Street Life

One reporter pursues one crack-addicted Hollywood hooker in order to ask one not-so-simple question: Why?

The first few nights she slept at the center, she woke up every hour. She didn't recognize where she was. She attends the required life-skills classes but doesn't find them particularly useful. "One big thing here is," she deepens her voice mockingly, ""You are powerless over your addiction.' I have toooo much power. I didn't fiend over it." When asked if she'll stay a while longer at the center, she cracks up and slaps her hands together. "That's the funniest thing I ever heard in my life," she claims. Sinclair says that more than half of the prostitution-involved residents at BOC relapse upon release.

But Jennifer also admits that the paranoia that plagued her while living on the streets is nonexistent at the center. "Before I got here, I had dreams where God was giving me signals that protection would come in yellow or green. That's the colors of this building."

HQ for some Hollywood hookers
Joshua Prezant
HQ for some Hollywood hookers

In my last attempt to meet Stephanie, I find the door to her room propped against its frame, as if someone has kicked it in. I knock, and when there's no answer, I lift it up and peek inside. I see a dresser, clothes littered about, and in the corner, spinning from the ceiling, stained-glass wind chimes shaped like tiny yellow doves.

"They threw me out last night," Stephanie tells me over my shoulder. I shove the door back in place and turn around to see her. Her bangs are blow-dried straight over her creased forehead; her eyes are glassy and dart back and forth while she speaks. She tells me the door fell off its hinges and, on top of everything else, management won't fix it.

I offer her a ride, and she declines. "I gotta work. Make money to pay for a new room."

"How much do you need?" I ask her.

"Fifty bucks," she says and finally looks straight at me. Behind us a family in a beat-up minivan pulls up. She leads me away so they won't hear our discussion.

"Can you make that this afternoon?" I ask her.

Stephanie nods. "Oh yeah. I'll go make that right now." She turns and waves at the family, then skips toward a dust-caked laborer making his way back to his own room. It's the last time I see her, and I wonder who she is apart from her arrest record and her drug habit. I wonder about the two kids Lieutenant Allen thinks she has back in Dallas, about whether she tricks to support her habit or to forget about her life. Who wouldn't need to smudge her brain to get through a few hours of that?

Too late I realize that I should have offered her money for her time. Twenty bucks from me might have taken her off the street for an hour. It might have brought her closer to a new place to live. It might have bought her another rock. Yet with all of her struggles, it's the chimes that get to me. Even in the midst of squalor, she cares about herself just enough to want something bright to look at.

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