"I know you won't let me die in the street," a former prostitute told Judge Rosemary Higgins as she left the courtroom. On January 19th a seemingly unlikely group of lawyers, judges, former prostitutes and community supporters gathered together to present awards to Judge Paul Biebel, presiding judge, criminal division, Cook county and associate Judge Rosemary Higgins, criminal division, Cook County.
Upon accepting her award, Judge Higgins said: "It was Judge Biebel and Daria Mueller (assistant policy director of the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless) whose vision in creating the WINGS court opened our eyes to the complex needs of this population." On January 19th, the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless Law Project honored the two judges for their vision and courage in creating an alternative to incarceration for women involved in the sex trade. They created the WINGS project.
"It's difficult to find the words to sum up the gift of the WINGS court to the women in the commercial sex trade. Initially, I was not enthusiastic. The past year's journey has opened our eyes, minds and hearts to the miracle of change in these women as they transition."
Brenda Myers-Powell, a former prostitute, added her thanks to Judge Biebel as he accepted his award by saying, "You rock, Judge." She went on to tell the prostitution survivors in the audience: "Survivors it is so important that you find your voice and tell your story of how you made it through years of abuse and trauma and you're still standing and looking very well I might add.
"And don't just stand by and tell your story but participate in how the new story should be written. Stand up and be recognized not just as a survivor and a story but as an advocate, as a counselor, as an organizer, as a policy maker, as having a BA, MA, what the heck a PHD. It is yours, feel it, taste it, and go for it."
The WINGS court is the start of a new chapter in the story.