Jen Watson was radically converted from a broken life of addiction and working as an exotic dancer in the sex...
- Article By Tamara Clark
The year is 1997. Twenty-two year old Jen, better known as Layla, sits in a dimly lit bathroom stall that is connected to the dressing room of a somewhat seedy strip club. From the bathroom she can hear the faint voices of the girls. She can smell the cigarette smoke rolling between the rooms despite the air being thick with various perfumes and musky mildew. She hears the DJ calling a girl to the main stage. She thinks that she might be up on stage soon and feels rushed. She counts her dollar bills and then shoves them in the front of her sequined bottoms. She keeps one of them out to roll up and snort her line of speed as quietly as she can. She doesn’t do it quietly because it’s frowned upon at the establishment, she does it so none of the other girls hear what she’s doing and want to partake.
She needs all the drugs she has to get her through the remainder of the evening. She flushes the toilet, rearranges her bra and G-string and comes out of the stall and checks herself in the mirror. She looks up her nostrils to make sure that there is no white powder remaining. She brushes her long thick highlighted hair and reviews her heavy garish makeup before getting back to the nightly grind of taking her clothes off for money. She adds some lip gloss, touches up her Cleopatra thick eyeliner and puts on her happy fun face. She is the life of the party. Most of the people wouldn’t recognize the sadness and despair in her eyes through all the alcohol and drugs and the mask that she wears. It’s time to make that money, honey, she tells herself. The show must go on. Even if that show is full of hopelessness and despair buried deep inside.
Jen was born in 1975 to a teenage mother. She had a turbulent and troubled childhood. By the tender age of 5, she had suffered sexual abuse at the hands of some teenage babysitters who forced her to perform sexual acts with other children her age while they watched. Jen didn’t realize how traumatic that was and how it sexualized her at such an early age. The pain of early perverse experiences opened her up to promiscuity in the hopes of finding real love, safety and acceptance. She grew up exposed to porn, drug use and alcoholism. She began drinking at 12 to mask the pain, and learned to escape her reality and shame by getting high and drunk. She left home never to return at 16.
Jen tells her story about Layla with courage. As we sit in her kitchen drinking the strongest coffee I have ever tasted she is twisting her hands with nervous energy. She is in constant motion, getting up and down from her chair and tending to her son’s needs. She explains how she came to Texas from the Northeast.
” I moved to Dallas, Texas from Boston when I was 18. I took a greyhound bus and smoked pot and drank with strangers the whole way here. She only had a backpack with her favorite bong and the clothes on her back “Who does that now days?” She exclaims, “That was crazy!”
Jen stayed with an old school friend’s parents for 6 months and began waiting tables at a local Restaurant until she got on her feet. From there she moved into her own place and got a job serving alcohol in a pool hall and a Jamaican Bar. It was there she met a club manager and was recruited to the underworld of exotic dancing. She remembers her former self as free spirited, with a wild streak. She didn’t go into that club intending to dance. She tells of how she went to waitress and the manager talked her into a dancing audition. Her face clouds over a bit and she looks disturbed by the memory. “The audition consisted of taking my clothes off for the manager so he could assess my worthiness,” she scoffs at this today, “It was a humiliating experience and in a weird way I felt good or good enough when he hired me on the spot.”
She was a beautiful girl by any standards. She had long thick flowing sun streaked hair and almond shaped expressive chocolate brown eyes. She was nervous, but she told herself, I’m getting paid to party! The veteran dancers took her under their wings and showed her the ropes. They were a big supportive dysfunctional family. She took to the adult scene and nightlife like a dolphin to water. The drug fueled frenzy added to the alcohol she was already consuming daily as a coping mechanism, eased her way through any subconscious shame she may have felt, at least temporarily.
Flashback to 1996. Jen says that for the first time in her life she had a sort of spiritual awakening. She was living in an apartment with her charming boyfriend Jacob. Everyone who met Jacob adored him. He had a fun sense of humor and was big, strong, and boyishly handsome. Jacob was also addicted to crack cocaine. Jen knew this, but being so caught up in all of her own addictions it wasn’t a big issue.
She started seeing extreme visions in their apartment of angels and demons. She saw them so much, she swears she really thought she was going completely mad. One night when driving home at 3am, there was an old looking man standing across the street from her apartment on the corner and what looked like a Shepherd. She recalls this moment with tears, and says “he looked like he was dressed in a potato sack looking material and he was holding a large Shepherd staff that stood way taller than the man. As we drove by he watched us, the friend who was driving also seeing the same thing. They quickly turned the car around to have a closer look and He was gone.”
She has many stories like this during those days as God was getting her full attention. She remembers a chance encounter in Downtown Dallas with her friends as they were playing in the water fountains high on hallucinogenic drugs. There were some sidewalk preachers asking if they could minister to her and when they laid hands upon her she was knocked unconscious by the Holy Spirit. When she came to moments later she was stone cold sober.“Not a likely state of mind for me in those days,” she chuckles in seriousness.
During these dark days Jen started questioning about God and Satan. She got involved with a bible study group. “ I remember experiencing how full these people were and how empty I was. I saw real love for the first time in my life and I was being drawn and pondering if I could actually have what these people had. I got down on my knees as they led me into the “sinners prayer” and I gave my heart to Jesus that night.
She claims, “For the first time I really felt the weight of my sin. I didn’t want to continue the path I was on. I tried to stay away from work. I made Jacob move out temporarily, but I had bills to pay and an addiction to feed and I quickly found myself back in the clubs.” She talks about Jacob’s father who was recently sober. He went to work as prayer warrior for her. She didn’t know it at the time but he was sitting outside the club fasting and praying after he would give her a ride to work. “It was weird,” she says, “I wasn’t sure why at the time, but the money at work just started drying up.”
She felt utterly alone and terrified of all of the battles raging inside her. The next year was a downward spiral of extreme drinking and drugging binges. She looks sad as she ponders those days and tells me how she felt like this was her lot in life, all that she deserved and all she was going to ever have. “The pain of reality that I had been shown truth but felt I had no power to live that way sent me spiraling.” That year was the worst of her life. She was constantly in and out of jail. Pickled her liver, overdoses and ended up homeless. “I was no longer a functioning addict. The drugs had taken over my life and I finally could no longer function or make money."
Up North in a Boston suburb on a cold December Day in 1997, Jen’s mother had a dream that her daughter was dead and she was burying her. She called all of the adult clubs in the Dallas area in a desperate bid to find her beautiful broken daughter and throw her a lifeline. Jen took it, albeit loosely, and boarded a plane headed back East. She recalls being completely loaded. She says, shaking her head, “I scored a bunch of speed from another dancer and had it packed in my bra. I had pills stashed everywhere and so many drugs.”
During a layover she found herself (not surprisingly) at the airport bar. She was blind drunk and had no clue what was going on. She had totally missed her boarding call. Her eyes open wide and get a little misty as she speaks of an angel that guided her where God wanted her to go. She tells about this man who came up and touched her back to get her attention. “Isn’t that your flight they are calling for final boarding?” He asked her. She looked at the man in confusion, wondering how he would know what flight she should be on. She heard the voice come over the loudspeaker and realized it was her final boarding call. The man grabbed her bags and they took off running at full speed through the barren terminal. She made it with a few seconds to spare before the ramp was closed. She grabbed her bag from the floor and turned to thank the man, but he was nowhere to be found. He’d vanished into thin air in a matter of seconds. Jen is now sure, without a doubt, that man was an angel sent from God.
Jen went to a 21 day detoxification program. During her detox she had an open vision during meditation. “I was holding the Lord's hand and though I could not see His Face, I saw His form. On the other side I knew Jacob was holding His other hand. I couldn’t see Jacob but I knew intuitively he was there. We were standing under this heavy clear waterfall and I could feel the water just washing away all of my shame and guilt. I felt the weight of my past being washed away and remember how clean I felt."
The rehab program was followed up with an outpatient treatment where she met a Christian counselor. Her counselor recommended a Teen Challenge program with New Life for Girls. Jen completed the 15 months, enrolled and graduated Bible College at Christ For The Nations and is now a wife, mother of 3, and a Chaplain to women working in the sex industry. “Layla” and all of her demons have been laid peacefully to rest. Jen Watson has emerged full force and is living God’s blueprint for her life.
Jen Watson is the founder and visionary of The White Rose Movement, to find out more about it, click here.