Leaving "The Lifestyle"

NPR's Michel Martin recently did an amazing interview with two former prostitutes, Jackie McReynolds and Nakita Harrison, about the difficulty of leaving the prostitution "lifestyle." McReynolds runs the Angels Project Power, a program for prostitutes who come through the Washington, D.C. court system and want to leave the life; Harrison is a former prostitute who's currently going through the program. Like most prostitutes, both women began having sex for money very young--13 and 12, respectively; unlike most prostitutes, they both managed to escape the life despite drug addiction, low self-esteem, and a lack of any other way of making money. Both say they expected what they called the "Pretty Woman" lifestyle--furs, diamond rings, "the glamour things"--and both, needless do say, were disappointed.

The most touching part of the interview, to me, is when Martin asks Harrison what she'd learned in the program that she wouldn't have learned otherwise. Her response, in part: "In the beginning, my self-esteem was very low. ... And when I’d arrive at the group, the ladies would give me compliments. It wasn’t from men. It was from the ladies. [They would say], 'you look nice,' this and that, this and that—and it wasn’t from a man. And I considered that what they were saying was genuine. They didn’t want nothing in return. I didn’t have to do anything. And that's what I received from the program. And ... it allowed me to open up, and it helped me to know that ...I don’t have to listen to a man. I don’t need a man to tell me that I look good. I don’t need someone to pick me up and say, 'Do you need a ride?' I can get to where I’m going on my own without always finding a shortcut. Because the shortcut, for me, leads to me always going back to the same old life."

The most astonishing part? Although the women who enroll in McReynolds' program have to attend for four months to "graduate" and have their cases dismissed by the court, the men who attend a parallel "john school," also facilitated by McReynolds, only have to go for one day. "It seems a little unbalanced to me," McReynolds says, "but that's the way it is."

Listen to the whole thing here.

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