Lost and Found
Baby Girl got deep into the game. She calls the women who bought crack from her "mommies"; the homeless men on the corners are "uncles." Everyone on the lookout for crack along Colfax knows Baby G, everyone from the dope man to the hustlers, the hookers, the crackheads and the cops.
Twenty-seven-year-old Baby Girl claims not to remember much of her childhood in north Denver, except for burning down a bedroom in the apartment where she lived with her mother. After that, she went to live with Grandma and Grandpa, who raised her in a nice house with almost everything a kid could need.
"The hugs and the 'You're doing good' and shit wasn't there," she says. "It was always 'You could do better.'"
Grandma says Baby Girl's mother abandoned her. Baby Girl's mother says Grandma took her child away.
Baby Girl failed four attempts at her freshman year of high school. At sixteen, she ran away and joined a Crip set on the north side; small tats on her neck and at the corner of her eye are reminders of her gangbanging days. She got knocked up by a gangster five years older than she was and returned to her grandparents when she was eight months pregnant. They cried, but they took her in. By the time she went into labor, the baby's father was in prison doing a ten-year stint for manslaughter. She had the child and then met another boy down the street and got pregnant again.
Although the boy was locked up for most of Baby Girl's pregnancy, he was there at the birth -- twins. Baby Girl was seventeen with three kids, living in a house provided by her grandparents. She worked in a nursing home, but her boyfriend "wasn't doing shit." So when a tax refund came in the mail, an older brother showed her the cocaine business. She bought an ounce of coke for $400 and made a thousand-dollar profit.
"So I'm in the bar at seventeen years old, slanging powder," Baby G remembers. She avoided snorting, but she was still a "baller with a bad attitude," $800 in her pocket every day, new shoes on her feet and on her kids' feet, and enough coke to keep her mother and her mother's boyfriend high in exchange for their cleaning the house.
Baby G had never controlled her own life, but now she controlled the lives of dope fiends with the sacks in her pockets.
Baby Girl's mother walked the streets then. Between 1995 and 2000, she was arrested in Denver six times for prostitution -- the last when she allegedly offered a detective a $20 blow job off Colfax -- and once for possession of narcotic equipment. She was a heroin addict and a crack addict -- "for a bit," she says. Once, she was kidnapped off the street and beaten beyond recognition.
The twins' father stuck around and lived off Baby Girl's drug-dealing profits for a few years. Then she caught him cheating and bought a .22. "I was going to kill him and dump the car, but I knew I was going to get caught," she says. "The only thought in my mind was, 'I'm not going to work tomorrow, I'm not going to see my kids tomorrow, I'm going to jail for murder.' I knew it."
Baby G dropped the kids off at his mother's house and picked up her boyfriend, then pulled the gun on him in the car. But he escaped -- and kept the twins. She got her oldest child back, but she was lonely. She cried a lot and started drinking. She kept calling and going to the boyfriend's house, trying to get him back, tormenting his family. She broke their cat's neck and left the dead pet at the front door. "He bought me that cat," she says.
Ultimately, he and his family moved away. She hasn't seen the twins for eight or nine years.
Then Baby G started sleeping with a man who got her to try cocaine for the first time by using the "If you love me, you'll take a line" line. She kept the party going, often bringing people home when the bars closed, trashing the house that Grandma and Grandpa were letting her stay in. Gang brawls erupted. The drunken Baby G encouraged the fights, waking up to stories and scratches on her face and hands.
Baby Girl got pregnant again. The father was her "dope ho," more in love with her steady stream of yay-yo than he was with her. Even though she was carrying a baby, he hit her -- her first and only physically abusive relationship, she says. But she snorted lines of coke through the pregnancy, and even smoked crack. She took her first hit off a crack pipe with her mother.
"That's a lie," her mother says. She knows her daughter smoked crack before.
Baby G's fourth child ended up with its father's mother, and then her first went to live with her grandparents, a third generation for them to raise.
"So then I hit the streets," Baby G says. "I found my mom where she's been, out here." Baby G stayed in an apartment filled with crack hos behind a porn shop off Colfax.
The crack hit is like a rocket blasting off. The capsule is your head, and it leaves your body behind like pieces of a NASA booster as you get higher and higher. The first hit is the best, and addicts keep smoking to try to regain that height, but they never can, no matter how much crack they smoke.
When Baby G came down, she decided to go to work. For a shift, at least. "So I'm working this waitressing job," she remembers, "and I come home with like $40 in tips, and I went and bought me some crack with my mom, and we smoked it. And then I went out, because I wanted more. Oh, God, that's sick; the urge for it is sick. I'm glad I know how sick it is -- it makes me feel good to know how sick it is -- but it makes me sick to know how sick it is. It was something you can't even control."
At first crack made her paranoid and non-social, but when her use became habitual, she could pull off being high in public, maintaining her composure. "I overcame the paranoia, the fear of the law, anything," she says. "The urge is just unbearable. Oh, my God, damn, that shit's disgusting."
A black man taught her the crack game and gave her the name "Baby Girl." She followed his hustle during a six-month street internship. She'd watch as he bought enough crack to make a few deals and pinch some off for his services as a middleman. They'd smoke whatever he could scrounge for them, in parks and apartments, or dip into an alley off Colfax and get high behind a dumpster.
Eventually he asked her if she would fuck, and she had to say no. She didn't tell him, but in her Hispanic family, sex with black men was frowned upon. To Baby G's surprise, he let her go, with no strings attached for all the free hustling lessons and crack.
Without the man, she was alone on Colfax, "hustling so hard I had three blisters on top of each other," she says. "But still, crack sells itself."
Baby G lived crack hit to crack hit until her addiction outgrew her hustle.
She was looking for someone who needed dope so that she could hustle a hit or two when the johns kept rolling up to her, but Baby G told them she wasn't turning tricks -- though she really wanted some crack, bad. Then along came the dopeman. The first time Baby G ever traded sex for crack was with that dealer, a man she doesn't dare name.
"And it's a big old black dude, too," she says. He was such a baller, he had keys to any hotel room he wanted. They went to one and had about five minutes of sex; he went easy on her and used a condom. Then he dropped her on the east side without money or dope, and Baby G thought she was getting ripped off. But he came back with $50 and a quarter-ounce of crack -- about $200 worth -- to see if she could slang the sack and make some money.
Instead, Baby G smoked all of it. She doesn't remember what she spent the $50 on, but guesses it was probably more crack that she shared with her crackhead friends.
"Now I know how to ho," she says. "It's uncomfortable at first."
Baby G sucked dick in alleys. She fucked in cars. For two years, she turned up to a dozen tricks a day to feed her crack habit. Sometimes she was so desperate for a rock that she'd charge as little as $10. But another guy would pay her $150 to watch him masturbate, and someone once gave her $600 for a couple of hours of smoking crack with him on his bed while wearing nothing but her panties and bra. Sometimes she could talk money out of men without giving up anything.
"I could sell your left shoe for your right foot," she says, because the "promise of pussy" is so strong. She'd lure a man, seduce him. She'd wear some tight shorts under her baggy pants, spread her long, beautiful hair out on the bed. She'd make him think she liked him as they smoked up his bank account. "Damn," she'd tell him. "You keep treating me like this and you won't even have to pay for the sex."
Then it was back to the ATM for more money for more drugs.
One john tried to rape her in his car. He was much bigger then she was, and she stabbed him in the back with her trusty blade. Then he bit her in the face. A "hillbilly white dude" rescued her after she managed to push the horn with her foot.
She's convinced that another trick was going to kill her. She found bloody hotel towels in his duffel bag and thought he was toying with her. She had sex with him because she was sure she'd be raped if she didn't. "All the crack in the world wouldn't have kept me there," she says, "because I knew it was my 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.
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.
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?
Baby G pleaded guilty.
That night a woman from the Chrysalis Project picked Baby G up at the jail and took her to a hotel. Baby G shared the letter-poem she'd written in jail, from Baby Girl to the girl she used to be.
Step two, it's just too plain to see, I've got to love me again, and get rid of Baby G.
Step three, leave the people and places I play, to start a new path and change my old ways.
A big bucket of condoms sits by the magazines on the lobby table at Empowerment, a nonprofit that's catered to homeless women, mentally impaired women, prostitutes, female addicts, female convicts and women with HIV or AIDS since 1986, providing medical attention and counseling, finding its clients jobs, housing, education. This is where women in the Chrysalis Project get treatment. Few men ever set foot inside the building just off Colfax.
Several Empowerment workers once walked that street themselves.
Most of the women and all of their problems gravitate to Lois Clayton. Someone is always knocking on her door. If her office phone isn't ringing, her cell phone is -- day and night, week in and week out.
At 6' 4", Clayton towers over the Chrysalis women, who compete endlessly for her attention. Their needs can be as petty as a cup of coffee, as traumatic as rape and relapse. But whether they're fighting addictions or fighting each other, Clayton is there to help. She's the program coordinator for Chrysalis, which is funded by a $450,000 Department of Justice grant to be divided over three years. Denver came up with a $273,000 matching grant; Empowerment raised another $26,000.
The money covers Judge Marcucci's time in courtroom 12T and Lopez's coordinator role that links the court with Empowerment. It also pays for Clayton and another part-time Chrysalis staffer, urine analyses, acupuncture treatment and various supplies; ultimately, it will fund the collection of data and an evaluation of whether the program is working.
Chrysalis's goal is to graduate 75 women -- all prostitutes with addiction problems -- each of the three years, seeing them through at least 120 hours of drug and alcohol counseling, arranging for more mental-health treatment, and getting them jobs and stable housing. In short, keeping them off the streets and out of jail.
Since the program started in February, housing has been a major hurdle. Women can't stay off drugs if they're not off the streets, Clayton points out. One Chrysalis client lived in a hotel for a month, with Empowerment footing the bill, before the program struck a deal with an independent safehouse.
Clayton, a drug and alcohol counselor for a dozen years, assesses the women's addictions and develops the treatment plans. She's part probation officer, part counselor, part friend, part parent, and all listener. She gives the women bus tokens and food vouchers. She helps with the court reports. The women who stick around, that is.
"This project here has been a handful," she says. "Their case management for me means running them down, physically making sure they're in the right place -- basically holding their hands. They have no life skills. It's all prostitution and drugs."
On March 23, Baby G became the Chrysalis Project's newest client. The next day, she went through two hours of drug and alcohol counseling. But the urine she left at Clayton's office four days later showed traces of cocaine.
Luckily for Baby G, those results weren't in when she faced the judge on March 29. On the stand in street clothes, she looked vibrant, smiling, swinging her arms and almost dancing. The judge said he'd see her in another week.
By then, she'd had another urine analysis, one that would again show cocaine. But Judge Marcucci didn't know that; he just had the dirty test from the previous week. Baby Girl told him that she'd kissed a boy who had a lot of crack stored in his mouth, and that's how it got in her system. He gave her ten days' time, suspending the sentence if she stayed out of trouble and kept her urine clean.
The next day, Baby G attended an all-day workshop at Empowerment on getting a job. But then she dropped another hot UA, her third in two weeks.
When her next court date rolled around, Baby G wasn't in 12T like she was supposed to be. She had been late for some of her Chrysalis sessions, and she'd told Clayton that she was going to grab some pizza before court. But Clayton was worried, because she knew that Baby G realized she could be going to jail for the last two hot tests.
So Clayton went looking for her and returned with a crying Baby Girl only minutes later. "You thought I ran, didn't you?" Baby G asked, smiling through her tears.
When her name was called, the judge asked Baby Girl if she was willing to do the ten days that he'd suspended the last time. By now she was comfortable on the stand, and she chuckled as she told him "No." The judge didn't appreciate the joke, and reminded her that she had the right to challenge the drug-test results. Instead, Baby G reluctantly accepted the time and promised not to have another hot test.
Tardiness was another problem, Lopez told the court, even though Baby G tried to brush it off as forgetfulness.
"We're trying to help you," Marcucci said. "But it's up to you. The thing I know about you is that you're smart, and you only forget the things you want to forget."
Baby Girl was now facing 338 days. "That's a long time," the judge said. "Have you ever done that kind of time?"
"No," Baby G replied.
About eighteen months ago, she'd done about three and a half months of a two-year drug sentence when the court ordered her released to probation early. She didn't mention that to the judge.
Marcucci sent her to jail for five days.
Damn, it took reading it over and over to plainly see that Baby Girl is you and the other girl is me.
I can't believe it's always been right in front of my eyes.
But I have always chosen Baby Girl to be my disguise.
To hide the feelings that mean the most, the ones that make me cry when Baby Girl is not close.
But I've made up my mind, both mine and BG's, to quit coming up with excuses and take care of responsibilities.
Clayton picked up Baby Girl at jail on a Sunday morning, and they grabbed breakfast at a diner on Colfax. Clayton tried to talk Baby G into staying at the safehouse, but she was careful not to push too far. Baby G just wanted to put her eyebrow- and tongue-piercing jewelry back in and get her nails done. She said she'd stay with the same friend she'd been staying with before, a woman who has an apartment off Colfax and cooks for her and does her laundry.
Baby Girl says she's not a lesbian, but she flirts with women to make them feel better about themselves -- and her. Women were all over her in jail, and she was flattered.
At Empowerment for a life-skills session a couple of days later, Baby G noticed a whole lot of ass in tight pants. "Damn," she said, as one woman walked by.
The women in Baby G's group started out discussing how to deal with different situations they're bound to encounter. But the conversation quickly turned to tales of how they'd avoided being raped or killed by tricks gone bad. They talked about the "Colfax shuffle," stumbling through the streets after a few days and nights of crack-bingeing without food or sleep. They remembered who was good to them and who was not and how they treated their own.
The women are mandated to attend court weekly. If they show progress, the judge reduces that to a couple of times a month, then maybe every other month for the rest of the program.
When Baby G returned to court the next week, Ann, the woman who'd been with her that first day, was in front of the judge again. The bags under her eyes were even worse; she'd fled after her intake date with Chrysalis, and the cops had found her on the street.
While Ann was talking, Baby G was making fun of the other people in court. She pointed out how a big woman was wearing a denim jacket that was way too small for her, and how on the other side of the courtroom was a small man in a suit way too big for him. "That suit wouldn't look so bad if he was a real gangster," she said. "But it looks like it was a hand-me-down from his grandpa."
Four weeks into the twenty-week program, Baby G wasn't looking so good herself, having racked up just thirteen hours of classes toward the 120-hour goal.
But Clayton thought she was getting somewhere with her. Baby G was feeling guilt. She was worried about her ten-year-old being raised by the same woman who'd raised her and her mother before her. "It's sobriety," she told Clayton in a session after court. "Because I can't hide it no more, because I don't have the drugs in my system."
Baby G wiped her eyes as she left Clayton. She'd given another urine sample that would prove positive for coke, her fourth hot test in a month, but she wasn't scheduled to see the judge for two weeks. She walked off with another woman fresh in the program, a woman so addicted to crack that she wouldn't take her food stamps to the store without having someone else go along, because she was afraid it would wind up in the dopeman's hands. Baby G put her arm around her as they headed out into the drizzle.
It rained hard that night. Police rolled up on Baby G off Colfax and found a digital scale with remnants of what they believed was cocaine -- a potential felony offense. They took her to the city jail, and the next day Baby Girl stepped in front of a judge who was not Marcucci. She was ordered held on $25,000 bond.
A couple of days later, though, the charges were dropped. Prosecutors didn't have sufficient evidence to make a conviction likely.
They didn't look hard enough. Once out of jail, Baby G confessed that she had a quarter-ounce of crack divided into two bags shoved so far up her ass that they'd stayed put even when the cops had ordered her to bend over, spread 'em and cough. "Now's the bad part," she said. "Now I gotta go and get it."
Put it like this, I'll have to put them together, Baby Girl to help me to take a stand to do what's better.
See me I always do all the talk.
But Baby Girl has been known to walk the talk.
It just takes time sometimes to understand, and realize my one true plan.
The lord above has set a goal for each one of us when we become whole.
See now listen to this one day I was given a vision, and at that time, still did not make the right decision.
I had fallen asleep and dreamt of the end but woke up only to these bars and the ladies within.
On April 25, Baby G was headed to Empowerment to see Clayton. She stopped to check herself out in a window and liked what she saw. New clothes, her hair pulled back, a new ring. The outer corners of her eyes were painted out like arrowheads.
She was on the phone with her mother. "Everything's going good, Mom," she said, blowing kisses at her reflection. "You and me and your man and one of my boyfriends gotta get lunch or something."
But during her session with Clayton, it was like a bedsheet had been pulled off Baby G's head. She again came to tears as she talked about her son and her street life. Clayton told her that with the hot tests, it was impossible to believe that she wasn't smoking crack, as Baby Girl insisted. And Baby G was really behind in her class hours.
Then Baby G told her she wouldn't be at class the next day because she was going to a boyfriend's court appearance.
That night, in a dream, Clayton saw Baby Girl with her hair down and her neck broken. The next morning, she tried to track down Baby Girl, but different people kept answering her cell phone. Finally, Clayton got her on the phone.
"I'm smoking major crack, baby," Baby Girl told her.
After that, Baby G stopped answering all calls and disappeared for days. She missed two drug tests. Clayton went by the apartment where she'd been staying, but didn't find her. When Baby G didn't show up for her next court appearance, a warrant went out for her arrest.
Baby G wasn't in court, but Ann was. She told the judge that she still wanted to get into Chrysalis. Marcucci told her to sit in jail a while longer while her request was considered.
Just off Colfax, Clayton spotted Baby G pimping a white girl in a bad outfit. Baby Girl's hair was frazzled, her glasses gone, and she couldn't stand up straight. She'd been in a fight and was talking gibberish.
"You think you're such a baller," Clayton told her. "Someone could come up to you right now and hit you over the head and take everything you've got."
Baby Girl refused to get in Clayton's car. A few minutes later, Denver police picked her up.
The next morning, Baby G was back in court. She didn't look like a hustler. She didn't look like a pimp. She looked like a crackhead. The judge set a $20,000 bond and said he'd deal with her when he met with the rest of the Chrysalis women in a few days. When Baby G said she didn't like that, Marcucci told her she could plead guilty to the parole violation and do the 345 days she owed him if she'd prefer.
Lopez went to evaluate Baby G in jail. "I hate it when people care," Baby G said, crying. "It's just easier when they don't. Jail was easy when no one came to visit me." She told Lopez that she wanted a life and wanted to raise her son and was willing to do anything. She'd said all this before.
"But the system holds me back," Baby G added.
"But the system's trying to help you," Lopez told her.
"Yeah, it puts me in classes, but it's just setting me up to mess up."
"I don't think so," Lopez replied.
"Fuckin' life sucks, period," she said. "It's going to suck. It's always going to suck, no matter how hard I try. I tried with you guys. I tried. Even before addiction, I was fuckin' up. You know, it don't help the program being right there off of Colfax."
Baby G talked about when the father of her oldest child got out of jail, how the three of them took pictures together. The plan was for them to marry, and he started out treating her nice, even though she was selling crack. But he stopped caring when she fell off so hard on her crack binge. "It's almost to the point that I should just leave my son alone because it's selfish of me," she said. "Just disappear, let him live his own little life."
Like her mother did for her.
A couple of days later, Baby Girl was waiting to step in front of Judge Marcucci. The woman already on the stand was so high she was incoherent, and the bailiffs had to be called in.
"I need counseling," Baby G told Marcucci right off the bat when her time came.
"I can see that," Marcucci said.
"I just want to tell you that this sitting-in-jail time and sobering-up thing isn't really helpful to me right now," she said, "and it sounds like, shit, it sounds bad, but right now I need to talk to somebody behind what I did more than I need to sit here and boil and let it fester. To sit here in jail now is not what I need."
Lopez suggested that Baby G be allowed to stay in the program but also remain in jail another three weeks. She was concerned that Baby G wanted out so badly.
Marcucci said he'd see Baby G the next week.
She threw her hand in the air as she walked away from the judge, headed back to jail.
This vision, it came about a year ago. And I wasn't quite ready, I guess, to become whole.
But see a year later I still didn't change, and look where it got me, same dorm, same bunk,
Now ain't that strange.
Life, it's full of choices and chances,
But we have to learn who we might dance with.
"I need some counseling," Baby Girl told Clayton when she visited her in jail.
"No shit," Clayton replied, making Baby G smile through her tears.
"Like I was doing before, with you, before I messed up," she said softly.
"I knew the wounds were open and gaping," Clayton said.
"I know, and on top of those wounds, now I got this little slip."
"Baby Girl is gradually growing into the real you. Baby Girl is hurting right now."
"I feel bad I was so mean to you, Lois. You know why I didn't want to go back with you was because I had crack on me. I had just bought it, and I wanted to go smoke it."
The police didn't find her pipe and she took it to jail with her, but she abandoned it when she couldn't find a lighter. "I just need some help, and I can't do it on my own anymore, not like I used to be able to," Baby Girl said.
"Welcome to treatment, baby," Clayton replied. "What you don't understand is that you can't cover the wounds with old bandages."
Baby Girl said she didn't remember her relapse, just that drinking led to crack. She'd been in a fight, gotten chased at some point, and then someone else had stolen from her. It made her want to buy a gun. Then a friend told her the cops were looking for her for murder. A dude she'd been smoking crack with had had a seizure. She'd left the woman she was living with "for dead" after she kept seeing hallucinations of angels.
Clayton asked how she felt now.
"I'm disappointed, because I'm better than that," Baby Girl said.
"Better than what?" Clayton asked.
"Better than all the crackheads," Baby Girl replied.
When Clayton first met Baby Girl, she saw a scared little girl. A girl who grew up without a mother. A girl who claims she doesn't remember her childhood.
Clayton believes in sanctions. But to take someone like Baby Girl, a woman who's never experienced a healthy lifestyle, and just lock her up isn't fair. "Then you just make a better criminal," she says.
The dance with the devil is wild and fun,
But the dance with the lord has always been the right one.
Sometimes the lord's dance, it's hard and demanding, but you'll live a glorious life, when it comes to the ending.
While Baby Girl waited in jail, other Chrysalis women went to court.
One day, a blond, blue-eyed woman about the same age as Baby G stood in front of Judge Marcucci. The day before, she'd overdosed and ended up in the hospital. She had no shoes on her feet; her white socks were dirty from walking the street.
The judge knew that the woman could behave when she was on her medication -- but she only stayed on her medication when it was provided to her in jail. She'd been accepted into Chrysalis, but she'd run twice. Marcucci said he wanted to help her, that Lopez wanted to help her and Clayton wanted to help her, and so did all the other people at Chrysalis. But she couldn't run anymore if she wanted to be helped.
Two days after her court appearance, she ran. Hours later, she was arrested for an entirely new prostitution incident. She pleaded guilty the next day, and Marcucci gave her 360 days for that case, which she'll serve concurrent with the 300 days on her outstanding cases.
One 28-year-old woman has to walk to the stand on crutches each time she sees Marcucci. She was an alcoholic at thirteen, an addict at nineteen, a prostitute at 22. Family members looked to her to be the crack provider, so she started hoing. She took a spill doing the Colfax shuffle one day after too many sleepless days and nights -- she's not sure if she fell asleep standing up or if someone knocked her over -- and broke a bone. She walked around, high, on her bad leg for a couple of months, and now it will probably have to be amputated.
"Sometimes I'm in so much pain that I wish they'd just cut off my leg already," she says.
At least Clayton and others at Chrysalis support her. She gets mad when she thinks about how some women take advantage of Chrysalis. She gets even madder when she thinks about another woman in the program who offered to sell her crack. Out of the eleven women active right now in Chrysalis, she's in the half who haven't tested positive for cocaine.
One woman who'd walked the streets for three decades made some progress in Chrysalis, but now she's on the run. Another addict who'd sold her body for crack stayed clean for five years in order to raise a child -- but then a relapse led to the streets and, finally, Chrysalis. Despite a hot UA early on, she's taken the role of leader in her classes, and she's one of two women who've moved to phase two of the three-phase program. She's job-hunting now, looking for a new place to live and fighting for custody of her child.
Relapse is simply a part of rehab for some, says a Chrysalis client who's dropped three dirty tests and gone back to jail while in the program. The 36-year-old addict has been prostituting off and on since she was sixteen and had never before received treatment. Chrysalis is working for her because she wants it in her heart. "I'm a runner," she says. "I ran from my problems a lot, and this program has helped me face the issues I have. Being around women that come from the same background is a help, a comfort."
When dealers who used to sell her crack ask if she needs anything, she tells them that she doesn't smoke anymore. Now she has the tools to stick by her convictions.
She's off the streets, back in a stable apartment, and has rebuilt burned bridges with her father, who comes to court to support her. She showed off her son at Empowerment one day, a solid kid who's stayed away from trouble. "I couldn't have made it as far as I've made it without Lois," she says. "I have a lot to lose. I have my relationship with my kid to lose, I have my apartment to lose, and I worked hard for that. It's a struggle every day, but my kids are worth it, and I am worth it."
Chrysalis isn't like baseball, Marcucci says. It's not three strikes and you're out. The rules aren't the same for everyone, so the women can't test them. Marcucci's top priority is to keep the women out of prostitution. It's great to get them off the drugs, but getting them off the streets is his job.
He keeps a tighter leash on the women with more offenses, who've been in the game for so many more years. He lets some into the program, but he warns them that they won't be allowed even one screwup. With the younger prostitutes, Marcucci sends them to jail for hot UAs, missed UAs, missed classes and missed court dates.
"I am really shocked by the way in which the prostitutes' entire lifestyle is interwoven with the sex acts that they perform, their use of drugs, their living situation, their daily activities, their friendships and their associates," Marcucci says. "It is not like a truck driver or some other professional person who has a drug problem, who uses drugs recreationally or addictively, but still has another life that they go to: It could be a reporter, it could be anybody. But these women, their entire existence revolves around getting drugs, doing acts of prostitution to get drugs, going to live with people who do and buy and sell drugs, then going back on the street the next day to get their money.
"To break the cycle, I think we'd have a greater success rate if we were able to release them to some type of actual holding facility that was away from Colfax, that did not allow them to have access to the neighborhoods that they normally live and work in, commit acts of prostitution in, for at least some period of time, thirty to sixty days. I don't think it has to be a year, because if their problem is that severe, it's probably beyond the resources of Denver. We need to break their whole lifestyle."
New women who join the program are now required to stay in the safehouse for at least thirty days so that treatment can get under way.
Of the 39 women Lopez has interviewed in jail to see if they're eligible for Chrysalis, 21 have been accepted. About a dozen are actively participating. Nine of the women have run -- three before they began Chrysalis, and six afterward. Four are still on the run.
So it's your choice to do what is right and to become whole or end up in the hole.
Sitting in jail one day, Baby G said that she liked to win. Win, like talking a john out of some money without sex, or hustling her crack for free by selling it on the streets. She liked the easy money of the game when she followed the most basic rule: Don't get high off your own supply. When she first went into Chrysalis, she thought she could still sell crack, just not smoke it anymore. But after she fell off so hard, she realized that the game can't be won -- not now, anyway.
There's a lot of love in Baby G. When she's out, everyone gives her love when they see her. She never knows if it's real love or dope love, but she gives out lots of hugs, anyway.
"I love my life," she said one day, walking toward Colfax from Empowerment, as people up and down the block said hi to her.
She loves her oldest child. She loves that child's father. She loves a boyfriend down in Florida, where she contemplates running. She loves a boyfriend here in Denver, though she knows he's no good for her. She loves her grandparents. She loves her little brother, who's in prison. She loves Clayton. She loves some of the women in Chrysalis. She loves her mother. Maybe she could live with her mother, she thinks. But then she couldn't get to her classes and treatment at Empowerment.
In jail, Baby G ate breakfast and slept and ate lunch and slept and ate dinner and then watched television and then slept, every day. She didn't know her son was in the fifth grade until she met a woman in jail whose kid was in his class.
Ann was in jail, too, and talked mean to Baby Girl about how many chances she'd gotten, how ungrateful she is. Baby G caught a lot of heat from other women in jail, as well.
She got another chance the next time she went to court. Waiting to see Marcucci, Baby G looked nervous. Her braids were done smaller and tighter, and a lock of hair hung down on either side of her face.
The judge decided to let her out in a week, on May 26.
"My guess is that you've done some things out there that I don't know about, but I guess that comes with the territory," he told Baby Girl. "I'm not going to punish you for things I'm guessing may have happened. But if you get involved in the drug traffic or prostitution, I really am going to have to give you the whole sentence. You follow me?"
"I understand," Baby G said.
"I can work with you," Marcucci continued. "But if you don't show me over the next six weeks that I can trust you, it's over."
The judge reminded Baby Girl that she'd get credit toward the sentence hanging over her head for the days she served in jail, but not for the days she gets out early for good behavior. "If you mess up, you're going to get every day you owe me," he said.
Baby G tried to figure out how many days she'd have to just lie down in jail to be done with it all. She asked the judge if she got credit for the days she was in Chrysalis.
No, he told her.
"See, now you've got those wheels turning," he said. "What you need to be thinking about is how you're going to survive on the street without doing coke and being a prostitute. That's what you need to be worried about."
The lord will always be there, the devil will too.
Just remember, the devil will screw you as many times as you let him, you fool.
Choice is yours, I hope you make the right one, because the dance with the devil doesn't end up very fun.
Last Thursday, Clayton drove from Empowerment out to Smith Road to pick up Baby Girl. But first she had to deal with one 37-year-old Chrysalis participant who lost it while talking about the men who'd preyed on her when she was a young girl. The woman crawled under a table and refused to come out; Clayton had to call the paramedics. And then another Chrysalis woman nearly came to blows with a woman in a different Empowerment program; an Empowerment worker got hit in the face during that fracas.
By the time Clayton made it to the county jail, Baby Girl and a new Chrysalis participant had been waiting a few hours. As soon as Baby G was released, out came the rings, bracelets and jewelry. She was dressed like a boy, with baggy red warmups and a black shirt, with a hat broke to the side on her head.
She was scared.
Baby Girl knows that she's going to jail for a year if she messes up just one more time. She prays God won't let her screw up. She says she's going to pick herself up and try again. She says addiction sucks. She says she doesn't want to kill Baby Girl; she just wants Baby Girl to leave her alone. But that will be like losing her best friend.
Clayton took the women to the safehouse where six Chrysalis participants now stay, sharing a unit between them. Gunshots rang out as they were read the rules of the house -- "home sweet home," Baby Girl said. Although the safehouse is more than a mile from Colfax, Baby G spotted three drug dealers she knew right outside. Balancing them out were two cop cars.
"That's what I see right now, that bling-bling," she said. "I need a job, that's all. I need a motherfuckin' job to preoccupy my time, because I wouldn't even have to leave, I wouldn't even have to go to Colfax, because this right here, it's crack lane. Why are they doing this?"
She's more afraid that she'll sell crack than she is that she'll smoke it. That's why she needs a job, a job that lets her make other people happy. The money's not so important, as long as she makes enough that the only support she needs from others is moral support. She'd be happy working a cash register if she got to chat with people; she thinks a nursing situation would be good, too. She's trying to think about the future.
"I can't plan my whole year, I can't plan these next five months, I can't plan this week. I'm going to do tonight and then start tomorrow and do tomorrow," she sighed, just minutes out of jail. "I don't like that, though. I want to know what's cracking. Usually, what my addictive criminal thought is, is ŒBlam, I'm going to make $700 this week.' Now, I'm just going to spend the night tonight. This is the block, too. It's not my block, but I'm sure everybody knows me around here, too."
Clayton knows Baby Girl all too well. People who haven't worked with drug-addicted prostitutes have no idea what it takes to turn their lives around. Even the experts at Empowerment are reassessing their goal for Chrysalis, which was supposed to start in September but didn't get going until February. No way will 75 women graduate this first year. So far, not a single woman has. "God, they're like babies," Clayton says of the participants. "Small children who don't have the very basic life skills, so fifty graduating this year is unrealistic, especially until we can get the program through the trial-and-error phase."
Baby Girl is part of that. "I believe she is learning the courage that it takes to live her life," Clayton says. "What's different is that she knows, she's starting to believe, that there are people out there who really care. And even looking back at her grandparents, her mother, all the people that she wasn't quite sure of, looking back now, she can see that in their own kind of way, they were concerned about her."
Clayton is determined to help Baby Girl remember the childhood she claims she's forgotten. "If the world ended tomorrow, today at least I know that I've done my best," she says. "My hopes are that these women can close their eyes with one pleasantry, whether it be a smile or a hug or a thought that somebody really cares, you know what I mean?"
Baby G does.
Over Memorial Day weekend, she visited her oldest child at her grandparents' house. When she told her grandmother about the safehouse she was living in, Grandma said, "Well, you could stay with us if you weren't so bad."
Baby G saw her son's karate match and took him to a Colorado Crush game.
And by the end of the visit, the girl she used to be was coming out of Baby Girl. She hugged her grandmother -- and Grandma hugged her back. "When I went to pull away," Baby G says, "she still held on to me."
Get the ICYMI: Today's Top Stories Newsletter Our daily newsletter delivers quick clicks to keep you in the know
Catch up on the day's news and stay informed with our daily digest of the most popular news, music, food and arts stories in Denver, delivered to your inbox Monday through Friday.