Judy Pruitt’s life has been a whirlwind of turbulence, abuse, neglect, violence and the redemptive grace of a living God. And yet at the eye of this storm has remained her belief in a God who loves her despite all she has done to stay alive.
Born into a family of abuse and neglect Judy was sent to Texas Youth Commission, TYC, at eleven for her violent behavior. Until her release at 18 she had run away 3 times and returned each time pregnant. Judy’s reasons for leaving TYC were validated nearly 30 years later when international headline news of systematic and institutional sexual and physical abuse dating back to her teenage years in the custody of the state was revealed.
As a teenage runaway, Judy earned the nickname “Snow” because of her fair skin and innocent look. Snow was part of an estimated 1000 street kids occupying Westheimer Street in the Montrose neighborhood of Houston, Texas. Adopted by drag queens as a child mascot, Snow was a Covenant House dropout, a real hardcore hustler - a term Judy used to describe her life of those days.
A chance encounter a few days before Christmas in 1988 between Snow and photojournalist Ben DeSoto lead to a collaboration that would span two decades of sharing with the public an understanding of the underlying causes of chronic homelessness. Snow was barefoot and panhandling in afternoon traffic with a sign reading “just a little help”. The photograph published in the Houston Chronicle the next day shows a smiling girl and a freeway overpass at back with an estimated 300 people living underneath, including Snow. A longer report in 1992 presented Judy’s life as an adult foster child included her hustler lifestyle and strained relationships with other “outsiders” and “have-nots” and the jail and court systems of the “haves”. The resulting magazine article compelled area Christians to seek her out and “bring her to Jesus”. These evangelical Christians were successful in converting Snow to a “reborn” Judy Pruitt, denouncing violence and eventually becoming the “homeless preacher”.
Poverty continued to swirl around Judy and she struggled to maintain some semblance of home, hoping to regain custody of at least one of the 3 children born after her 18th birthday. This dream was not to be realized as Judy, the felon, was shut out of public assistance. The evidence of long term post traumatic stress related behavior explains much of her erratic behavior patterns – chronic sleeplessness, lack of trust of authority figures, poor choices in trust placement, and severe bouts of depression culminating in physical illness.
Judy Pruitt’s belief in a Living God compels her to be open and caring to just about anyone she meets on a daily basis, be a model prisoner when incarcerated, and a tireless advocate for supportive housing for homeless and foster children such as herself.
Judy's story continues as one of her daughters, Antointette Pruitt-Barnes struggles are identical of juvenile incarceration, discharged to the streets at age 18 to survive. A granddaughter and grandson are living in a multi-generational cycle of poverty.