A woman named Princess: A life of tragedy and achievement04/04/2023 01:05PM ● By Richard Gaw
Photo by Richard L. Gaw West Chester resident Princess “Princey” Hill is a clinician with a behavioral health clinic in the Borough of West Chester, where she provides applied behavioral analysis therapy, cognitive behavioral services, motivational interviewing sessions and trauma-based behavioral therapy.
By Richard L. Gaw, Staff Writer
Given that her first name is reminiscent of royalty, regality and all things possible, it is logical to assume that Princess Hill’s life would be wrapped entirely by magic and happiness.
Yet to hear the 28-year-old woman recently talk about her life in a West Chester restaurant is to be shown the most darkened places and moments of an existence lived on the teetering ledge of such fear and hardship that is nearly impossible to think that she not only survived, but eventually thrived.
Hill – called “Princey” by most of her friends – was born in 1995 in the Northeast section of Philadelphia to a single mother and an absentee father, whom she now collectively refers to as her “egg donor” and “sperm donor.” Practically from the start of her life, Hill’s small feet delicately stepped through a life of what would become buried landmines and explosives impossible to ignore.
The cycle of abuse began when she was three years old. Her natural mother’s brother began to sexually abuse her, and once, attempted to light the child on fire, an incident that she never told her mother about because she was afraid that she would be accused of provoking her uncle to set the fire.
Her abuse was just beginning.
“My egg donor had a lot of childhood toys, and when I was very small, I would sneak into her room to play with them,” Hill said. “It would infuriate her so much that she would beat me. If I made a mistake painting my nails, she would beat me. I was scared to ask her anything. She had me afraid of everything.”
‘Being the bad child’
After completing the first grade at a public school, Hill was pulled out of the school by her mother on the presumption that she thought her child was being bullied by her classmates. She told her daughter that it was for her own good – that by allowing her to be home schooled, the young girl would be protected. From the age of 7 to 11, Hill was not only being home taught, she was kept sheltered away from her friends and positive influences, while continuing to absorb the beatings and the sexual abuse that came from nearly every adult she was exposed to.
For a time, her mother placed her in a mental institution, for the reason of “being the bad child.”
She began kicking her daughter out of the house when Hill was 9, who then lived with her grandmother, with friends, on strangers’ couches, and then on the streets, where she slept in crack houses and where addicts stole what little money she had.
“Kicking me out of the house was my egg donor’s way of controlling me,” Hill said. “From that point on, I had to figure it out on my own because she never prepared me for anything. I was there just to be used and abused mentally, physically and sexually, not just by her, but my sperm donor and my egg donor’s boyfriend.”
Desperate to cling to anyone who showed even the faintest care for her, she became pregnant by a boyfriend when she was 11 years old, but the baby died in stillbirth after her mother kicked her directly in the stomach down the stairs after incorrectly accusing Hill of being impregnated by her boyfriend. Lying on the basement floor and bleeding, Hill’s mother did not call an ambulance. Instead, she forced her daughter to join her in her boyfriend’s car.
“What’s wrong with your daughter?” he asked.
“She’s fine,” her mother said. “Keep driving.”
One day, a police officer came to the door on the report that someone was being sexually abused. Her natural mother told the officer it was a lie, and soon, she began seeing the officer. From that union – from Hill’s trauma – she now has two half-brothers.
Most of the people who abused Hill were charged, except for her mother.
“She got everyone around the family to say that it was my fault,” Hill said. “She told me that I was trying to put her in jail when she had other children to care for.”
Hill was returned to public school when she was 11, but after several truancies were reported, she was visited by a social worker from the Department of Human Services, who helped remove Hill again from her mother’s control and into the home of her grandmother.
“She looked me in the eyes and asked me, ‘Why aren’t you coming to school?’” Hill said. “I told her that it didn’t matter, and that no one believes what I say. I told her that I didn’t know her so why should I believe that she cared about me, but for some reason, I told her everything – and I found out that she really cared.”
Still, the hollowness and pain of a childhood that had known only neglect and abuse lingered over Hill like an albatross. When she was a teenager and attending Kensington High School, she consumed an entire bottle of pills. When she told her mother, “I don’t want to be here anymore,” Hill was told, “Well, that’s on you.”
Hill graduated from high school in 2013 and for the next two years, struggled to survive. She worked as a sales representative at a car dealership, served as a front desk receptionist, grilled burgers at a fast food restaurant, bagged groceries at a food market, drove an Amazon delivery truck and briefly attended cosmetology school. At 20, she moved into her first apartment, when she made her second suicide attempt by drinking a bottle of alcohol, ingesting pills and cutting herself. Her boyfriend at the time arrived to see Hill passed out on the floor. He revived her and wrapped her bleeding arm.
“I then walked to Temple University Hospital, and committed myself,” Hill said. “All I wanted was for someone to help me. I was not connected with myself. I was living unconsciously and I didn’t know where I was going.
“The only thing I knew that I still had love in my heart. I wanted to love someone and be loved in return, but at the time I looked around, I realized that I had none of that in my life. I leaned on God and Mother God. I believe in both masculine and feminine energy as a source, and when I am praying to God, I am also praying to Mother God, who has the power of the Earth – to feed us and protect us.”
‘I was all that I had’
When Hill eventually returned to the home of her childhood, she was soon kicked out again, but was re-joined with her grandmother, who gave her the love and care that she craved, but in line with the terrible fate that had followed her all her young life, her grandmother died several months later.
“After she passed away, I asked my cousin what I should do with my life, and she told me, ‘Why don’t you go to college?’” Hill said. “I responded, ‘How can I go to college without having the money for it, without supportive parents and without having a plan?’
“I was all that I had.”
Her cousin then introduced her to West Chester University, who accepted Hill in 2017 as a homeless student with no home support and a complete lack of finances to pay for her education – as a member of the Class of 2021.
Soon after her arrival on campus, Hill visited the university’s financial aid office, where she was introduced to a university initiative that perhaps for the first time in her life, gave her what she had lacked: a peace of mind.
Formed in 2016, the Promise Program at WCU helps support students who qualify with access to year-round housing on campus -- including over breaks – and food and supplies, as well as priority employment opportunities and monthly programming that provides access to scholarship funds, and mentorship and opportunities to engage with peers and guest speakers.
“When Princess first walked into my office, I saw her as any other college student,” said Tori Nuccio, deputy director of financial aid at WCU. “West Chester has a very diverse population, but there are no triggers that prompt a Promise Program student to scream, ‘I am a Promise Program student’ when they first walk in.
“It wasn’t even immediate that Princess qualified for the program, but it was through the work of cleaning up her financial aid package that we found that she did indeed qualify.”
As the relationship between Hill and Nuccio began to form – Hill even took a part-time work-study job in the office – Nuccio saw Hill’s transformation as a self-advocate, manifested as a sense of growth that she passed along to other Promise Program students.
“Princey was truly an evolution to watch,” Nuccio said. “She became a mentor for other students, and it was fantastic to hear her tell them, ‘I am working on my second degree, and you can do this, too.’
“It was very motivational to watch her get to a point where she was helping to inspire the other students.”
It was a combination of this support, the advocacy she received from her professors and her own self-motivation that enabled Hill to earn her Bachelor’s degree in 2021 and her Master’s degree in social work in May of 2022 – with a 4.0 grade point average.
“West Chester University became my parents, because they kept me safe for five years, and Tori Nuccio became in many ways like my mother,” Hill said. “She fought for me for the entire time I was a student, and the only reason I graduated with two degrees was because of her.
“West Chester University allowed me to heal myself,” she added. “My classes in psychology helped me realize that I was raised by narcissists. They helped me understand that I was in a cycle of abuse, they helped me to know that trauma is real, and they helped me realize that I want to spend the rest of my life helping people heal from their own trauma.”
‘I have come to love myself so much’
On the strength of four internships at behavioral health clinics in Philadelphia and Coatesville, Hill is now a clinician with a behavioral health clinic in the Borough of West Chester, where she provides applied behavioral analysis therapy, cognitive behavioral services, motivational interviewing sessions and trauma-based behavioral therapy.
Now living in a community apartment in the borough, Hill said that she has not communicated with her mother for the past two years, or her natural father, who is still serving a prison sentence. Rather, she focuses her attention on the work she is doing at the center for those who may have had to endure the same insufferable abuse she lived through and survived from.
“Being violated as a child is barbarian and no one should ever have to experience that,” she said. “[Sigmund] Freud talks about our psycho-sexual responses, and that all children exist in erogenous zones through the pleasure of being loved by their parents. When someone takes advantage of that or abuses it, it destroys one’s mental health. In the end, so many of us who have been traumatized live the remainder of our lives in shame.
“But I am alive. They tried to kill me when I was a kid, and they realized that they couldn’t do that to me. I have cried so much that I can’t anymore, so now, I have chosen instead to smile and be grateful to breathe fresh air.
“I have never been on a train or a plane before. I have never been to a state other than Pennsylvania. I am living paycheck to paycheck, but I am the happiest I have ever been. I am no longer a victim but a victor, and I have come to love myself so much.”
To contact Staff Writer Richard L. Gaw, email [email protected].
If you are seeking crisis assistance, the following agencies are a phone call away:
Crisis Text Line Text “PA” to 741741
Drug and Alcohol Information and Referral Line (866) 286-3767
Domestic Violence Center of Chester County (888) 711-6270
Homeless Hotline Chester County Call 2-1-1
National Runaway Switchboard (800) 621-4000
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (800) 273-8255
Suicide and Crisis Intervention Services (800) 499-7455