15 Minute Rule

It’s been almost a year since I started volunteering for Street Safe, an outreach program for women living or working on the streets of Albuquerque. Two months into the gig in the middle of summer the Executive Director (ED) gave a presentation at the Santa Ana Star Casino about trafficking on the reservations. After the day was done I followed her around the casino.

We made a few loops around the gaming floor then sat on a ledge in front of a faux waterfall. It felt strangely peaceful. The ED pointed out suspected traffickers weaving between the slot machines all while she sipped on a chocolate milkshake. This was all in a day’s work to her. I, on the other hand, struggled to adopt her nonchalance, trying to appear as if I wasn’t staring. I badgered her about how she handled her job. Specifically, I wanted to know how to avoid getting attached to the women.

“When I was a medic, we had a 15-minute rule. Patch them up, and send them back out into the world. That’s all you can do.”

We are out in the heart of the war zone on Friday nights for two hours. It feels like longer some nights. Just two weeks ago I parked a half block away, encountering a trio hunched against the wall. One girl was using her hoodie to cover the crook of her arm while she shot up. I reined in the fixer in me and walked past. I recited the 15-minute rule to myself.

Then I tried to sort out why this bothered me so much. Here is one reason: There should be clean, safe, convenient, supervised rooms for girls like her. If Vancouver can do it, why not Albuquerque? Options for rehab — if a woman chooses to get help — even better.

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