Stella Mar, author of The Secret Life of a Manhattan Call Girl blog, started following my blog the other day.
First of all, that’s so cool and totally made my weekend. Thanks Stella, you are super inspiration in an internet bottle.
Second of all, there were two other things I thought about after reading a couple of Stella’s enlightening blog posts and a great interview with her at Used Furniture Review (which you should definitely take 20ish minutes to read).
1. The first post I came across “An Ex-Hooker’s Letter to Her Younger Self” is so timely for me because we use that writing prompt — “Dear Younger Me”– in Storycatcher’s work with youth, specifically the incarcerated youth. It gets great results rich in story. I may just share the blog post with our participants as an example.
2. Then I was wandering around internetland when I came across Mugs in the News in the Chicago Tribune. In this particular release, there were 150 photos of people around Chicagoland who were arrested for a variety of crimes: theft, arson, murder, terrorism (NATO protestors), animal cruelty and…prostitution.
But before I get into that whole connection, I just want to reflect on how very, very strange it was to scroll through 150 mug shots of people I didn’t know who were still innocent even though they looked incredibly guilty. I’ll tell you my sequence of thoughts:
- I wonder if I’ll see anyone I know.
- Oh my god, animal cruelty! Horrible. It just reminds me of the time my dad accidentally ran over a baby bunny with the lawnmower.
- Out of the first 40 pictures, only 2 or 3 are white men. Most of these pictures are black and hispanic men. Yep, racial profiling is definitely alive and well.
- They committed that crime?? Wow. I wonder why.
Then, around maybe #60, I stopped looking at the descriptions of their charges and started examining people’s faces. And that’s when it got really eerie– just staring at face after face of those whose lives had been completely altered by their entrance into the justice system. Stamped with the accusation of their crime on the internet forever. Some people had pictures that made me pause even further:
But, the ones that I can’t get out of my head, the reason why I’m up at 3 a.m. writing this, are the prostitutes:
The last woman especially breaks my heart. She is terrified and terrifying. No one else, of any other crimes in 150 shots, has the facial expressions that these women do. And after reading a good helping of Stella’s blog, I wondered if the place from which they came was more to blame for their naked misery than getting caught. Though I’m sure that didn’t help matters.
And I don’t know- I don’t know if they were tied to a brothel or were working of their own free will. The only thing I think is: we’re arresting prostitutes. We’re criminalizing an act that has the complex psychological background and motivation of a rubix cube. As I cited in my last post, 90-100% of young girls in the Illinois juvenile justice system have experienced some form of trauma, particularly of a violent and/or sexual nature. Out of any “crime”, prostitution seems to draw the clearest link between a traumatic past and incarceration. If you stick psychological and physical enslavement in between those two timeline markers for the majority of prostitution cases, you get an even broader picture that strongly warrants a different approach to “rehabilitating” these women (as well as men, young boys and LGBTQ people, I may add).
Even though we’re a nation that loves incarceration, I bet we don’t normally take the time to look through mug shots. I certainly didn’t, though now I will, especially because Mugs in the News has a Facebook page. So weird. And yet, after sitting with these 150 pictures of people for the better part of a day, the number began to actually feel real, like I could understand a group of that many people. I remember an art exhibit I saw in college that used grains of sand to represent the over 2 million people incarcerated in America. And even while putting my one grain of sand, my one criminal, in a collection bucket, the amount was hard to imagine. But it’s because I didn’t have the faces. Grains of sand are grains of sand. Pictures are people. Pictures are lives. Pictures are women scared and running.