For those who are new to this site: YANA is a nonprofit program in Baltimore for women who prostitute or who have prostituted in the past. In the years that the YANA counselors met thousands of times with hundreds of women, they found that almost all of the clients were victims of overwhelming childhood sexual abuse -- often perpetrated by their own families. Fathers, stepfathers, uncles, cousins, and big brothers raped our women when they were little girls. Mothers, stepmothers, aunts, cousins, and big sisters pimped them out to family members, drug dealers, landlords, and strip club owners -- and sometimes molested them as well. The prostituting women we've met are often intensely conservative, shamefaced women doing what they were taught as children, while yearning for a community where they can be treated with respect. YANA is a place where they have that respect. Today's post gives an overview of the typical needs and accomplishments of our prostituted women. Anyone who wants to know more about the women discussed today can look them up through the labels on the right.
For those who are old friends of this site: today I'm posting updates on Liz, Jessie, Diane, Linda, Tina, and many others.
Liz: As the result of heroic effort by Heather, from People's Community Health, working through YANA, Liz has now had two meetings with social workers and doctors who are getting her into a detox program for alcohol, followed by a place to live. Liz has looked to be close to death for a long time. She was so thin, so often beaten up, so often in tears, trembling, praying not to die or telling us all that, "The Lord has me." Now at the age of 49, she is about to go on the "cocktail," getting treatment for her long term HIV infection (probable AIDS). She warned us all today that she'd be getting fat soon after the detox. Liz said she once weighed 185 pounds. She rocked back in her chair, legs spread and up in the air, one hand out giving us the finger. "I had a picture taken in a bikini just like this!" Then she roared with laughter along with the rest of us. "My son said, 'Mom! Put some clothes on!'" Liz has got to be Liz. Losing the addiction does not mean losing the attitude.
Jessie: She's been clean for years now, working full time at a job through her transitional program and taking classes through Open Doors. Jessie is a tremendously likable Black woman who wishes she had become a scientist, but thinks that the head trauma she suffered from an abusive boyfriend has left her "not smart enough" for serious study. Still, the hospital where she interned has called her back for an office job. She had done research work at the hospital during her internship that sounded at least comparable to the first job I got after getting a degree in English from William and Mary. Jesse has a handicapped son whom she gave up for adoption years ago when she was still using. She longs for contact with him, but knows, "I can't give him the kind of lifestyle he enjoys now." Jessie has saved $500 that she wants to give the adoptive mother to spend on Jessie's son as well as the woman's other children.
Diane: Diane is doing better with her depression and anxiety, though taking classes on her HIV status has her frightened. She gets nervous sitting in a group of people she doesn't know, especially when they're talking openly about a subject that still makes her feel ashamed. Diane, a Black woman around the age of 40, loves other people, but she prefers to do little helpful things for them without having to spend a long time involved with anything emotional. She is planning to move out of her Section 8 housing without telling her on again/off again boyfriend and abuser where she is going. This much is great. Less great is her plan to let another man move in with her at the new place. He is someone she's known and liked for a long time, but the moving in together is his idea, not hers. This is a woman who once stood at an intersection for over an hour afraid that she would be hit even if she crossed with the light. A stranger finally helped her across. Diane really does not need anyone pressing her into an anxiety provoking situation.
Linda: An older White woman, Linda is one of my favorite clients. She's back in town after spending some time in Ohio with one of her daughters who needed her. While she was gone, another daughter moved without telling her. Linda stood at her daughter's old door knocking until the police drove up wanting to know why she was there. When she answered, the police accused her of wanting drugs instead (abandoned buildings quickly become crack houses). "No sir," Linda answered. "I've been clean for 3 years, and I don't want to go to jail no more."
"Oh, I've never heard that before!" the cop told her. "I guess I'll have to take your word!" (Yes, he was being sarcastic.) Linda continued explaining until suddenly the officer realized who she was. In fact, Linda's daughter had left a message and the new address with no one other than the officer's girlfriend. He gave it to her. Linda was still amused, telling me about it.
Later, Linda (forgetting how much I already knew) talked about how she stopped using heroin. She gave all credit to Sid, telling me that Sid talked to her for 4 1/2 hours. "I didn't know she knew the signs of when people needed to use, but she did. She told me she know I was going to see the money man as soon as I left. I said 'WHAT?!" Then I told her she was right."
I doubt that Sid (our director) spent a full 4 1/2 hours talking to an addict in need of a fix, but I know she spent a long time, and I know how deep and sympathetic her understanding can be. For many women, talking to someone like Sid can be a life changing experience. Linda didn't even go into rehab. She "lay down for 3 days" and didn't use drugs anymore. And she did one other thing: she rescued a 12 year girl out prostituting on Wilkens Avenue. That experience is written up on the Whatever Happened to the Little Girl post.
Linda was in getting donations, telling me the other women in her house got into her room and wiped her out while she was away visiting her daughter. How Linda -- blunt, street smart Linda -- could have been surprised by that still amazes me, and yet, our women are constantly being surprised by the bad things that happen to them. I guess they need to believe that their friends are nicer and their surroundings are safer than they really are just to survive.
Tina: Tina, a tiny white woman in her late 30s, didn't come in today, but she was in yesterday. She's suffering from pneumonia, which may actually be good news since she has been unable to breathe for some time. She's been afraid she was about to die like her sister did recently. Tina wants to live for the sake of her sister's children. She is very sick, and she is in pain. She flags; she rallies; she makes wise plans; she comes in drooping from what has to be a fist full of street pills on top of her methadone.
The New Women: Two new women came in today, one White, quiet, anxious-looking, the other a bit younger, Black, warmer and more outgoing, dressed a little crazy. They were both court ordered to YANA. I think they both liked it. Time will tell, but Sid, feeling a little exasperated, has said that women do as well at YANA when they're forced to come as when they choose to. My guess is that even the ones who are forced soon make the decision that they want to be in a place where they are welcome and respected.