In just two hours at Sacramento’s Loaves & Fishes Doctor Jessica Rodriguez will use her skills as a faith healer, motivational speaker and teacher to transform this room of sixteen homeless women.
Rodriguez has the women pull colored pencils from boxes for a drawing exercise that will help them express their emotions. Her session is part of an eight week course designed to get these women back into the mainstream. "Helping them to empower themselves, beginning to look at themselves differently with value and worth, uh, finding a sense of courage within themselves. I mean that’s something," says Rodriquez.
She knows the road ahead of them. Once a successful business owner in Oakland, she lost everything to her drug habit.
“Well I’ve been there, I know what I’m dealing with, I know the spirits I’m dealing with," she says. "Knowing what they feel like when they don’t think life is going to change and they don’t think life is going to change and they don’t think they’ll ever get better or they want to give up and don’t see even a pinhole of light.”
She spent years homeless and desperate.
"I was living in one of the oldest professions ever in life, you know walking the streets, standing on the corners."
Then, 15 years ago this month Rodriguez’s life choices almost ended her life. She was working an intersection in Oakland -- hard up for money to get high one more time.
"It was about 3 o'clock in the morning," Rodriquez remembers. "At that point still had on the plastic high heel shoes, white shoes I had gotten from Kmart three months previous and one of them had a broken heel and I rather pulled my foot to keep the heel connected to the shoe. And sure enough this gold car came around the curb and it pulled up, about as close as I'm sitting to you about arms length, and someone a male voice out of the backseat of the car said hey lady and I turned and he shot me in the heart at point blank range."
Though she didn’t know it at the time, this is when her life began turning a corner. The shot left her on five medications, with fifty staples in her chest and a doctor’s diagnosis of a year to live. Hopeless, she returned to drugs. Then a friend invited her to a church in Sacramento’s Oak Park where she met a faith healer. It's a moment she remembers very clearly.
“And she asked me if I wanted to be healed? And I recall saying yes. She laid hands on my heart and my back. I’ve been healed ever since. My heart has been completely healed as if nothing ever happened to it of course, the bullet is still there. I can’t help but believe in the supernatural power and release of healing because I live it.”
Rodriguez committed herself to getting back on track. But she still had to settle up the past. Her drug habit landed her in court where she met Judge Gary Ransom.
"It was either do or die, it was the last shot she was ever going to get," says Ransom.
In his Sacramento County Courthouse Chambers, Judge Ransom remembers Rodriguez as a defendant. She seemed determined, so he sentenced her to county jail instead of state recommended prison time.
“You gotta give people hope. I gave her hope and she's fulfilled that in every sense of the word," he says.
Now a friend, her picture sits with about a dozen others on his book filled shelves. Coins symbolizing her twelve steps to sobriety surround it.
"Here's a lady who came close to dying and didn't, who came close to spending her life in one form or another probably in prison being part of that rotation system of being in and out in the bars who made a decision that that wasn't the life for her, that she wanted to be a positive influence," says Ransom.
Becoming a positive influence still took her years of work. Now 53, she counsels people at her LOV Center for Healing, in California's prison system and here at Loaves and Fishes where her session winds down and the group applauds, thanking her for what she's done for them. Each moment like this when Rodriguez knows she helped someone, the rough road she traveled makes sense.
"When you've lived the life I've lived and your life has been spared and you're living in grace not only do we have a responsibility to give back, but me personally that's the deepest desire I have in my heart is to give back."
So that’s how she plans to mark the 15th anniversary of her shooting, it’s just another chance to give back.