A continuation of “It’s All About Sex…And I Don’t Like It”

“How much for both of us?” asked the driver of a dark truck. Nicky was enjoying a plate of barbecue on the porch of a vacant house. It was July 4th and she was not looking for work. Out of instinct, she named her price. The potential customers declined and drove away. A few moments later, a squad car raced toward Nicky. Two Atlanta police officers, one male and one female, jumped out barking instructions. Nicky was arrested and taken to the Atlanta City Detention Center and charged with prostitution.

On August 2nd Nicky was ushered into a crowded courtroom in a red jumpsuit where she waited with other inmates to receive representation from the public defender’s office. During the intervening time, Nicky talked with the attorney, cried, rolled her eyes, and mouthed words at me. At trial, her attorney asked for Nicky to be placed in a facility for women leaving the sex trade. I was given the opportunity to speak on her behalf. The prosecuting attorney rejected the deal, citing prior misconduct. The judge sentenced Nicky to six months in jail.

During her incarceration, I visited Nicky several times; Sunday afternoons at 3:00 was our standing date. The visiting rooms were small and separated by thick glass. The phones for communicating had a noticeable delay; Nicky and I decided to speak with raised voices. Our visits were pleasant. She was always glad to see me and usually in a good mood. We talked about life on the inside and the latest happenings on Rockwell Street. She asked about my family and Rocky, the kitten we adopted from Rockwell Street.

Nicky was released in early November after four months served, thanks to her good behavior and willingness to do work detail. While Nicky was confined, I had an opportunity to reflect on the aforementioned events.

Her incarceration was one of convenience. I’m sure it’s easier, safer, and cheaper for law enforcement to arrest an acquiescent prostitute than it is to pursue, arrest and build a case against the pimps, Johns, and drug dealers that undergird the sex trade.

It’s easier for the courts to sentence Nicky to six months in jail than it is to build an internal rehabilitation program or monitor an outside provider. It’s easier to pass laws about mandatory sentencing than to build a system that supports judges as they consider each case based on its merits. It’s easier for elected officials to tout favorable crime data than it is to do the hard work needed to address the systemic societal factors that foster crime and poverty.

It is also easier for citizens to believe that their community has improved when “criminals” are behind bars than it is to acknowledge the reality that the “undesirables” are being hidden in shelters, institutions, and correction facilities.

So what did all this convenience lead to – Nicky back on Rockwell Street. For Nicky, there was no training while in jail, no attempt at rehabilitation, and no network of support when she got out, not even any new clothes or bus fare or food money upon her release. For her, life is the same after jail as it was before, she’s just four month older.

I had not spoken with Nicky for two weeks prior to her release; I was caught off guard when I got the news that she was back in the neighborhood. I kept telling myself I was going to be there for her when she got out. I thought I had more time.

As it turns out, it was also more convenient for me when she was in jail. Our visits were scheduled and controlled. Our conversations were pleasant, because in jail she was safe and stable and because there wasn’t anything I could give her other than my time and attention. I didn’t have to select my path to work each morning based on whether I wanted to see or avoid her. My emotions didn’t rise and fall on our interactions. I didn’t sit at my house feeling guilty because she was sleeping outside, and I could perpetually tell myself, “Maybe this will be good for her.” It wasn’t.

Jail made our relationship cleaner, but real relationships are messy. It gave me an opportunity to gain some emotional separation from Nicky. It was nice. And I hate it. I’m committed to being Nicky’s friend and being with her as she tries to reach her full potential.

What’s the answer for this situation? I don’t know, but I’m sure it won’t be convenient.