I was frantically running down the streets of Washington, D.C. suburbs in my pajamas at 3AM with no shoes, wallet or phone. I was 19 years old. The year was 1999. Yes, this really happened. Let me explain…
My Washington, D.C. Internship Story
I was a freshman at Milligan College, and a friend told me about a popular Christian political newsletter that had internship opportunities. Back in the late 90’s, it was a big deal to have a website with a newsletter. The publisher of the newsletter had photos on his website posing with famous politicians like Newt Gingrich. Everything checked out. I loved politics and I needed a summer internship, so this sounded like the perfect opportunity.
I applied for the internship. We talked on the phone. The publisher had an English accent, had a Jewish background, seemed well connected in the evangelical community, and sounded smart. He told me it would be a good idea to visit Washington, D.C. on my spring break to see how things worked, and tour around the city. I said yes and packed my bags. I hitched a ride from Tennessee to D.C. with my friend Gina from college who lived near D.C. and she dropped me off at the publisher’s home late on Friday night.
He answered the door. Welcomed me inside. He was a short guy, looked to be around 55 years old, and was polite. Everything seemed normal. He gave me a tour of his place, showed me the office where he wrote and published the newsletter, and then showed me where I would sleep…a bedroom with two twin mattresses pushed together on the floor. “Hmmm…that’s odd”, I thought. I had just made it through finals week, was exhausted, and wanted to get some rest. But then I realized he was going to be sleeping in the same room as me, on the other twin mattress on the floor pushed right next to mine. Something wasn’t right. Then, as I was getting ready for bed, he complimented me on my appearance. My spider-sense went off!
I didn’t know what to do. Was he just super nice? Was I over reacting? I laid down in the bed, hoping for the best. Then he turned out the light…laid down next to me, and rolled over to hug me in the dark. I froze. My heart started pounding…I knew I had to leave, but how? I settled on just staying awake all night and leaving in the morning…
After about 30 minutes wide awake trying to plan my escape, I felt something touch my toe! I looked down and he was hovered over my feet in the dark. I rustled to make it sound like I just woke up. He then left the room for a short time and walked back in and stared at me noticing that I wasn’t sleeping. He then offered me pills to “help me sleep”, which I strongly refused. Then the conversation turned super creepy, and ended with him offering to give me a foot massage and wanting to hold my hand and pray with me. I told him I was going to sleep on the couch in the living room instead, but he bolted up and blocked the door. After arguing for a minute or two, he said he would sleep on the couch, and I had to stay in the bedroom.
He walked out of the bedroom. I was so mad at myself. How did I get into this situation? Urghhhhhh! I felt so stupid, so naive, so dumb. I said a quick prayer for safety, got up, told him in a bold voice that I was going to step outside for a minute, opened the door, prayed again, then bolted down the stairs and down the street in my pajamas. No, this wasn’t a dream.
How My Story Concluded
I’ll never forget that run. I ran harder than I’ve ever run in my life. I ran for about a mile in the dark through an office building parking lot, through a neighborhood, praying and running…I ran past a Safeway and saw a police car in the parking lot. Here’s how everything concluded:
- I frantically told the police officer my story.
- He drove me back to the guy’s house to get my things.
- Two more police officers arrived, they knocked on the door, and an argument ensued, the man wouldn’t let the police come in with me to get my things, and I refused to go in alone. So I wasn’t able to get any of my belongings.
- They said there wasn’t anything else they could do for me. One of the police officer’s got upset with me, accused me of lying, and wanted to know if drugs were involved.
- I was super embarrassed and mad that I had gotten myself into that situation, but was too scared to go back inside.
- They dropped me off at a 7-Eleven.
- The 7-Eleven employee let me use their phone and even let me get a free drink. God bless that guy whoever he was! I didn’t know Gina’s phone number (the girl who had dropped me off). A Nigerian named Bashir Solebo lived in the dorm room next to mine and I knew he lived near Washington, D.C. so I called information and asked the operator if anyone with the last name Solebo lived in the Washington, D.C. area…to my surprise she said “Yes, there’s a Deen Solebo.” And, I knew Bashir had a brother named Deen, so I had her ring his number.
- Back in the 90’s people actually answered their phones…it was around 4AM and I let the phone ring about 20 times before my friend’s brother finally answered…I said, “PLEASE don’t hang up! I need help!”
- Deen, my college friend’s brother, who I didn’t know came and picked me up at that 7-Eleven a little after 4AM.
- When I showed up at my friend’s house, Bashir was shocked to see me…”what the heck happened!?” he said. Whew, it was good to see a familiar face.
- His brother Deen felt so bad for me that he had me tell him where the guy lived, and he actually went to the guy’s house by himself and got all my belongings back the next day. Deen was a life saver.
- I then got a greyhound bus back to Milligan College and spent my spring break alone wondering how I could have been so stupid to get myself into a situation like that.
- When I logged onto my computer I had an email waiting for me from the publisher. He said if I told anyone what happened he would “come down on me like a ton of bricks.”
- I never replied to him.
- I wanted to warn others, but it was 1999 and there was no social media, and there was nothing I could do except learn my lesson and move on.
- I always wondered how many other unassuming college students were lured in to that “internship” and how things turns out for them. It’s sad to think about.
My 40-year old self would have never gotten into that situation. But, when you’re 19, young, dumb, and naive, things are different. Here’s my wisdom on internships for young people…
7 Tips for Parents With Kids in High School or College Applying for Internships
1. Don’t Leave It Up To Your Kids
Most high school and college age kids are too naive to know how the world works. Be involved in helping your kids navigate decisions about internships and job opportunities as they get started on their career path.
2. Beware of Any Internship Opportunity
Wisdom tells me that a large percentage of internships are nothing more than bait used by sexual predators. You should approach any internship with skepticism. Some internships are actually great opportunities, but most aren’t, so use caution when applying for any internship. If it’s advertised as a “Christian” internship, you should run. A better option is usually just getting an entry-level job.
3. Ask for References From People Who Have Previously Completed the Internship
It’s easy to rush into an internship without doing your homework. “Mom, this is such a great opportunity and they need an answer by Friday!” Pump the brakes. You should always ask for multiple references of people who have completed the internship to get their feedback. Ask them directly if they felt safe and comfortable. Get specific.
4. Don’t Let Your Kids Travel Far Away for an Internship
If you live or go to college in Indianapolis and there’s an “amazing internship opportunity” in Miami, take a pass. Stick closer to home.
5. Always Find Out What the Housing Arrangements Are Ahead of Time
So, you have an opportunity for an awesome internship. You’re going to be working for free in exchange for the experience. But, where are you going to be sleeping? In the bosses house? I don’t think so…find out specifics. If it really is a great opportunity, help your kids rent an apartment, stay with a relative, or stay in a college dorm. If it sounds the least bit shady, it probably is. Never let your kids stay with strangers. Get addresses, visit locations, be vigilant.
6. Always Schedule Phone Calls With Your Kids
This is very important. Have scheduled time for phone calls to check on your kids, especially the first several days of their internship. Text messages aren’t enough…have actual phone calls. Ask them specifics, and listen to their tone of voice. Have an emergency plan in place in case your child doesn’t call you. You’re not being paranoid, just exercising an abundance of caution. Even if your kid thinks you’re not cool, it’s okay. They’ll thank you later in life.
7. Trust Your “Spider-Sense”
Your spider-sense is never wrong. Always trust it.