Trial and Tribulations

As a cop, she fantasized about testifying against a killer. As a hooker, she got her chance.

At night she'd lie awake, wondering what her life would have been like if she'd been able to stay a cop. Several of her academy classmates had already made lieutenant, and she'd been as dedicated as any of them.

Maybe I should have fought it, she'd think. She had cheated--what was the big deal? Other officers beat their wives, and they were still on the force. When she thought about what could have been it made her literally sick to her stomach.

One evening she went to dinner at a former inmate's house, and after the meal, there was cocaine for dessert. The cravings returned with a vengeance, and all of Joanne's thoughts about a future disappeared. Soon her money was gone. She was evicted from her apartment. Her life careened downhill.

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Crack gave her a mask that protected her from the world--but it took everything she had to maintain it in place.

Cordova went from man to man, to whoever would help her get more crack. One boyfriend was the jealous sort. He'd get high and start accusing her of sleeping around. "You're nothing but a coke whore," he'd say. "You'd screw anybody who'd give you crack."

She'd heard herself called a coke whore so many times that one day she decided to see what he'd say if she really was one. So she got up from their bed and went into the bathroom, where she curled her hair and put on makeup. She pulled out her sexiest outfit and began to walk out the door.

"Where you going?" her boyfriend asked.
"You keep calling me a whore," she retorted, "so I'm going to see if anybody will pay for this body."

With that, she sauntered out of the house and toward a main thoroughfare. "Anybody out here want to pay for this body?" she yelled at startled motorists. "Who'd pay me to have this body?"

Cars began honking. Men smiled and said they'd be happy to pay.
Her point made, she returned to her boyfriend's apartment. She had no intention of selling herself for a drug. But she didn't know how deep her need for crack ran.

When her boyfriend was arrested and sent to jail in the spring of 1997, she found herself out on the streets with nowhere to go and a major drug habit. The next time a man offered money for sex, she at last hit bottom.

She truly was a coke whore.

Cordova was never comfortable peddling her ass on Colfax, so when she met a new trick, she "cultivated" him to become a repeat customer. She wanted to establish a clientele of "ten boyfriends" whom she could call when she wanted to exchange her "time" for money.

Still, she didn't kid herself about what she had become. Call girl. Hooker. Whore. And while she preferred to visit her "boyfriends," when she needed a fix she wasn't above climbing in the backseat of a car.

She was fortunate that not every man who wanted to spend time with her was looking for sex. She had her friend Jimmy, a local photographer whom she could count on when she got in trouble. And there was Shane Delray, a small black man who some people thought was a pimp; she knew him as a crack connection and a friend who would let her and some of the other girls crash at his apartment.

Prostitution was a nasty, dangerous business, nothing at all like the movie Pretty Woman, in which a millionaire who looks like Richard Gere falls in love with a hooker and takes her away from it all. Sure, there were guys who wanted to "rescue" prostitutes, but they were usually Bible-thumpers...at least, they were after they were through getting what they'd paid for.

Cordova didn't worry about AIDS. She'd always insisted on condoms, anyway, and she didn't inject her drug of choice, like the hookers who preferred heroin. There were faster ways to die than from disease.

She'd been sprayed with chemicals, had her nose broken, been beaten up and robbed. A gang member had pointed a shotgun in her face; another guy had threatened to kill her and "jack off over" her dead body. All over coke deals.

Although she'd never had any trouble with a trick, she didn't meet hundreds of men, like some of the girls. And she knew that prostitutes disappeared all the time or were found dead in alleys or stuffed into trash bins with the rest of the community's garbage. Sometimes you never heard if it was a drug dealer who'd killed them or some sick trick who figured nobody would mind if a prostitute died.

So far, Cordova had always managed to talk or fight her way out of the worst jams. She knew a day might come when she wouldn't be able to--but the need for crack outweighed everything else. Joanne and women just like her risked their lives every day, letting men use their bodies in ways that made her sick to think about, just for one more hit.

And the craziest part of all? Some john might turn ugly or some drug dealer would pull a knife, but if she survived the moment, a crack addict would head right back to the streets and risk it all again.

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