No woman can call herself free who does not own and control her body. - Margaret Sanger
April was another of the broken dolls who touched my heart; unfortunately, things did not turn out as well for her as (I hope) they did for Marilyn. But as sad as it is, I think her tale is an important object lesson in the real consequences of our society’s obsession with “punishing” consensual behaviors. If somebody in a position of authority had cared more about helping this poor creature than about making an example of her, things might have turned out differently.
April was a tall, slender blonde with a very pretty smile whom I first met a few weeks after I began working for Pam. To be exact, I first met her in Pam’s bed; she and I had been hired as a birthday present for Pam’s boyfriend, who apparently fancied us both. This little party was notable in several ways; it was my first couple call, my first two-girl call, my first multi-hour call, my first sign that Pam was not somebody I wanted to work with for very long, my first experience with a crackhead (the boyfriend), and the first time I met a crack whore (April). I’m sorry if that sounds cold-hearted, but I can’t think of a better term for her; she was a whore, and she was addicted to crack. Judging by the fact that she was not emaciated and didn’t look years older than she was (which was roughly my age) I don’t think she had been on it very long, but there was no doubt that it had a serious hold on her; she shook constantly and took no money for the call (the boyfriend paid her in crack). I don’t mind telling you that I didn’t feel sorry for her that first night; it looked to me as though she had made her own bed and was lying in it. However, I didn’t know her then; when I heard her story later I felt quite differently about it.
I didn’t see April for about a month after that; I heard she had been arrested for possession and spent the time in Orleans Parish Prison. Her rapid release was due to the fact that at the time OPP was so badly overcrowded that the drug court had been directed to put nonviolent drug offenders (especially female ones) into a diversion program so as to get them out of state custody. In and of itself this would have been commendable, but as we shall see the way the program was implemented (at least in April’s case) didn’t exactly give her much chance of success. Be that as it may, the stay in jail seemed to have actually done her good; she had been forced to withdraw from the crack “cold turkey” and the regular meals had restored her normal body weight. Her eyes were clear, her complexion rosy and her shakes gone; I literally did not recognize her at first. She dropped by Pam’s (where I was earning a little extra by answering the phone) to let her know that she was available and greeted me with a cheerful “Hi, Maggie!” and then in response to my hesitation, “You don’t remember me, do you?”
“April?” I asked with undisguised incredulity. “No, honestly, I didn’t! Damn, girl, you look good!”
“Yeah, I dried out in jail. I feel great!”
As fate would have it, the phone rang while we were talking and the caller requested a slender blonde; I said, “I’ve got one right here!” and handed her the phone. She conducted herself well and the date was soon made; after its completion she came back to drop off her fee and thank me for the quick service. I told her, “Honey, as long as you stay off of that poison I’ll have plenty of them for you!”
“Oh, no!” she said earnestly, “I will never smoke that crap again, I promise!”
She was as good as her word; she worked hard, made the customers happy, turned in her fees quickly and was so appreciative of my help that she came with me when I started my own agency. We talked often and she told me that, as so often happens with whores, her drug problem had been the result of involvement with a worthless man who convinced her that sex would be “better” on crack. Despite her age and experience April was, I’m sorry to say, not very bright, and possessed of an innocent and childlike demeanor which made her very easy to take advantage of.
Not that the drug addiction was her only problem, mind you; she had been convicted of prostitution and “crime against nature” many years before, and so by the rules of New Orleans’ nasty little “sex offender” game (see my column of August 17th) her daughter had been taken by the state years before and she was stuck living in the only place she could both find and afford within the limits of the law. This was the Capri Motel, a seedy dive which rented rooms by the week and was mostly home to drug dealers and the most desperate of streetwalkers. It was a dirty, scary place that I avoided unless I absolutely had to go there to give April a ride; the halls were narrow and dark, and I never got out of my car there without my stun gun strapped to my wrist and turned on. As nasty as it was, housing was inexpensive in New Orleans then and she could easily have found a place that was both nicer and cheaper (even cheap hotel rooms are more expensive than apartment leases) if not for the unjust law which branded this doe-eyed babe-in-the-woods a “danger” and forced her to live among the dregs of society.
When business was good April did all right in spite of her high rent and the necessity of eating out every day (skid row hotel rooms lack kitchens); she asked me to hold $50 of every call for her, and when she had enough she bought a cheap used car so she could at least avoid having to pay for cabs all the time. But the good times didn’t last; as part of her diversion the judge insisted she get a “legitimate” job. Apparently my business license, registration as a Louisiana corporation, federal tax ID number and credit references still didn’t make me “legitimate” enough in his eyes, so she was forced to waste all day as a stripper at Big Daddy’s, an infamous Bourbon Street strip club a friend of mine once described as “where old strippers go to die.” After dancing all day for peanuts when she could’ve made $200 with a single call she was then forced to attend classes several evenings a week for a drug problem she no longer had (thus cutting into her evening work hours) and pay exorbitant registration and supervision fees (thus eating up the little money she was still making). And just when she thought it couldn’t get worse, the economy slumped and business trailed off for everyone.
Though dreadfully depressed about her situation, April remained true to the letter of her word and never returned to crack; she did, however, begin to indulge herself in the perfectly legal (and therefore obviously less dangerous, because our wise leaders only want what’s best for us) drug called alcohol. By conventional standards she wasn’t an alcoholic; she was sober for her “legitimate” job and never drove drunk, but she drank so much when she was alone in her horrid little room that her speech was often noticeably slurred when I called her. Obviously my professional ethics would not allow me to send a girl in that condition to a client, so her work dropped off still more and the cycle got worse.
A few months after this started I called to check on her one day and got no answer; after a week I was worried enough to brave the Capri Motel and the desk clerk (who knew I was her employer) told me they hadn’t seen her in a week and had packed up her few things into the storage room. Her car was still in the parking lot and I feared the worst, but the police reports in the paper said nothing about a dead blonde being discovered someplace so I was forced to presume that she had in desperation turned to streetwalking and subsequently been arrested. But that theory proved no good either; streetwalkers aren’t usually held long and after two months I had given up all hope of ever hearing from her again. Finally, the grapevine came through where official channels dammed with “privacy restrictions” had failed me; I found out that April had collapsed after work and been taken to Charity Hospital, where she had slipped into a coma and never awakened.
Ironically, the collapse had nothing to do with her drug abuse; it was due to a rare medical condition which had apparently gone undiagnosed for years. Though it’s likely that it had been accelerated by hard living, it would have killed her sooner or later even had she been a housewife. But if she had not been ostracized, persecuted and prevented from making a good living by a society more interested in “punishing” a lost soul than helping her, she might have died surrounded by family and friends rather than alone in a charity ward.