Sam Morris / Las Vegas Sun
Friday, June 28, 2013 | 2 a.m.
Rasheka Hinton moved to Las Vegas five years ago with dreams of starting over in the neon-lit city filled with fine dining — an aspiring chef’s paradise.
But what happens in Michigan doesn’t stay in Michigan, Hinton soon learned. Several weeks after moving here, her plans fell apart with another hit of cocaine.
Hinton dropped out of Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts and re-immersed herself in the drug world, albeit one with a different ZIP code. Six prostitution-related arrests followed.
“It was very upsetting,” Hinton said as she sat outside a Las Vegas courtroom Thursday afternoon. “I couldn’t believe I got back into the same lifestyle.”
A half-hour later, the 42-year-old walked into the courtroom surrounded by friends, mentors and bosses to face a happy judge: She was the most recent graduate of the Women in Need Court, a specialty program in Las Vegas Municipal Court designed to help women with a history of drug- and prostitution-related charges.
“I don’t even know where to begin, Rasheka,” Chief Judge Cynthia Leung said.
The two met 18 months ago. The court system wanted to give Hinton a chance. She seemed skeptical, hiding behind her stubborn and intimidating persona. Leung raised two booking photos of a woman appearing angry at the world.
“I knew you were going to be tough,” Leung said. “There was no question.”
But Thursday, Hinton was all smiles in a rust-colored dress, with yellow sandals, a gold necklace and her spiral-curled hair gathered in a ponytail.
She has been drug-free for 375 days. She earned a professional cook certificate from the Culinary Academy of Las Vegas, where she’s completing an internship. And, slowly but surely, she’s trying to repair a strained relationship with her sister, who lives in Michigan.
This is the Rasheka Hinton she dreamed of becoming when she moved here. It just took a little longer than expected, with some bends in the road.
Debbie Jackson, the program coordinator for WIN Court, said the key to women’s success in the program is “identifying who they were created to be.”
Most women, she said, arrive with poor self-esteem and their lives in shambles. One previous graduate had just been raped with a knife; another had gotten her front teeth knocked out and, after enrolling in the program, learned she had cervical and ovarian cancer and was HIV positive.
“Everybody wants to present prostitution as glamorous,” Jackson said. “It’s not. It’s a profession that tears at their souls. Most women do not want to be on the street prostituting, but they don’t know what else to do.”
Hinton’s wake-up call came six months into the WIN Court program. That’s when she left her sober-living home and sought another high in an old, drug-infested haunt.
“This isn’t the life I want to live anymore,” Hinton recalled thinking. “This isn’t who I want to be anymore.”
When she spoke with Jackson after the relapse, she broke down in tears. She didn’t want to be living on the streets or serving prison time — again — so she buckled down and fulfilled every program requirement, including drug treatment and counseling.
When Leung handed Hinton her WIN Court certificate of completion, her Las Vegas hopes seemed more promising than ever, but she’s taking it slow: She plans to continue staying at the sober-living home for two more months, so she can finish her internship and find a job.
Then she wants her own apartment, preferably in Summerlin, and perhaps one day a job at Wynn Las Vegas.
Before Hinton accepted her certificate, though, she turned toward three female inmates sitting in the courtroom. They were waiting for their undoubtedly less-joyful hearings — but ones that could herald new chapters in their lives if they enroll in WIN Court.
“Please give yourself a chance,” Hinton told them. “All your baggage is left at the door.”