When Mary Nelson started working at a restaurant in Honolulu last year, she hid in the back as a dishwasher.
Despite her lively personality and quick humor, she was too intimidated to interact with the customers, so for the first six months of the job, she washed dishes.
It was only the second job the 53-year-old had ever had. Before starting at Seed, a "justice restaurant"
that provides employment for the community's at-risk population, Nelson had been a prostitute for 38 years.
She started working on the streets of New York City at the age of 14, after her mother committed suicide. When she was 18, she heard that clients were a lot less violent in Hawaii, so she hopped on a plane and moved to Waikiki.
It wasn't until she was in her early 50s that a church group persuaded her to leave the streets and try working at Seed. She spent the first six months washing dishes because she wanted to be far away from the customers or, what she would call, the "good people."
It was hard work, but the past year has been revolutionary for Nelson. She is now one of the most popular waitresses at the restaurant, and at Seed, she told The Huffington Post, "I get to be the person I was never able to be. I get to help people without someone trying to take advantage of me."