again….I feel so alone”. We talked for a couple hours and although I gave her a phone number of a counseling facility that might help her; after she left the café I could clearly see that she wasn’t looking for help. She just wanted someone to know who she really was.

One of the things that I really admire about Jesus was the amount of time he spent with the down-and-out. Turn the pages of the New Testament and it seems like everywhere he went Jesus made spending time with homeless people, prostitutes, outcasts, the sick, and the super poor the main emphasis of his life. Jesus simply didn’t give a damn about the rich and the healthy.

And it’s for the same reason that I really admire Charles Dickens. Many people only know Dickens as “the guy who wrote a lot of really long and boring books…and ‘oh yea, he wrote the Christmas Carol”. But there is more to the story about Charles Dickens. You see, he lived in a time when there were major gaps between the rich and the poor. Prostitutes, orphans, homeless, the down-and-out were not even treated like humans by the upper classes during Dickens’ era. In fact…the people on the bottom were literally despised by the people at the top….the sick and the poor were merely faceless people to the healthy and rich.

And that was the world that Charles Dickens began writing to….and what did Dickens write about? He wrote about the poor, orphans, prostitutes and the down-and-out. Dickens showed the world that the people on the bottom were real people; he showed the people on the top that these people on the bottom had names, they had aspirations, they loved, they felt sorrow, and they were human; he showed the faces of the faceless.

Dickens’ books literally changed the world. The structure of caring for orphans and the poor in Great Britain improved dramatically thanks to the work of Charles Dickens. I can’t help but tear up as I type this because I am overwhelmed at how much one simple writer did… an era so long ago.

The woman at coffee was no different than me. In fact, by her own admission she had earned a number of college degrees at an earlier age than I achieved them. She came from a solid family. But life didn’t turn out the way she had anticipated. She was now at the bottom…….and she wanted somebody to know who she really is…she didn’t want to be invisible…she didn’t want to be faceless.

Isn’t that how so many of us treat the poor, the sick or the faceless around us; as though they are invisible? Sure, we donate our time during the holidays at the soup kitchen, we give money in the collection plate at church, or we sponsor a child in a foreign country……..

But the people who are down-and-out or struggling are often the people living right next door to us;

—-) They are the single mother with three children and no spouse to help raise the kids

—-) They are the elderly neighbor whose spouse has died and nobody comes to visit them anymore

—-) They are the stressed out parents of small children who don’t have enough money to hire a sitter

—-) They are the myriad of young people who come from alcoholic homes, divorced families, or abusive situations

—-) They are the people who are barely earning enough money to make their house payment or keep up with the bills

—-) They are the single adult living in a strange city all by themselves with no friends

Many of the down-and-out in our day and age look just like you and me. They are invisible to us because we never take the time to get to know them. In many ways it’s easier to see the problems of the homeless….because they often look homeless. But to see the problems of the poor, the struggling, the down-and-out…..we are going to have to get out of our comfort zones and talk to our neighbors if we really want to see them.

They are the people we go to church with and they are the people who sit across from us at coffee. They are the people who need us to sit down next to them and share a cup of coffee.



Categories: People Without Faces

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91 replies

  1. You, a simple writer (like Charles Dickens), made me tear up this morning. Thanks.

    • Ann, I wrote that article late last night, and after I posted it this morning I realized that I goofed and referred to Dickens as a ‘simple’ writer…probably not the best choice of word considering he is arguably one of the great writers of all time…but i’m glad you appreciated what I was saying 🙂

    • You did not goof, in my mind. We are all simple (and complex) human beings. And none of us can predict how we are going to affect others. Dickens could not have known how important he would be to so many people so many years after he was writing — including to us, today!

  2. Therefore but by the grace of God go we all. This is so relatable. I am also the educated poor.

  3. Good words today…I mean really…how often do we see what is REALLY going on around us?

    Awesome back story on Dickens!

  4. I read Christmas Carol when I was in high school, I got bored way back then… But as I grow old and saw the cruel world I learn to appreciate the story.
    Many people judge others on what they see of The fear of not being accepted by your own family is very painful. Your story inspires me alot….

    • Momi,

      I read A Christmas Carol as a teen also and I agree….at the time if found it to be really boring…it wasn’t until later in life when I read a biography about Dickens and what he accomplished via his fiction that I went back and appreciated his writing

    • I agree… he has simple thoughts in his writings and yet it all have deep meaning.

  5. In Asia, we ‘little Johnnies’ had a way of dehumanizing the locals that a civilian could never understand . . . I can’t even understand it. . . . empathy? what’s that?

    • JJ, ya gotta forgive my youth and ignorance…I googled the term little johnnies and couldn’t find anything cept’ something about jokes…what does the term refer to?

    • Ha . . . that’s my term for kids who go off to war and create mayhem in a foreign country . . .

      my favorite saying “give little Johnie a gun and you better run!”

      Little Johnnie is that loving child you had before his Uncle Sam turned him into a lean, mean, killing machine . . .

    • okay…I was thinking it had to do with military…thanks for the clarification :0)

  6. Love you, love your writing and this one in particular is so real for me. In the middle of reading “A Tale of Two Cities”:)

  7. Thank you for such a great challenge and reminder.

  8. Amen, and this is “True Religion” in the eyes of God; to look after those that are homeless, the widowers, the orphans…it was the people that Christ was concerned about…the outcast, the forgotten, the sick and the poor. They are real people and and they have a face and a voice. Great post and God bless.

  9. Of your descriptors of the “Down and Out”, I’ve fit into four of the categories here and there…most people who look at me would never know.

    Sometimes we are so caught up in our own struggles, we cannot see the world around us. However, I’ve had times when I’ve given rides to women waiting for the bus with their small children. ( I have a car seat in my car because I have a four yr-old). They’ve told me they often have to wait over an hour, sometimes two, for the bus to arrive. I couldn’t imagine waiting that long with a toddler beside the street.

    Some days, when I get in my car, I ask God to show me someone whose life I can touch. Randomly, I experience success, but other times, I start ruminating on my own struggles and become blinded again.

    Thanks for the reminder…when we help others, we are often rewarded with small miracles.

    • Kim,

      thanks for the awesome comments. With so many broken homes in our culture I think a lot of people forget how difficult it can be to have small children; they take up a lot of time, energy, and even money…….and I too see mothers standing at the bus stop with their small children and my heart and admiration goes out to them for all the hard work they put into raising their children…….I only pray that more people would step alongside them and lend help 🙂

  10. Your topic is a tough one–one that I too struggle with, and I pray that God leads me to those who need him most. I’m trying. I’m praying. This post was beautiful–not in its topic, but in the necessity of it; the truth of it; the genuine content of love spun with your words. Thank you.

    Getting ready to head to church to start the Sunday School Christmas program, and then play organ for our other church. Blessings and peace to you.


  11. I was so spoiled in high school. I had an English teacher who made us read lots of Dickens. “Great Expectations” influenced me profoundly. It fits beautifully with Buddhist philosophy, also.

  12. Create piece! I liked that you attached literature to your experience of this woman at coffee. It is true that not many people know the change Charles made with his literature. This definitly made mr think aabout the truth of life.

  13. Amazing the way, you put those words down, you have a talent.
    some parts of her story i know

  14. Doesn’t it also proof that the gap between rich and poor might be bigger than we think. Since we do not see or want to see the real world. Aren’t we always hearing how well we doing and ho bad it is in another country. As if we are ashamed of what we have become.
    People who come over here at a food bank or not sure how it is called in English. But basically a place where the poorest of poor can get a week worth of food. Sure it close to expiration date but not rotten at all.
    The group in need of those free bags of food have tripled in the last 5 years.
    It is there but most rather close their eyes and watch the good life.
    Lets not share but on occasion give a cup of coffee. Give a smile.

    • AN extra we also have toy banks where poor get some toys for their children on coming Christmas.

    • I’ve utilized those food banks and Christmas gift programs myself. We had to start using the food banks again recently and at first, it was really hard for my wife.

    • I know the first step is the worst. Is a feeling of shame. But to be able to provide food for the kids is the most important. The shame is more that they are needed in a western country. Keep your chin up, keep smiling.

    • Oh, it’s a step we’ve revisited a number of times, and yes– the kids need food. They’re also enrolled in the free meals program at school (have been for a while) so we can make things stretch at home a bit more.

      Thanks for your kind regards and gentle words.

    • Ranting crow,

      We have similar toy programs here in the u.s. as well…..and yes, the gap between the rich and poor might be bigger than we realize

  15. Kenneth I imagine your Empathic Powers are so strong that this woman saw a “glow” around you.
    This my friend is a very important gift.

  16. Thank you for the important Sunday morning words! Plenty to think about.

  17. Sometimes the nicest and best thing you can do for a person is ignore what you think/know to be true because that’s what they want you to do. Not everyone wants help or to be thought of as needing help. Some people would like to continue having people believe that everything is okay and that’s what keeps them going. It’s a tricky situation. Sometimes the assumptions we make are wrong and we don’t actually know what anyone else needs or wants. It’s difficult. You don’t want to make things worse.

  18. I wouldn’t say that Jesus didn’t “give a damn” about the rich and healthy, he just understood he didn’t have to put a lot of effort into those folks – for a variety of reasons. He knew his time was better spent working with those who actually needed/WANTED his help.

  19. Many Christians in the US place Ayn Rand at the left hand of God, leading to an ideal of love ruling over a land of street people. Plus various other sorts of waifs who are forced to abandon most of the talents of their lives. The sci-fi book that my blog excerpts contains a slightly satirical section in which the characters get caught up in such a “capitalist-vorticist” land and become involved in a resistance movement based on the book of Matthew. (‘Vortex’ is the negative mirror-image of capital, that is, the stockpile of objective factors that drag people down rather than building them up. That’s one of several useful ideas that are introduced to help such discussions). Anyone interested in an extended look at such issues, mixed with humour and adventure, may want to see there. I don’t want to spam, but there are things that can’t be said in the scope of a blog piece or a comment.

    • Thismoon,

      Like other philosophical systems, Ayn Rands objectivism has many good points, many bad, and many in-between….

    • I believe all sociologically deployed philosophies can be measured against how cognizant they are of self-fulfilling prophecy cycles (‘vicious cycles’ and their opposite, ‘felicitous’ or ‘virtuous’ cycles).

      For example, they can be evaluated by whether they can perceive that retaliation often just leads to opposite retaliation, or that those who are rich have the capital, education and connections that tend (statistically, i.e., not without variation) to aid becoming richer.

  20. “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’ Matthew 25:40
    As we go through our lives, many of us do not take the time to notice. When we do others are astounded! How sad is it that we are shocked when someone reaches out? The need to be human to everyone has never been greater. Teaching this skill to our children should be at the top of our daily goals.

  21. That post really came at a good time in my life, a time when I’m grateful for having a roof and food, but wondering at being one of the educated poor and living in not only a strange city, but a strange country with a smattering of people who may or may not be friends. It’s a frightening time.

    I guess what I am really saying is, I’m glad to be reminded that there are people like you. Thanks for making my night.

    • “but wondering at being one of the educated poor”

      until recently I had never heard this term…but lately I’ve heard a lot of people talking about the educated poor.

    • That’s because we want our voice to be heard, Kenneth.

      The idea that the poor are all uneducated and ignorant just isn’t always true. I came from a family that was decently well off, maybe even upper middle class for a time. But I got caught in a spiral of things in my undergrad years– mental illness, addiction. Shortly after getting a bachelor’s by the skin of my teeth and getting married, and then having a beautiful baby girl, my wife and I were bankrupt and technically homeless. A friend took us in.

      Friends would later say, “You should go to grad school.” Ha! With what money?

    • I have started and stopped replying to this for two hours now.’s a difficult topic to discuss. It’s started so many arguments between me and my parents, to speak nothing of the attitudes I’ve seen displayed in articles about people in my situation.

      In short, there are too many university graduates all vying for full time jobs. And since the full-time job is a white unicorn to find, they apply for high-school level jobs to pay some of the bills in the meanwhile. I bagged a unicorn, once. It ended up being a white goat. Since when is full time 30 hours or less?

      Both of my brothers had full time, skilled labor jobs which didn’t pan out. One was laid off one morning. He was the IT guy for a multibillion dollar milk processing plant, got paid enough to make ends meet. The other was tired of 10 hour days for 5 hour’s minimum wage pay (perfectly legal with the way the pay scale was arranged–he worked as a technician in a car dealership) and quit when his roommate moved to a studio apartment, putting him in a precarious living position considering he couldn’t buy groceries. One brother is living at home and working part time, the other went back to school again. My husband worked contract work, a seasonal skilled labor job which suffered at the hands of congress. Once he had a job with BLM, but they had cut backs and we were jobless for Christmas.

      My husband and I decided not to wait on the job market anymore. When he was accepted into a Master’s program, we sold everything and moved to England. For the first time in years, our rent, food, utilities, transportation, and even my student loans is paid for, ironically by student loans. I don’t have to beg my boss to toss a couple more hours my way. I can even go buy a shirt or two to replace the ones which have gotten ratty.

      This…wasn’t exactly what I thought would happen when I decided to go get a degree. I often wonder if it was really a good idea at all. Then I realize I never would have met the love of my life if I’d worked as a clerk right out of high school, so…I guess getting educated was worth it. I mean, I am in England now, after all.

    • Nicole,

      I know SO many…too many people who are in the same boat as you and your husband and your brothers…

      life is changing dramatically here in the states regarding education and jobs…and nobody seems to know what to do.

      Sometimes ‘venting’ is the only thing that helps, even though it doesn’t really change anything.

      I came across an awesome article on the very topic of education and jobs and debt…here’s a link if your interested, the author doesn’t provide any answers…but I share her frustrations;

    • Thanks, man. I’m actually not the sort of person to vent, so it’s actually really rare for me to be so open especially on the internet. It absolutely changes nothing–except for relieving some pressure. I think we’re all under too much of that.

      I read the article, and understand where she’s coming from. It’s a good read.

      I think she’s spot on on a lot of what she says. In particular about delaying college. Maybe her kids will find trade jobs (electricians and carpenters are skilled and a must for any building). Maybe her kids will find they need a degree. Certainly the students who did the best job-wise were the ones who entered college with the blessings of their employers, who frequently paid half or all of the associated costs. How awesome is that?

      It’s not an easy thing to answer. It truly isn’t.

  22. Kenneth, wow, you really made me *feel* something. Right now I’m sitting with my 91 year old mum, who read Dickens to me as a boy. A part of me thinks he has better things to do. Instead, you have me thinking, “What more can I do? How can I be more empathetic?” Thanks.

  23. WOW! Very moving & I agree Dickens was amazing, he’s a huge inspiration!

  24. Absolutely beautiful….speaks from the heart.

  25. Reblogged this on the cosmic pilgrim and commented:
    That is the energy we need to be anchoring and spreading…helping others…love….compassion..comfort….that is spiritual activism…I thank these bloggers for kindling our heart energy

  26. I love the message here, but I feel like I need to mention one thing: Jesus did care about the rich and healthy. The Bible says that when the rich young ruler approached Him, He loved him. It’s not a matter of where they are physically. Jesus cares about everyone, and gives aid to those who need it.

  27. Such an incredible and while difficult, a warm story. It is great writing like this (and Dickens) that cause me (and others) to sit back and think, really wonder what can be done and will be done.

  28. Thank you for this powerful offering.

  29. Reblogged this on Learn of Me and commented:
    This is very powerful, friends. I encourage you to take the time to read this blog post by my fellow author, culturemonk.

  30. The Western world NEEDS another Charles Dickens. I remember grumbling to a counselor I had a few years ago (one of the few I trusted in 29 years in the system) about my situation, and she said something like, “That’s because the meaning of what it is to be poor in America has changed.” Educated poor is a good term. Getting a degree didn’t stop me from poverty.

    In some ways, ironically, I think the excesses of what is now being called crony capitalism seeks to turn the clock back to some of the ills of Dickens’ Victorian era. I am not sure we will be invisible per se, but rather shamed by harsh authoritarianism. The old “oh no! steak with food stamps!” is now “the poor shouldn’t be buying junk food with food stamps” with the veiled implication “because they are a drain on our health care system that way.” Never mind the Feds have said repeatedly that further restrictions would cost more taxpayer money.

    • Jaklumen,

      I agree…sadly, both political parties have apparently sold out to their own special interest groups and I honestly don’t see anyone out there who has a real answer at making things better.

  31. This really hit me, as I just finished discussing with my daughter, fresh back from a mission trip to Haiti, that you can carry that “missionary” mindset around with you wherever you go, be that back to Haiti or down the street at Target. So my eyes grew a little wider as I read your words… and then you brought up Dickens, and I, like “Die Trying” am also halfway through Tale of Two Cities (teaching it to 10th graders this Thursday). The way he wrote, so dryly and matter-of-factly about the ills of the class society… I just hope I can communicate some of these concepts to my students. We may just need to read your blog in class!

  32. I work with these “faceless” women three days every week and you are right! They are despised and abused and outcast. The saddest thing though, is they don’t expect anything more from the community. Even though they actually BELONG to the community. Because they agree with the community and believe of themselves that they are despicable, there to be abused and outcast.

  33. Could a person like Charles Dickens live and work today and accomplish something similar? I wonder if history could repeat that way and not just in the negative ways it tends to. Thanks for the post.

    • Carrol,

      I honestly don’t know….we live in such a aliterate society; people can read but they generally choose not to.

      Dickens’ books were massive, so that by the end of the book you really became connected to the characters. Now-a-days people have such short attention spans and to really connect people with a greater sense of awareness…I feel like a short little article by me, or articles in the new York times are simply not enough, there’s needs to be something with greater depth

    • People read long things – Harry Potter, thrillers, gothic etc – when they are entertained and captivated enough. Maybe we just need a writer with the right combination of compassion and literary insight.
      But I don’t know. My daily contact with college students leaves me with little hope.

  34. It amazes me how some people tell their secrets to strangers. Plenty of people do that online, but to approach in person is another thing. It’s brave, because you don’t know how the person is going to react. Although it’s better to be compassionate or empathetic, the listener could be disgusted or express pity.
    Some people just need to let it out, to loosen some weight off their backs.

    And perhaps they pick a stranger over a friend or relative because secrets can be too much, and their opinions or responses could be more hurtful to bear.

  35. First of all thanks for checking out my blog this morning. I volunteer with a local non-profit called The WellHouse. It is a transitional home for women seeking to come out of human trafficking. So this article was dear to me. Thanks for writing it.

  36. a nice read here with a great amount of empathy.


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