Prisons are built with stones of law, brothels with bricks of religion. – William Blake
Despite the New Orleans Police Department being incredibly shorthanded in the months following Hurricane Katrina, somebody still thought it was important for time and money to be spent pursuing petty thefts by streetwalkers. Having come to this rather odd conclusion, some other genius decided that the best way to catch a streetwalker was to set up a very expensive “sting” operation involving a luxury hotel room and several hours’ pay for 15 detectives. This series of brilliant “law enforcement” strategies resulted in the arrest of exactly one call girl, namely yours truly, who with one phone call was able to secure release before they even found time to fingerprint her (an oversight which pleases me to no end). Owing to the fact that I’m in excellent shape and was wearing flats that night, they didn’t get the satisfaction of causing me to be caught walking the streets after curfew; owing to my stubbornness they didn’t even stop me from working the rest of that night nor any night in the months that followed. Final score: NOPD zero; waste, fraud and abuse several thousands of dollars.
Doug was astonished when I returned to work within half an hour of my release, but Luke was even more so; as I mentioned in my column of August 3rd he had retired from escorting himself due to extensive legal difficulties resulting from the state attempting to prosecute him for prostitution, “crime against nature” (which I defined yesterday), and “assault with bodily fluids” (a post-AIDS law used mostly to persecute gay prostitutes and people who have the bad judgment to bleed on the cops who beat them up). Luke called me the next morning and said, “Maggie, I am in awe. After my arrest I never went back full-time, and it was months before I could even do it part-time. You are hard as nails, girl!” I was really proud of myself for impressing my colleagues, not only because it made me look even more professional but also because it showed everyone that the efforts of the police to repress me had entirely failed.
It was at least a week before the police report on the arrest was available, and Perry sent me a copy; I had not thought it was possible for my opinion of the moral character of most cops to sink any lower than it already had, but I was very much mistaken. The “report” bore no resemblance to reality whatsoever; it read like a porn-movie script written by an unimaginative 14-year-old. The writer described a long phone conversation between the Judas Goat and myself, full of disgusting details and words I wouldn’t like to use even if I were paid to say them. The imaginary hooker of this conversation was clearly too inexperienced to know that one simply doesn’t talk about such things on the phone, and had apparently drawn her terminology from a cop boyfriend because I’ve never heard a real escort use those phrases. This woman (who according to the report spoke black dialect) even offered extra services for extra money, which I never do. Reading this garbage made me even angrier than the actual arrest had; I had expected an exaggeration but not a total falsification, and I asked Perry if we could get the case dismissed on those grounds.
“What do you mean, Maggie? The cop will lie under oath to say it’s all true, and the others will back him up. You haven’t got a chance that way.”
“But the judge can hear for himself that I don’t speak black dialect; doesn’t that call the whole report into question?”
“The judge doesn’t care; he already knows the report is a lie. Cops lie all the time, but that makes no difference to him; all he cares about it his conviction rate.” I already knew that, but the last remaining part of me which was still capable of a tiny particle of trust for the legal system did not want to hear it.
“So what do we do?” I sighed.
“You just want this to go away, right?” asked Perry.
“OK then. Prostitution is a misdemeanor; he’ll give you about a $200 fine which you can make back in one call, and I’ll get him to expunge your record.”
“What about the felony charge?”
“What felony charge?”
“Crime Against Nature.”
“There’s nothing here about that; they must have decided they couldn’t make that one stick, so they dropped it and went for the quick fine.”
Well, at least that was good news. “So, we’ll just plead no contest and pay the fine?”
“Yes, I think that would be best; the judge gets his conviction but it won’t be on your record, so what do you care?”
But on the day of court Perry came out to where my husband and I were waiting with some annoying news. “He won’t accept the nolo contendere plea.”
“What? Why not?” I asked angrily.
“Because he’s a dick, and he’s trying to run for a state judge position so he wants it to look as though he’s ‘tough on crime’.”
“So what does that mean to me?”
“He’s still willing to do the plea deal I told you about, but you have to plead guilty and swear that the charges are correct exactly as stated.” (There was a special legal name for this kind of plea but I don’t remember what it was).
“Wait, I have to get up there and say that everything happened exactly as stated in that idiotic report?”
“Yes. What difference does that make?”
“But I didn’t do or say any of that!”
“So what? He’ll expunge your record anyhow.”
“But that’s perjury!”
He sighed. “Maggie, you’re right. But you can’t win this on facts; if you insist on telling the truth the cops will lie, the judge will rule against you, you’ll get the same fine and the judge will be pissed off at you for rocking the boat and he’ll deny the expungement.”
“But you said the judge knows this report is a lie!”
“If he doesn’t now, he certainly will after seeing and hearing you in court.”
“So he’s forcing me to commit perjury. That’s a felony; what if he backs out on the deal?”
“What do you mean he can’t?”
“If he does, the whole system collapses. If he backs out on a plea deal nobody will trust him anymore and his career is over.”
I sat quietly for several seconds, then turned to my husband. “What do you think I should do?”
He said, “I understand how you feel, but your standing on principle won’t accomplish anything.”
“So, you want me to lie under oath?” He nodded. “Then order me to do it.”
He and Perry both looked at me. “What?”
“You’re my husband; tell me I have to do it. At least then I won’t feel entirely responsible.”
So he did, and I agreed to the deal. I went into that courtroom and committed a felony in front of 200 witnesses in order to receive a more lenient sentence for a misdemeanor, because the judge forced me to do so in order to further his political career by one miniscule fraction of a percentage point. It was one of the hardest things I ever had to do, and it bothers me to this very day. Yes, I know I had essentially no choice; I also know that in the grand scheme of the universe one whore’s lie isn’t exactly catastrophic. But the fact is that I was coerced by a government official into violating my principles, and in that moment the last atom of respect I had for any government official at any level evaporated.
Aside from the arrest and its related difficulties, the autumn passed smoothly and very profitably; I paid off some rather large debts, and December 1, 2005 was the single busiest day I ever had (ten calls). But no bubble can go long without bursting; as I mentioned before a number of out-of-town escorts appeared in December, and by January many local girls had reappeared. Also, FEMA’s dismal record of payment caused many contractors to pull out or at least tighten their belts. By Mardi Gras the boom market was over; a much smaller amount of business was being divided amongst a much larger number of girls. As if that weren’t bad enough, my health was beginning to suffer; I was overworked and the various mold spores and God-only-knows-what-else in the air was starting to have a serious effect on my sinuses. My mood was beginning to degenerate with my health, and that in turn affected my professionalism; by June my husband told me he thought it was time for me to retire. Of course I protested, but he insisted that I had worked long enough, and with my 40th birthday only a few months away it was high time anyway. I knew he was right, and so I resigned myself; around June 30th I did my very last call, and we went home the next day. It had been an amazing year, full of some of the best, worst, strangest, most memorable and most profitable experiences of my entire professional career, so all in all I have to say it was a fitting conclusion to that career.
We’ve gone back to visit every year since then, and in the opinion of this native New Orleans isn’t the same city it was; something essential is missing, something which made it unique and alive and special. Oh, people still live there and business is still carried out, but there’s a sort of emptiness at the heart of it all. As my husband observed, it’s like a Christmas tree, a thing which appears to be alive but is actually dead and only maintained in the semblance of life by artificial means. No matter what politicians, advertising agencies and a few diehards will tell you the old New Orleans is gone forever, and though I’m no seer I can confidently predict that the city growing up in its place will become more and more like every other city in the country until it retains no more than the image of its former self. And that, my friends, is a damned shame.