Lost and Found

Baby Girl has one last chance at a new life.

One man was married, with children, but that didn't stop him from hitting the ATM over and over as they drove around Denver smoking crack for hours before they finally had sex. "He dug me because I wasn't the average type of bitch out here," Baby G says. "When he left me, he didn't want to leave me. He cried."

They saw each other frequently for about a year. On Christmas Day, he picked her up and they had sex. Afterward, she told him no more tricks because she was in love with him and couldn't bear the thought of their eventual parting. "Now," she says, "if I see him, I still would fuck him. And take the money."

Between 1998, when Baby Girl turned twenty, and today, she was picked up for prostitution five times. Cops pulled her off the streets for possession of drugs three times and got her on several outstanding warrants or failures to appear. On March 11, she was accused of offering a man a $20 blow job. She didn't really plan to give him head, she says; she'd stopped turning tricks and meant to rob him. They were really close to Colfax, and she was going to grab the money and hit the street. "What's he going to do with the cops everywhere, and everyone on the block willing to stand by my side, to walk with me to go get that crack and then to get a piece of it? What's he going to do?" she asks.

The man was an undercover cop.

Baby G was suddenly facing a year in county jail.

...just sittin in denver county jail again.
Why?
Same shit day after day.
You know, livin this life as Baby Girl isn't all it seems to be, just to coverup, to hide the feelings you cannot see.
I walk the streets alone at night, to do bad things, things that ain't right.
I do bad things that no one loves, like sell my body to buy the drugs.
It's hard for me to admit the things that I do.
But can't get to step three without admitting one and two.
One, it's to admit the problem I've had, which is shameful to me and it makes me sad.
Addiction.

On March 22, three crack hos were sitting in courtroom 12T. Baby Girl was one of them, dressed in the khaki prison uniform, her feet shackled, her hair in a dozen tiny braids, glasses on her face. The other women were both old enough to be her mother, but neither were.

Before they stepped in front of Denver County Judge John Marcucci, the three listened to updates from women in the month-old Chrysalis Project. It was like they were hearing a fairy tale. They knew the women at the stand from their days on the street, but they looked much better now than when they were hoing. A chrysalis is the shape a caterpillar takes inside a cocoon as it builds up support systems to become a butterfly, and these women looked ready to spread their wings.

Judy Lopez had visited Baby Girl in jail. Lopez keeps an eye on Denver arrests, looking for women who fit the loose profile of drug-addicted prostitutes. Women whose arrest records show that they've been on the street long enough to be on their way to nowhere, but not quite long enough to be gone just yet. Women like Baby G, who could be diverted from jail -- which costs taxpayers $72 a day -- to the Chrysalis Project, a new treatment program designed to break the cycle of drugs, sex and jail. Lopez acts as a bridge between the courts and Chrysalis. Baby G broke down quick when Lopez stopped by to see if she might be a good candidate for the program. She shared her poetry with Lopez, reciting from memory.

"There's something about her," Lopez says. "She's a very likable person. When she tells her story, I just see a very hurt little girl. I see something really, really sincere in her. I really do care about her, and I want to help her in life. I think she has a lot of potential. I think she's smart, if she turned all that game into something positive."

After the Chrysalis women spoke, the three others got their chance. One of the older ones broke down, crying about what a great opportunity the program would be for her to turn her life around, to stop shooting smack and smoking crack, stop hoing and live normal.

The second woman, Ann, knew Baby G from the street. "I'm tired, so tired," she told the judge. It showed in her face.

Then up stepped Baby G, smiling as she strolled to the stand. The program sounded good, but not if she could score a better deal, so she tested the judge. "What would happen if I plead guilty?" she asked.

Marcucci keeps his courtroom friendly, but he won't tolerate even the slightest sign of disrespect. The judge told Baby Girl that she couldn't plea-bargain with the court. Did she want to plead guilty and be in the program, or plead not guilty and fight the charge?

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