My story of prosecution, incarceration and recovery from incarceration.
In 2014 I was charged for Sex Trafficking in Alaska. I was sentenced to 5.5 years and am still serving time. Sex trafficking is a horrible crime! In no way did I feel I was involved with Sex Trafficking. I myself was a sex worker, and all the women that I screened clients for and updated on my website were adult consensual workers. No only until I became aware of the personal consequences of unfair legislation did I want to stand up and say something. If I can assist in even one person not experiencing the loss of freedom, time with family and loss of personal self, then it will not all be for nothing.
Warning: This post discusses childhood sexual trauma and may result in triggering other survivors of childhood sexual trauma. Please consult a local organization such as STAR (Anchorage Crisis Line: (907) 276-7273/Statewide Crisis Line: (800) 478-8999 ) or a personal counselor, or at least an understanding friend, if this blog post does so.
I recently found the man who had molested me when I was almost 9. I decided to confront him. Such an easy, sparse sentence to write, but at age 44, it wasn’t that easy. It took me years to be able to do this.
First, I found that I needed to get over the fear that kept me the same meek little girl I had been, that kept me from thinking I was deserving of good things, that had me eating too little, or drinking too much, or staying in relationships that weren’t really…relationships.
Second was the anger. For a number of years, I couldn’t have knives in my home (we made it a joke but there was truth in it) due to my proclivity of throwing them when I was angry. And I was angry a lot. I would drink or use whatever in order to dim the anger, drown out the hate I held onto tightly. Yes, the anger took much longer. Even I knew I wouldn’t be making the best decision and having a positive outcome if I was still harboring that seething anger.
Yes. I could have found him years ago. I half-heartedly did find a PO Box in the Spenard area of Anchorage, Alaska that his mail was sent to.
It wasn’t the right time.
I just had a baby, a darling girl. I dealt with post-partum depression by seeing a counselor, the same counselor that had assisted me in my journey to confront my dad that had never happened due to his death. Luckily I mentioned to my counselor what was going on in my head. I can honestly say in my first hundred versions back then “confronting” wasn’t apart of my plan. Telling my counselor the truth saved me from acting out and possibly facing years in prison.
I knew my dad felt horrible and what he did ate away at him. We had gotten close through the years and he was my biggest cheerleader. The one hole in our fractured relationship was on course to be mended when he died from heroin overdose. I had been fueled by more anger, fear and regret not following through and confronting my dad and was left with a person who had escaped culpability for all these years.
It was only once. When it had happened that morning and I was able to escape his bedroom I told my mom and her boyfriend, Joe, both in the very next room.
Maybe they were too hungover, regardless, they didn’t want to be bothered by a scared seven-year-old describing something even she wasn’t sure how to form the words for. So no one said or did anything. Because of that, I had thought the world didn’t care about little girls and kept inside myself more and more. Not even a year before this happened, something similar had happened between me and my dad, who I barely knew. It seemed as if some visible brokenness appeared that other predators could easily spot, like a landing beacon.
As I grew older, I pushed the memories further back and as more time went by, my walls grew thicker.
Eventually, I ended up in States custody. I ran away. I drank. More things happened. I grew up.
It was normal now in my world. Things happened and not much, if anything, was ever done. I saw this in my life and in the other kids around me. Foster homes. Group homes. Juvenile detention centers.
Still, I never forgot. Life went on and I stopped looking for fulfillment with alcohol. I went to counseling. I wrote things on pieces of paper and burnt them or tied them to balloons. I put a lot of time and effort into letting go, forgiving myself, learning ways to talk to myself in order to not be a victim. Yet there was a voice in me that said the final chapter would be confronting the one person I knew I could.
My dad had passed years before, at the time I was working on getting the balls to talk to him about things he had done. I was in counseling and had done so much work to talk to him, forgive him, and move on. Then he took a hot shot and I was unable to. Besides dealing with his untimely death, funeral and burial costs, I had to deal with the resentment that came along with doing all that inner work and the selfishness of him dying before we could talk. I have visited his grave a few times throughout the years and I believe we have both found our peace. But Maurice had still been in the back of my mind.
You don’t hear that name much anymore do you? The countless times I had sought him out, the searches had come up empty, or at the most, sparse. I knew that the emotional work I did wouldn’t disappear and that when it would be time, I would be strong enough to go through with it.
So every few years I would google his name.
And then one day there was this article, with his picture. And it listed his place of employment in the article. He was a manager, right here in Anchorage.
Right by where I paid my rent. Across town, where I never went.
Having found him finally I knew I needed to take some time and make sure I still wanted to confront him and check my expectations on the outcome. If I still felt strong enough and that it was important enough I would follow through. No rush.
It took me another month to walk into that building and confront him. My expectations were to walk out with my head held up high and self-esteem intact. I also decided I would record it. I have listened to the recording a few times, and each time I am brought back to the shaky feeling I had as I walked through that door, phone in my purse, recording, not knowing who I would find and not having any idea of how the conversation would go.
I stopped in to see if he was there working just after Halloween 2018. I parked and readied my phone to record. I had to ground myself before I walked in, as I knew if I went in on auto-pilot I could possibly react in anger rather than be proactive and keep myself safe. I had no idea what Maurice looked like, except for the picture in the article. A man I barely knew for a brief moment decades ago. I remembered shaggy blonde hair. Long fingernails. A sneering smile.
I walked in, casually looking around. It was drab, the shelves barely stocked, with nonsequential knickknacks everywhere. A man, shorter than I, appeared from behind the counter, pulling closed a heavy sheet separating the front from the back as he greeted me.
After some chit chat, mainly to decipher I had the right person, I calmly asked if he remembered molesting me. He was taken aback. He started getting agitated and was visibly shaken. He stopped making eye contact.
“I don’t even know your name,” he had said.
As I stood there while Maurice denied everything it brought me to the realization of the biggest fear I had in confronting my dad. The full denial. Which is what Maurice did. In his doing so, I was able to remove the one obstacle I had in my way, regardless of how much counseling I’ve had throughout the years.
That was the realization that I didn’t need an apology in order to complete this confrontation. I just needed to say: I remembered. You were wrong. With Maurice saying that it wasn’t true doesn’t excuse what was done. All I needed to do was say what I had to say: Here I am before you. And I remember. That’s what freed me. I walked out with my head held high and my self-esteem intact.
I was able to get the closure I was seeking from confronting Maurice. I had nothing riding on him apologizing or not apologizing. I knew regardless of what he said or did the inner work was always mine. I’ve made horrible choices in my life, based on what I wanted, out of selfish motives. But I knew this was something I owed the shy, quiet child hurt those many years before.
I think about other children that have been molested by people that were never held accountable, and how their predators probably didn’t remember their names either. And I wonder how we are able to continue in life, trusting, having relationships, going on with life, raising children, having jobs and bills and family problems. I wonder if others ever got a chance to confront their childhood predator that otherwise had no consequences. If they even wanted to. I don’t casually recommend confronting your molester. I would tell anyone to seek outside counseling before embarking. A friend recommended that I bring support. I didn’t believe I would be able to have to conversation I had if I had someone else with me, so I chose not to.
The recording of the whole interaction is posted below. If I had spent more time trying to figure it out, I am sure I could have transcribed it from some app out there. I wasn’t about to transcribe it myself. I may have dealt with this emotionally but I know when to tap out. I’m not a glutton for punishment.
I hope that anyone who has been hurt and feels lost remembers they have a voice. I’m grateful I found mine. I share this in case anyone else is out there wondering if it’s okay to confront what has us wounded. It is if you need it to be.
In 2003 I had two young children and my first husband and I were two months behind in our mortgage, a home we had just moved into less than a year before. I had been homeless before and swore it wouldn’t happen again. When I was in college I knew women that had escorted and it seemed the fasted and easiest way to pay our bills. I called the numbers in the free weekly paper where escort agencies advertised. Only one called me back.
The woman on the phone was quick and to the point.
When can you start?
As soon as possible.
How old was I?
She liked my answers and I was given an address and told to come by.
I went the next day, a trailer across the street from where I had burnt out as a drug alcohol counselor months before.
A short fat Thai guy answered the door. His puffy round face swallowed dark eyes that darted around distrustingly as he stood in the entryway smoking a cigarette. When he let me in it became apparent it was just us. We appraised each other. I had at least two inches on the guy and although anything could happen I figured my chances would be better than 50/50 unless he had a gun.
He gave a quick tour and my flight or fight adrenaline calmed a bit.
Here was the living room with two well-used recliners and a small couch facing a boxy TV from the 80’s. Here was the narrow hallway with two rooms and a bathroom on the right.
The back room had a small narrow bed on wooden legs without a pillow, only a thin sheet covering it, the other room, across from the bathroom, a twin bed, no pillow, same thin sheet cover.
“Sheets are right here, always put clean sheet on!” he barked with a thick accent.
“Here is sink, wash, always take garbage out. Always!”
I nodded and followed him back to the small living room.
“Phone rings, answer it. Sometimes call, sometimes knock. I get half. All is $100. You okay?”
I nodded. Did I not look okay? Was I okay? What the hell was I doing? Is this real?
With that, he nodded and went into a room at the front of the trailer, where the kitchen and his bed were hidden. I sat and took in my surroundings. I turned the TV on.
I didn’t understand what he meant by “all is $100.” I had no idea what someone would wear on the first day of work as a sex worker. I had actually Googled “what escorts wear” and was bombarded with images of thigh highs and stiletto heels. I owned neither.
I went with casual. Jeans, a form-fitting t-shirt, not too much makeup, but just a bit more eye makeup than you would expect the average soccer mom to wear. I sat and waited. I needed $1200 in order for me and my two kids to not be homeless at Christmas.
Not ten minutes went by before a burst of blonde came through the door. She looked as surprised to see me. She was younger, but not by much. I later found out she was 24 and she went by Monica.
“You’re new!” she laughed. She didn’t seem awful or hateful. I was relieved to see someone who could tell me what the $100 entailed.
“Ever worked before?” she asked, plopping down her huge purse in the space between us on the couch, pulling out her makeup and applying more foundation with a sponge. She didn’t need any more makeup on.
“No. Brand new. ”
She put her sponge down and looked at me, her eyes seemed friendly. She half laughed.
“Okay, sooooooo…. A few pointers.”
She gave me the rundown, from what to charge, to how to take the lead in the beginning, to how to get him the hell out so I could get to the next client. It was too much. I really wanted to take notes but didn’t want to seem like a total nerd.
“Always get the money before anything, and if he’s a cop, he can’t get naked and touch you, so make sure he gets naked and touches you. Oh and don’t let him try to do anything without a condom, no matter how much extra he wants to pay. Also, don’t tell him anything about your life, family, name, kids. Not a good idea, ya know?” I nodded, really wishing I could take notes. I would write everything down later that night at home.
I didn’t know at the time but the part of the police not able to get naked and touch me wasn’t true.
“Is that your name? Uh….no, your other name…your working name?” she smiled. She had perfect straight white teeth. Too white. Were they real?
I became Miranda.
A few months later I felt I didn’t need Vui. I had been paying him half and knew enough to go independent so I joined finances with another independent sex worker I met thru Vui’s and together we rented a furnished two bedroom apartment. I learned how to put my ads in the free paper to advertise. It was expensive to advertise in the free paper but that was where everyone found us. I bought a business license so I could advertise in the regular newspaper. I taught myself how to post online. The phone started ringing at all hours and I had yet learned any boundaries. I ran myself ragged.
Other sex workers we knew wanted to use our incall location. Soon, there was too much traffic and the landlord started asking questions I didn’t know how to answer. I found a house downtown, it was in a seedy area but there was plenty of parking and had a decent fenced backyard where we could lounge half naked and listen to music. We were all in this together. We outgrew that, so next up was a smallish commercial location. The landlord let me paint the walls a Pepto pink. I was smoking way too much weed to be able to make such encompassing decisions. It was horrendous. I bought ad space at the radio station to announce our grand opening. I created a snazzy website to highlight pictures and contact information for Excel of Alaska. We were a dozen strong by now, a sisterhood (and even one amazing college bi guy) were we could laugh and bemoan the idiocracies that only daily nudity and happy endings could entail.
Soon enough that space became small and I found a four bedroom two story residential home. I was happy to leave the Pepto pink palace.
Renamed The Parlor, the large house was fairly busy. Open from 10am to 11pm, we offered walk-ins and calls to the house to set up appointments, just like when I had started two years earlier. It was a business. Two blocks away stood The Chateau, a well known Alaskan brothel that had been in business for two decades, closed due to tax fraud. I made sure to pay my taxes.
At the house, we created community and desperately needed boundaries. I read Veronica Monet’s Sex Secrets of Escorts: What Men Really Want and was able to get some valuable ideas on how to proceed. Really, up until then, we were clueless and just making things up as we went along. We held weekly meetings where we discussed issues that surfaced (like how we wanted to do or not do lineups, or what to do when we had an unruly customer) and signed up for our times to be on the schedule. There were anywhere from 8 to 10 of us, and at least 3 were scheduled per shift, with two shifts in a day.
Things went smoothly until one night we were burglarized. It happened when we were closed and it was caught on the cameras. I knew it had to have been someone who worked there at one point because they knew where the drop box was. I invested in a large safe the size of a filing cabinet and bolted it to the floor. Then we were robbed. I wasn’t there, but several ladies were, including one of my closest friends. The bullet fired came inches from her head when the robbers became upset that the safe couldn’t be opened.
The police did nothing to investigate. Instead, a few weeks later, they did a prostitution sting that I learned about one morning when I came in and saw the evidence receipts on the kitchen counter. The police cleaned out the safe, listed $340 as the amount, and arrested two women. They quickly bailed out. No police officer ever came to talk to me.
The final straw was the landlord coming over and tossing everything out, saying I hadn’t paid rent. I had, but it was to the man who had evidently been “subleasing” it, unbeknownst to me. I knew I could pursue legal remedies but I was exhausted. It was time to close shop and move on.
I held a job at the local paper for a short time while I worked as an independent sex worker. I had got remarried during the time of The Parlor and things just weren’t working out. I got divorced and struggled with feelings of failure that I numbed by drinking heavily.
Months later I stabbed a man I didn’t even know at a bar. I was looking at 7 to 10 years. My kids were still young and I thought my life was over. Somehow I landed a “whale” client. I was given a hefty allowance and had no worries. The 7 to 10 years became ankle monitoring thanks to a private attorney and an agreement to pay the man’s medical bills. Still, I wanted to be self-sufficient, and I was getting older. A 401K plan and medical insurance seemed responsible and safe. I found an admin position at a gas exploration company where I was able to use my skills. I was able to utilize my degree and gain additional training in the human resources field. I remarried.
In 2012 Monica, (the one who had imparted the valuable life-changing information my first night and who I had stayed friends with and worked with on and off through the years), fell upon hard times and returned to Alaska. I put up some ads for her. Never being able to go halfway, I created another website after another friend asked me to post and screen for her as well. Excel of Alaska was created. Within months I became overwhelmed and sick of the time wasters that called so I sold the business, website, and cards, to a young up and coming rapper who’s girlfriend was a few sex worker. I wished him luck. Still, it was hard to walk away. I liked the ability to make extra money and provide for my kids’ things I never had growing up. Plus, I was good at what I did. As long as I kept boundaries and not overwork, I would be alright. Sensual Alaska was created by lessons learned.
One of the things I loved about Sensual Alaska was the creative aspect of website design. I resigned the “knock or call” I had learned because of the need to screen clients. Dangerous things happened to many of my friends and the police never did anything to protect us. I utilized my computer sleuthing skills and completely screened clients before setting up appointments. I still had regulars from years before. I became pickier with who I worked with, not wanting to become overwhelmed. My motto was no drama, no drugs, no drunks.
Fast forward two years.
July 9th, 2014.
I was adding some affiliation codes to the Sensual Alaska website as I sat at my kitchen table drinking coffee. Through the kitchen window, I saw someone I didn’t recognize walk to my door. I felt shaky fear immediately. I knew something was wrong. I was a private person and people just didn’t show up at my house. I was being robbed or arrested.
As I sat on my porch with the lead investigating officer I was adamant that the independent contractor agreements were proof that I wasn’t a sex trafficker. I knew his tactics, saying he wanted to help me, that maybe I knew others in the business. I wasn’t the one they wanted really, but unless I knew some sex traffickers they would have to arrest me. I didn’t know any traffickers. I didn’t know anyone underage. I didn’t associate with others in the business, I stayed to myself and I assured him that if I did come across situations like that I would’ve called the police because victimizing people, especially kids, was horrific.
I hadn’t realized the laws regarding prostitution had changed in 2012. What had been Promoting Prostitution charges became Sex Trafficking charges. This increased the penalties, causing Class A Promoting Prostitution misdemeanors, punishable up to one year, being bumped up to Class C, punishable by up to five years. Class C felonies bumped up to Class B felonies, and so on. I was charged with eight counts of Sex Trafficking, all Class B’s and Class C’s.
Sex traffickers held women, men, and children captive and made them have sex. That wasn’t me. Everyone had their own key to the incall. We made our own schedules. We had contests with weekly prizes of who had the most appointments. We were a community, working together for safety, bitching about crappy clients and competing with each other on tips. It didn’t matter. I fit the broad definition of sex trafficking that was now Alaska law.
Sex work sure, but sex trafficking. No.
I was sure they would get it figured out. I was hopeful that the long-awaited trip I had planned with my now-14-year-old daughter, five days away, would still happen.
It didn’t. In the beginning, I had such high hopes that I would be able to resume to my normal life.
The judge ordered the strictest bail conditions possible. Electronic monitoring (at my cost of $600 a month), a live third party at all times, and lockdown at home. And no electronics-phone or computer- in my possession. I was still on probation from my years earlier assault, arrested only 2 weeks before I had completed five years of probation without issue, so I was also charged with a petition to revoke probation since I had been arrested, an additional reason for increased bail conditions.
I was able to be out on bail with those conditions for a few months. I wasn’t able to pay my mortgage and had to ask friends to help. Friends brought food over so I could feed my kids, and my sister, who was my third party. After Christmas, right before my daughters 15th birthday, my sister decided she had to go back home. I found a new live third party, which was denied, so I went back to jail, my daughter returning home from school with her mom in jail, again. These were the darkest days of my life and I still recede to quiet places in my mind when I think of these days.
My attorney said I was looking at a 25-year minimum sentence.
While I was out on bail my then-husband Quinn Batts was arrested for Sex Trafficking, charged because he had helped me run my prostitution enterprise. His part in my enterprise: he would grab the laundry from the incall.
The State used him as a bargaining chip when they did offer me a plea deal; plead guilty to a Sex Trafficking Class B felony, and he would be able to plead guilty to a Sex Trafficking Class C felony charge. I would have open sentencing, with six to ten years, per judge discretion, and he would have five years, with five years suspended. It was too risky to fight my case, although my attorney was opinionated and exceptional, this was the best outcome.
As per part of the plea deal was I was allowed to bail out again, same conditions minus the live third party. I had the summer to get things in order. I spent every moment I could with my family, with loved ones. I had so much fear of missing my daughter’s high school years.
I contemplated suicide.
I contemplated cutting off the monitor and running away.
I took life day by day and stood as tall as I could at my sentencing, which turned out to be two-day ordeal, beginning on Friday, August 14th, where it was continued and I gratefully had the weekend to be with my children.
On Monday, August 17th, 2015 I was sentenced to five and a half years, just as my daughter started her first year in high school. I was remanded at sentencing. I had remained hopeful the judge would allow me ankle monitor or some other miracle would happen, still, I wasn’t entirely surprised.
Nervous, I tried to make small talk with the female trooper transporting me from the courthouse to the Anchorage Jail. She was quiet until we were waiting at the Anchorage Jail as I was turned over for intake. She told me I was lower than the scum on the bottom of her shoe. I was so angry. I knew then that I was marked as a sex trafficker in the eyes of society.
I walked the yard after being transferred to Hiland Mountain Correctional Center mulling over the day when I could and would speak up for myself. I knew that I wasn’t a piece of shit person and had a long road before me dealing with how society saw me. What would I say? What could I say?
While at the halfway house I faced additional harassment from staff because of my charge. My teenage daughter wasn’t allowed to visit me unless her biological dad brought her in. A man I had divorced when she was three years old and had a wife that did not want him to bring our daughter to visit me.
Because I had the word “sex” in my crime staff and probation officers, people that had control over my life and what and where I could go, made limiting choices for me. The home I had raised my kids in I had to sell since the mobile home park saw my name splashed all over the media and refused to allow me to return. I lost the two dogs I had for over seven years, my son, although by then a young man, became essentially homeless. I told myself I would be okay, it was all just material belongings. Yet even now I have moments of anger coupled with anxiety.
Yes. I was a sex worker.
Yes, I screened clients and set up appointments for myself and others.
And yes I have a sex trafficking charge.
Because of this, I have stuck with my minimum wage job as a server, a job I found while I was at the halfway house. I lucked out and was able to rent a room from a friend, and when she moved out I was able to take over the lease, but before that finding anyone that would rent to me was impossible. To be homeless would mean my daughter couldn’t live with me. To be homeless would mean going back to jail because on electronic monitoring, you had to have an address and a landline for the equipment.
On November 14, 2018, I was granted discretionary parole. I was scheduled to see my parole officer twice a month, which after a few months was changed to once a month.
I am sure Alaska hoped I would go away quietly, grateful for the five years I was sentenced to. Yet, I was given more consequences than readily visible at my sentencing. My charge limits me because society hears “sex trafficking” and has a preconceived view of what that is, not entirely dependent on individual morals. Truly, when “sex trafficker” is mentioned, even I get a distinct view in my mind. Law enforcement around the world has been well funded by the End Demand movement and the term “consensual” might as well mean “immoral” to many.
Sex workers have been removed from the discussion and the systematic killing of both consent and autonomy has been removed by FOSTA/SESTA. This has seemed to be instrumental in the quelling of numerous deaths of sex workers, vastly ignored by mainstream media. Only sensationalism stands strong, while border agents are serial killers and once vibrant and safe sex workers are found strangled in the park or shot multiple times by police.
I am active in being a part of changing the laws that criminalize sex workers working together for safety and security. We need decriminalization of sex work in order to realistically fight sex trafficking, as well as combat the violence and stigma that sex workers face daily.
I speak up and tell others my story in hopes that more people will understand that sex trafficking and sex work are two very different things. Consent. Consensual. These are terms that have been drowned out by the moral crusaders that say anyone selling their body is unworthy of making an informed decision. The sensationalism of sex trafficking has permeated societies view of sex workers in a very systematic way.
I will not sink quietly into the backdrop. I will write about it. It’s my truth and I get to tell it. I am due to be off parole, with no further legal entanglements this upcoming December 2018.
The last few years have not made me bitter, but instead, have caused me to take a look at what I believe in and what I am willing to risk for my freedom of choice.
I met Donna when I was 21. It was 1996 and I was doing time at Lemon Creek Correctional Center for a Tampering with Physical Evidence charge. I was convicted and sentenced to 5 years with 3 suspended. Donna had been charged with First Degree Murder at age 21 in 1987. She had already served more than 10 years.
Donna was quiet, intelligent, petite and blonde. I wasn’t. I was a hellion when I was 21 and in Lemon Creek Correctional Center. We didn’t have much in common but I had always been in awe of her, partly because of her calming demeanor and partly because she was surviving a life sentence. She didn’t belong there and I knew in the back of my mind somehow, she would be released.
Post Conviction Release (PCR)?
In 2014 I was arrested and placed into Hiland Mountain Correctional Center and Donna was there. I was surprised. I would always see her in the law library, where she worked for .50 an hour. She hadn’t won any of her appeals and had a very slow moving, frustrating one in the works.
She had endured countless people saying they would help her. Some did, to no avail, and many didn’t. Over time we became close. We were roomies and would have decadent ice cream nights as we watched The Walking Dead. She would cook amazing vegetarian meals purchased from the measly commissary list, her only cooking apparatus a microwave. At times I would sneak her back fresh fruit from the cafeteria since she would very rarely go for their overstarched and empty calorie-laden meals.
Donna Armey is an amazing woman with a heartbreaking tale. I am embarking on this story of a life wasted away due to being incarcerated by hashing it out on this blog and then shedding light on her ordeal by doing two other things. First, I will be creating a website focusing on the many complex issues surrounding her conviction and her PCR, as well as the lawsuits and harassing write-ups and sexual misconduct by DOC, and second, a funding site to assist her with her ongoing PCR.
This is a brave woman who hasn’t sat idly by. Donna didn’t and still doesn’t back down to speaking of her innocence. Being a woman incarcerated you learn to keep your mouth shut. Not make waves. Not speak up. Usually, DOC gets away with this because women have more to lose. Contact with children, contact with the family. That’s not the case with Donna. She was never afforded the opportunity to have children, to raise a family, nor was she able to go to either of her parents’ funerals. She has paid a price. I love and respect her for never giving up. I have waited a long time to be able to do this for her.
The facts of the case are clear. Donna Armey was convicted of a murder that happened when she wasn’t there and that she didn’t orchestrate.
The shooter, Denbo, has been released and is living free.
What the hell happened and where are they now?
With support from home, Donna hired a well-known Fairbanks criminal defense attorney, Dick Madson, a local defense attorney best known for representing Exxon Valdez skipper Joe Hazelwood.
But before they met, Madson added her husband as his client. Although their interests conflicted, Madson remained the official attorney for both defendants for the crucial next two months.
The prosecution offered plea bargains. Mike Moritz testified and got five years with two suspended for helping kidnap Miner and to take him to his execution.
Clyde Denbo, the killer, also agreed to testify and got a 75-year sentence. If he had been convicted of kidnapping and murder, he could have gotten more than 200 years. He was released from prison in 2015.
Brad Graber helped with the kidnapping but didn’t participate in the murder. He got a suspended sentence for criminally negligent homicide, spending nine months in jail.
The state also offered deals to the Mathises, delivered through Madson. The district attorney would allow Donna Armey to plead guilty to manslaughter, like Moritz, while Geoff Mathis could plead guilty to first-degree murder.
All drug charges would be dropped.
Apparently nothing was put in writing, but the offers were mentioned in court filings later.
Donna Armey didn’t take the plea bargain because she was innocent. But she also says she didn’t understand the risk she faced.
Madson presented the manslaughter deal in a cursory way, taking only a few minutes when all three were in a small prison meeting room together.
Madson did not explain the implications.
The plea bargain offered would have gotten Donna Armey out in a few years at most with no requirement to testify. But after her conviction, prosecutors asked the judge for a sentence of more than 200 years.
In a 2003 affidavit, Madson defended his actions and said he did all he could to convince Donna to accept the plea bargain. The same affidavit also said, falsely, that he never represented both defendants.
Geoff got his own attorney but the couple’s cases were never separated. Having a joined defense created the impression Donna’s behavior was the same as her husband’s. The Anchorage attorney who represented Geoff, Janet Crepps, worked closely with Madson during the trial.
During the trial, Madson made a few efforts to distinguish Donna’s role from her husband’s but presented no witnesses. Most testimonies referred to the couple as “they” rather than as individuals.
Donna could have testified. She was an articulate and appealing young woman and could have believably blamed everything on her husband. She told me she would have told the whole story, including her husband’s part in it.
Madson said in his affidavit that he advised Donna not to testify because she had nothing to say that would help, he didn’t call witnesses because there were none to call, and he didn’t try to split the trials because the defenses of Donna and Geoff were the same.
The decision to pair the couple’s defenses and keep Donna off the stand may have benefited Geoff, who had been Madson’s client for two months.
The trials could easily have been split.
As the trial date approached, Crepps was on vacation. She requested a time extension to prepare.
At that point, Donna could have insisted on her right to a speedy trial, which would have automatically split her case from her husband’s. But she says no one explained the disadvantage of a joint trial and she waived her right.
The other accomplices made plea deals to testify against the Mathises.
In jail before the trial, Denbo told a fellow prisoner, Monte Kimball, that he shot Miner because he had panicked, not as part of a plan, according to a private investigator’s report from the time. But Denbo said he would testify against Donna to get the plea bargain and lessen his own sentence.
Even with that intent, Denbo didn’t offer much against her.
A key piece of evidence suggesting Donna knew about the murder beforehand was what she said when the killers returned to the pickup. Moritz said she asked, having heard three shots, if they had each taken turns firing.
On the witness stand, he failed to back up Moritz’s story about what Donna said right after the shooting.
Instead, Denbo said what Geoff Mathis also told me, that she was surprised by the shots and asked what had happened.
Then, on prompting from the prosecutor, Denbo changed his testimony to agree with Moritz’s.
But 10 years later, Denbo changed his story. In a letter and affidavit sent from prison to the trial judge, he said he had lied to implicate Donna Armey to get the plea bargain. Claiming he had reformed and wanted to clear his conscience, he now said Donna had nothing to do with planning the murder.
Leaving aside Denbo’s testimony, the last piece of evidence disappears that Donna Armey caused the murder.
After hearing all the evidence, Judge Jay Hodges considered dismissing the case, weighing whether Donna Armey could even be called an accomplice in the crime.
Using a legal rule to assume everything in the worst possible light against her, he said it was a close call.
But he let the case go to the jury and they handed her the same conviction as her husband.
Judge Jay Hodges sentenced Donna Armey to 99 years.
What can you do?
Share this blog, help Donna’s story get out there.
She needs media attention and financial assistance fighting her PCR case. Having a private attorney that cares would be optimal. I will be creating a crowdfunding source and have this linked to Donna’s site, once created.
Set up a Securus account.
Donna cannot call anyone unless they have an account. It costs $1.08 a minute to speak with a voice at the other end of the phone. She has been incarcerated for over 30 years now.
I presented this to the 2018 CLPP (Civil Liberties & Public Policy, held at the Hampshire College in Amherst, Massachusetts on Friday, April 13th, 2018.
CLPP is a national reproductive rights and justice organization dedicated to educating, mentoring, and inspiring new generations of advocates, leaders, and supporters. Combining activism, organizing, leadership training, and reproductive rights movement building, CLPP promotes an inclusive agenda that advances reproductive rights and health, and social and economic justice.
My presentation, titled “When Sex Trafficking is Sensationalized: Criminalizing Working Together” was created to bring awareness and a broader understanding of how sex work and sex trafficking are being conflated.
I used Alaska as a case study and explored the differences between the Federal definition of sex trafficking, as well as the differences between New York and Texas State sex trafficking laws.
Also, many may not know this, but in some States, people charged with prostitution, sex trafficking or even patronizing a prostitute must register as a sex offender.
Comments, suggestions, and feedback are welcome. I would like to sit down with different organizations and with our lawmakers to discuss the information presented in this.
Thank you to everyone who helped with this, either with invaluable information, their time, and sitting in my run-throughs.
What is that? Unless you are in the sex worker sphere, you have no idea how this act can and will change your life.
You don’t have to be a sex worker to feel the freedom of speech encroachment of our individual rights being eroded away by this Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act.. FOSTA passed in late February. It’s been largely portrayed by the media and those in Congress as an “anti-sex trafficking” measure. It does nothing to fight sex trafficking, but it changes how individuals can express their sexual freedoms and dating activities, not only sex worker advertising, in a variety of ways.
Many online sites used to advertise or screen clients of those in the sex worker biz are changing their policies regarding any advertising.
Looking for love in all the obvious (online) places? Not on Craigslist. Craigslist explains in the brief notice that now appears in place of potential partners if you try to go to a personals listing.
Under current law, sites can’t be held legally liable if someone uses veiled terms to solicit commercial sex—aka prostitution. Such as Casual Encounters through the Craigslist personals.
But FOSTA will change that, opening up Craigslist (and every other digital platform) to serious legal and financial jeopardy should it accidentally “promote” or “facilitate” prostitution.
Prostitution is not sex trafficking. Prostitution involves consent and sex trafficking does not.
FOSTA will “subject websites to criminal and civil liability when third parties (users) misuse online personals unlawfully.”
So what does this mean for sex workers?
Ads for prostitution and discussion of prostitution and free-speech are implicated. Blogs could be shut down, and many could find their social-media accounts suspended simply for being honest about their work.
FOSTA makes it a federal crime to “promote or facilitate the prostitution of another person,” punishable by up to 10 years in prison, plus fines. For promoting the prostitution of five or more people, the penalty is 25 years.”
Sex workers don’t have to worry about being punished for posting their own ads, but they could run afoul of the law if working in pairs or helping a colleague place an ad.
FOSTA targets are websites, apps, and message boards. Congress updated Section 230, which has governed the internet for 22 years. It had protected web platforms from being sued in civil court or criminally charged by state prosecutors for third-party (i.e., user-posted) content.
Section 230 had stated that unless they create the content in whole or part, these platforms shall not be treated as the speaker of such content, and good-faith efforts at content moderation (like banning ads that explicitly mention illegal acts or auto-filtering out content that contains prohibited words) do not change this.
Under FOSTA, this won’t apply when paid sex is concerned.
Sites are updating and changing things in order to prohibit any content that could get them held liable.
If that’s not bad enough, FOSTA “shall apply regardless of whether the conduct alleged occurred… before, on, or after such date of enactment.”
This is known as an ex-post facto law, and it’s forbidden by the U.S. Constitution.
No less than the U.S. Department of Justice has urged against passing FOSTA, calling it unconstitutional and saying that it would make prosecuting sex traffickers harder. “You’re heading in the wrong direction if you [pass a bill] that would raise the burden of proof in cases against sex traffickers,” said Oregon Sen. Ron Wyden Wednesday from the Senate floor.
Wyden—who co-authored Section 230—was the only Democrat to vote against the bill, and Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul the only Republican. An amendment to FOSTA proposed by Wyden would have clarified that websites can try to filter out illegal content without increasing their liability, but it was overwhelmingly defeated.
Wyden stressed that FOSTA is not a matter of substituting some free-speech rights for a better ability to stop sex trafficking. Rather, it’s imposing serious burdens while at best doing nothing for trafficking victims and quite likely making their lives worse.
For one thing, it incentivizes law enforcement to go after third parties rather than stop traffickers or rescue victims. It also takes away an important tool for finding trafficking victims—the open internet. This new paradigm creates huge incentives for cops and prosecutors to go after websites and apps rather than actual criminals—ensuring thatreal victims, and public safety, will suffer along with open expression. Online ads have allowed an untold number of victims to be identified and found. What’s more, the digital trail of ads, emails, and texts can provide evidence that makes catching and prosecuting the perpetrators easier. Law enforcement loses this when traffickers switch to private, encrypted, or dark web forums.
Violence against women has been heavy on my mind lately.
A few months ago I was able to attend my first sex worker event here in Anchorage. The Community United for Safety and Protection (CUSP) hosted Alaska’s 5th Annual International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers in Anchorage on December 17.
Held at the Alaska Center for Alternative Lifestyles, our community members read off the names of those murdered and/or missing, many still unsolved.
In total, 17 Anchorage sex workers are on the list since 1990.
We all stood with candles at the end, reading the names of the different women killed over the years. I read the names of two women, one found murdered, the other hasn’t been found. I was disgusted that I hadn’t heard anything about either of these women before this day.
Months later, it’s something I think of often, how do missing or murdered women get swept under the radar?
Either name could have been mine, or someone I knew.
Here are the two women you may not have heard about from 2014.
Jael Hamblen, was last seen at her South Anchorage apartment on Oct. 11, 2014. Twenty years old at the time, she left behind a 7-month-old son. She has yet to be found.
More information can be found here regarding Jael.
Jessica Lake was only 26 years old when she was found murdered.
The reports don’t list either woman as a sex worker, yet newspapers generally do not list circumstances in an open case.
I won’t delve into detail because I did not do the research needed in order for it to be factual. I’m not going to do either of these women any justice by 1) waiting until I had all the details, besides regurgitating what the newspapers already reported, and 2) spending months conducting a private investigation that would likely just cause me anger issues.
Take some time to read about these young women, and if you or someone you know think you have any information that could help either case, please contact the detectives listed in the articles.
Alaska has some of the highest rates of abuse towards women.
Alaska can be a deadly place for a woman. A new study ranks Alaska first in the nation in the rate of women murdered by men.
The Violence Policy Center, a nonprofit based in Washington, D.C. that aims to reduce gun deaths, says the homicide rate among females murdered by males in Alaska was 3.15 per 100,000 in 2014. That’s nearly three times the national average.
Rape is underreported nationwide, but Alaska’s rate of reported rape is three times the national average.
Cheri Ingram was murdered February 28th, 2018.
An Anchorage Grand Jury indicted 27-year-old Simon Weyiouanna on Murder in the First Degree, Murder in the Second Degree, and several counts of Tampering with Physical Evidence in the First Degree.
Weyiouanna picked up Cheri in a “street transaction” in Spenard with the intention of paying for sex. While he was carrying her body to his car a neighbor saw what was going on and called the police, the neighbors holding Simon at gunpoint so he wouldn’t leave.
Other local sex workers that may have seen Simon as a client are fearful to come forward with information.
The Prosecutor and the Municipal Prosecutor are not willing to make a statement that people coming forward would have immunity. Standard immunity in Alaska doesn’t cover this situation and an attorney would need to go over the agreement before sending any names.
As laws make it harder for anyone working as a sex worker and push more for criminalization for those working together, this leads to isolation, more chances for exploitation and fewer chances for safety protocols.
Sex work is being branded as sex trafficking, with the actions most sex workers use for safety, security, and screening punishable as felonies.
It’s time to change this.
Make a difference!
Interested in attending Simons court dates so Cheri’s killer gets more than a few years for murdering her?
Visit Community United for Safety and Protection (CUSP) here.
I went to the Women’s March in Las Vegas in support of sex workers, incarcerated women and those that face prejudice based on their personal choices. I knew that to be a part of something far bigger than me would give me a chance to give back to something I could and never would be able to do alone.
We stood on the stage at Sam Boyd stadium in solidarity. Umbrellas, sex worker signs, red t-shirts emblazoned with “Rights not Rescue”. Arriving early, we set up our informational table and arranged various flyers. SWOP Behind Bars, SWUP, as well as some local sex worker support groups, were all represented at the table. Tech genius Rebel Rae had created an app the night before to use rather when someone was interested in staying connected or learning more about how to support sex worker rights. Yes. The night before. She, along with others (Emma) communicated for countless hours with the March organizers, had lost sleep for weeks and made the magic happen in order for sex workers to be able to come together here at the Women’s March Las Vegas 2018.
Rebel Rae and I in Las Vegas, 2018
The March was a battle cry, with notables such as Alicia Garza, the co-founder of Black Lives Matter, Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, civil rights activist Rev. William Barber III and Cris Sardina, director of the Desiree Alliance, a sex worker-led network of organizations, communities and individuals across the US working in harm reduction, direct services, political advocacy and health services for sex workers, taking the stage. See Cris Sardina’s speech below.
I stood on stage, sign in arms, and shivered as the sun waned and the wind kicked up. The Las Vegas Women’s March co-chair Carmen Pere, Executive Director of The Gathering for Justice, spoke early on, focused on white women’s responsibility to create space for people of color within the movement and in the political arena.
“If you don’t see your community at the table, make sure to pull up a chair,” Perez said. “And if you’re white, scootch your chair over a little. Make room for us.”
I nodded in agreement, knowing first hand how real discrimination and separation feels. Yes, I’m white, but I have never felt I had a place at the table. Growing up in State custody and foster homes, being a felon at an age before I could legally drink, and being a sex-worker (retired), I had always felt a seat at the table was beyond my reach, or at the very least, had felt like an imposter while I was in that seat. Sitting at the table at the Sex Trafficking workgroup, or at the Alaska Criminal Justice Commission workgroup, is uncomfortable. To move over because I am white is not only absurd but felt like I was once again being separated because I didn’t measure up or fit in. I didn’t see a way in from being set aside.
The process of empowerment cannot be simplistically defined in accordance with our own particular class interests. We must learn to lift as we climb. – Angela Davis
It would be hours until Cris Sardina would give her speech. We waited on the stage, cheering and supporting the speakers before her.
“Walk together to the finish line. ”
“Apathetic attitudes that refuse to do anything is violence.”
“Be loud with our votes.”
“Organize, show up and have a voice.”
“We must build an inclusive movement in this country.”
We held our red umbrellas, signs gripped in our hands as the prevailing cold wind whipped warmth out of many. Did we have a seat at the table? Three and a half hours into the Women’s March Cris Sardina took to the stage. See her speech, below. After a few minutes on the stand, the music kicked on to let her know to wrap it up. She wasn’t the only one given notice. Other speakers were given a musical push as well.
Cris Sardina’s speech:
I am a mother, I am a grandmother, I am a great-grandmother, and I am a sex worker.
As I stand here today, I look out and wonder how many of us, intentionally or unintentionally, place our boots on our sisters’ necks? That under the crushing weight of patriarchy, we divide, we separate, and we silence one another. The learned processes of morality and judgement and laws that holds us down, keep us from speaking with one another, keep us from standing together, and keep our gaze from envisioning a rights-based world where equality equals reality.
These teachings are deeply ingrained in the fabric of our herstories, and we cannot escape them. But now, we stand in a timed place of history that we must unlearn these belief systems. Because, if we pretend the hierarchy does not exist within us, we continue to divide and separate and silence one another. We will continue to center the selected few to the battle cry of #MeToo and #TimesUp and #AllWomen, and it becomes a moot point to those this very space loudly quiets down.
Our responsibilities are great to one another and we must ask ourselves the hard question of what has been accomplished untying the knots, if we continue to hold on tightly to the rope.
I want us to see the sex workers rights movement as part of the solution and not the problem. We are a strong and fierce community made up of every color, every race, every identity, every shape, every economy, every religion, and so much more. Sex workers have been to the United Nations, we’ve been to the White House, we’re currently in the 9th circuit fighting for full decriminalizaton, we’ve been given national and global audiences, and we get IT done!
When we literally lay down our bodies to be arrested on the Senate floor for healthcare, when criminalization still affects people who are living with HIV and AIDS, when the courts continuously hammer down on reproductive rights, health, & justice, when raped women still stand on she said/he said platforms, when accessible childcare is still absent, when trans voices are screaming to stop killing them, when women still pay the price of being a wife and mother versus a thriving career, when sex is criminalized in the legal and moral courts, when families become homeless because their paychecks cannot meet the rising cost of gentrifications, when women still take home less pay than men, when children go hungry in the most developed nation in the world, when people of color are incarcerated in the United States at percentages that far exceed any global percentages of incarceration, when blood for oil destroys native lands, when city waters are poisoned and undrinkable, when groups of people are deported for dreaming… When the government is brutally attacking everything we have fought for: On the front lines, you will be standing right next to a sex worker.
In my time, I have seen many things. I have lived through the generations that fought in the streets for the recognitions and rights we have today. And now, I live with the generation that will carry the same burning torch – farther and more furious. I applaud every woman here today. Stand in your truth not in your judgement. Stand with each other and ask one another “Is my boot on your neck?”
This is my truth as I live it. I no longer give anyone permission to see me as less than. Don’t dismiss my womanhood. I am a sex worker. I am allowed to be here.
Use your vote wisely! Live in your Truth! Burn it all down and Rise among the ashes!
I tell myself that all movements need time, to keep going and face the difficulties. That is what the work is. I’m new to this, having made parole only two months ago. Only recently could I tell my truth. I was outed as a sex worker in 2014, demonized as a sex trafficker. Still, I find myself wondering how others that have faced the same discriminatory practices, the same type of “thanks for your words, now kindly get off the mike…” are able to not only stand by as the sweeping of the speeches occur but are a part of the very broom.
The negative form of prejudice can lead to discrimination, although it is possible to be prejudiced and not act upon the attitudes. Those who practice discrimination do so to protect opportunities for themselves by denying access to those whom they believe do not deserve the same treatment as everyone else.
The time to marginalize and separate further is over. To allow on stage, but not finish our words, to claim to hear and include but continue to push back when someone more “important” or “relevant” wants to speak, only further oppresses. To marginalize, alienate, and exclude a people who have had no choice but to struggle for our legitimacy and existence is deeply wrong.
The violence sex workers are subjected to, and our limited access to justice, is enabled by social attitudes that position sex workers as second-class citizens. In the end, we were on that stage. It all begins somewhere, and long before I was involved in sex worker rights, someone was setting the stage for our voices to be heard.
Now is the time sex worker rights movement becomes more than just random upset individuals; we have been organized and strategic for some time now. Still, understanding that did not help me, when the next day I would be sick in a hotel bed, shivering, hot and nauseated. It was worth it, being a part of, rather than apart from.
In a perfect world, sex worker rights wouldn’t have to be something that receives criticism. In my perfect world Angela Davis, someone who inspires me to keep it pushing in times of emotional discomfort, would be there in attendance. On stage.
No such luck. Next time, maybe.
Support sex workers rights! Rights, not rescue.
Interested in supporting SWOP Behind Bars?
Consider purchasing a shirt. Sizes L-2XL are available.
It has been 15 days since I have been released from the Department of Corrections Ankle Monitoring program.
EM, for short.
I did a short interview with Daniella Rivera with Channel 11 news the morning I was released. Finally, a news program that didn’t show me as some moral monster. I was able to tell my side of the story and discuss the issues that I have struggled with staying quiet about.
Now, some may be thinking “Wouldn’t it be easier to just shrink into the background?”
That would be safer, rather than putting my face and voice out there. But I wouldn’t have to read comments like this, to brighten my day:
“I’m very very sorry to know that there is a young high school graduate entering adulthood who has a so-called “mother” that advocates and does such filthy, immoral, dangerous, self-deprecating so-called “work” and wants to be respected for it. Would she really encourage her daughter to be one of these prostitutes? I just can’t believe there truly are mothers like this in the world.”
” I am sick of seeing the articles about these criminals with no remorse! Screw them. Just think of all the crime and violence connected to these idiots. The STDs, violence and dugs connected to the prostitution trade takes a huge toll on our communities and the children of these thugs. Have you ever spent time with the child of a pimp. They become way worse than the parent. Stop acting like pimp an ho are decent life choices.”
Said typos are their own.
Yes, it would be easier to just stay quiet. Let others fight this fight, lick my wounds (loss of home, time with kids and friends, independence) and just be grateful. Oh, so grateful, that I am free.
Well, I am doing both. I am grateful but I will not be quiet about what changes I see need to be made.
Freedom of speech. Freedom of thought.
Silence will not change anything. Targeting sex workers on the premise of combating sex trafficking will not end trafficking. Let me write that again.
Targeting sex workers on the premise of combating sex trafficking will not end trafficking.
It is time to examine our moral values and judgments. I would rather speak up for what I believe, the autonomy of life choices, then stay quiet and watch the criminalization of sex workers take place.
Alaska State Law lumps sex workers working together, for safety, for sanity, as sex trafficking. I’ve written much about my thoughts on this. I’ll spare you more at this juncture.
Federal law defines sex trafficking as:
Sex trafficking is the recruitment, harboring, transportation, provision, obtaining, patronizing, or soliciting of a person for the purposes of a commercial sex act, in which the commercial sex act is induced by force, fraud, or coercion, or in which the person induced to perform such an act has not attained 18 years. FOR MORE INFO VISIT LINK HERE.
Sex workers are a marginalized group, further criminalized and targeted. Much of the violence many face comes from those framed as “rescuers”.
I wish I could respond to the myriad of comments on the Channel 11 news link. I am not willing to put my children in the line of fire of those who condemn me for my beliefs. I won’t use my blog as a war zone to respond to those comments, either.
If I could say one thing that could change something, it would be this:
Stand up and speak.
Silence does not change anything.
If you believe in making a change, in anything in your life, then don’t be afraid to speak your truth.
Thanks for reading today! I am now off to get ready for my minimum wage job.
It is November 11th, 2017. Saturday morning. I will be released in less than 72 hours. Until recently I had thought my release date was May 27th, 2018. I felt grateful enough just to be spending my last few months on electronic monitoring. I could have just kept happily plugging along, knowing I was able to go home at night to my kids. Not too long ago I was lucky to have 10 minutes on the phone with my daughter for that day.
I don’t know who you are, reading this, but let me give a brief overview of my story. It won’t be as short as I’d like it, but I will try my hardest to not bore you.
My mom was 17 when I was born, my dad, 27. He had just been released from Lemon Creek Correctional. That’s in Juneau, where I am from. The marriage was short, and I have only one memory of seeing my mom and dad around each other. I was 4, we had just picked him up at the courthouse. I was in the backseat and my mom introduced him as Milton, My dad. I have other memories of Milton too, alone, age 5. I’ve worked hard at suppressing those memories. Later in life, I faced them, and in turn, faced many of the demons that kept me ensnared in my own dark places. In my late 20’s Milton OD’ed before I could face him with my forgiveness. He was my biggest cheerleader for my recovery from drugs and alcohol. He was found dead from an overdose. This was my first funeral. I didn’t stand up and say anything. Over time I have realized this as my only regret in life. I realized just how fearful I was in life at that time.
In my teens the State of Alaska raised me. Juneau Youth Services (Miller House), a few foster homes, and Johnson Youth Center (JYC) were my parents. I learned the serenity prayer behind a god-awful orange door at JYC. I experienced being a kid at Miller House. I learned that other families were just as screwed up in the foster homes I briefly stayed at. I was a runner. I would leave when things were going too good or when I didn’t get my way. I was a sad and hell-bent on ending my life as a teenager.
Fast forward a few years and seven treatment centers, and I am on a bench. Akeela. I was relocated to Anchorage Alaska by an adult probation officer that I have thanked a few times for saving me from myself. I am forever grateful for Akeela saving me from me.
I have had more clean time and recovery in my life than using at this point. I am grateful for that. My two kids, one actually an adult now, have seen my struggles, both when using and in recovery, and have had to deal with the brunt of this arrest and incarceration. They are loved and are stronger than I was at either of their ages. I didn’t give them up to the State and have been there as a parent every step of the way.
So what happened July 2014 didn’t devastate me. It knocked me down for a moment, but I am okay.
How did that happen? Oh, did I fail to mention that I answered an escort ad in The Press in 2004? I was 30 and was a burnt out drug & alcohol counselor, teaching water aerobics and youth yoga, barely making my mortgage. The final straw was an abusive husband. Escorting enabled me to leave an abusive situation that was harming my children and myself. I was able to pay my bills and provide for my children and myself. I worked for two different services and it was just a short time before I embarked on my own, with a few friends I had met on the way. One who taught me everything I know.
If we have met, you know my personality. I don’t know how to go halfway. I go full speed. Over the years, I have mellowed a bit, gained a few boundaries, insight over my actions, quit before it got too deep or said sorry when needed, but when I started on my own I was in the shadows of The Chateau, of Ravenite. I ran a business and was good at it. After a few years and a robbery at the incall location where a dear friend of mine was almost shot, I decided to close up shop and went to go work at the local paper.
I still worked as an independent for a short time before landing a whale (google if you don’t know). I took a break for several years, only to return to the business with a management role and as an occasional worker.
Not even 2 years later my daughter, while at her dads’ for the week, saw me on the news. I was arrested on 7 counts of Sex Trafficking. I won’t go into what Alaska’s definition of Sex Trafficking is, or how I see this as the new “War on Sex Workers” similar to the “War on Drugs”. I have written previous blogs focused on this.
I was arrested a few days before a long-awaited vacation to Knotts Berry Farm with my daughter. Tickets, hotel, everything bought and paid for. I watched planes in the sky from the plexiglass window at Hiland Mountain Correctional the night we were supposed to go. I was trying to bail out when I was charged with yet another felony. Class A Sex Trafficking. Someone I booked was 20. I was looking at 25 plus years. My life was over. I was able to bail out after 3 months, on GPS ankle monitor with an added live third party person who had to be with me 24/7, locked down at home, not allowed to be in possession of a phone or access the internet. Those were the darkest days in my life. I was sure my story would end in suicide or I was going to be on the run for the rest of my life. The only thing that stopped me from either of those choices were my two kids. I had felt I had done more than enough damage to them by the arrest.
My sister had been my live third party for about 2 months when she decided she couldn’t do it anymore. I went back to Hiland Mountain Correctional a week before my daughters 14th birthday. After two months I was able to bail out on GPS ankle monitor, sans the live third party, only if I took a plea deal. Plead guilty to a Class B Sex Trafficking charge, and I could stay out until July when I would be sentenced to 6 to 10 years. Open sentencing. Linked to this was my husband’s plea deal as well. He would only be convicted of a Class C Sex Trafficking charge and spend no time in jail. With him out, he could take care of my daughter and our home. I knew this was the best option.
Paying the $500 plus for my GPS ankle monitor every month I was out wasn’t easy. I had to depend on many others and on donations from a GoFundMe account a friend had set up. We didn’t have enough food to eat and I would dish my daughter up first. I really didn’t have much of an appetite anyway. I was able to volunteer at a food bank, along with my daughter, and we got the bulk of our food that way. Watching my daughter help others pick out food, how she cared and spoke to people from all walks of life, brought tears to my eyes. I had to be strong. I wasn’t a monster. How could I have such amazing, kind kids if I was such a horrible person?
I was still in shock that running an escort agency with consensual, of age women and men could send me to jail for that length of time. I knew my business may not have been completely kosher, but I had a business license, kept records, filed taxes, and had anyone who I worked with sign an independent contractor agreement that stated they wouldn’t trade sex for money and were working of their own volition. When I heard the term Sex Trafficking I thought of women being forced to have sex and kept locked away. I had no faith that I wouldn’t go away for years because everything was upside down.
My sentencing started on Friday and finished up on Monday a week after my 41st birthday. I had the weekend to make my peace with my life, I enjoyed those moments and held the ones I loved a little longer. A little tighter. I didn’t know why my life was the way it was, but I embraced it. I stood with courage as the court officers led me to the holding cells after I was sentenced to five and a half years.
Still, the transportation officer that moved me from the courthouse to the Anchorage Jail reminded me of how far I had yet to go. After trying to make some small talk with her on the short ride, she said: “Don’t even try to talk to me, you’re the lowest human there is, a bottom feeder, those poor women, you ruined their lives.” I was in shock. That is what a State Official thought of me and my charge. I could only imagine what the general public thought.
In jail, I read. I hoped I could get through it and not be emotionally scarred. I eventually lost the home I had raised my kids in. I lost all but a few boxes and most of my pictures. I had lost “Home” but was finding it within myself and the ones who I loved. I knew I would come back to the pieces of my life. All was not lost.
There were days in jail when the phone was off all day. When I couldn’t hear my loved one’s voices. I walked the yard a lot. Eventually, the husband disappeared. His friend, the roommate, didn’t pay rent to my son and the gas was turned off. My TV was stolen. The husband went to jail for a month on a PTRP and came out in time for Christmas and in time to clean out my bank account. I was denied by Electronic Monitoring because of the “sexual nature” of my offense. My custody level was increased for the same reason. I dug deep. I had finished a set of steps before I went in and sat a wrote.
What am I powerless over? I wrote a list and completed a moral inventory. I wrote and embraced whatever my day brought. I refused to live life on autopilot. This might have hurt but I wasn’t going to go through this for anything. This would not break me, I was determined to thrive and walk out of jail stronger. I would grow to know myself more than I ever had hoped to.
I fought the custody level decision and was put back on minimum. My in-house Probation Officer sympathized with me on the EM decision and put paperwork in for my furlough.
I was sent to the Glenwood Center on Groundhog Day. February 2nd, 2016. My recovery and patience were tested for a little more than a year there. After applying to EM twice while there, and denied twice, I applied one last time. I had nothing better to do that morning when an EM Probation Officer came into the facility and said EM was looking at people they had denied before. I filled out the paper haphazardly and turned it in, fully expecting another denial. I was on Level 4 and plugging along. I had another 16 months left and had already been about Glenwood about a year.
If what I was doing was Sex Trafficking, what happens in halfway houses is Labor Trafficking. I had more self-respect and voice when I was an escort. At Glenwood, you have to work a minimum of 32 hours a week, and if you aren’t working you have consequences. You cannot turn down any job. If you get fired or laid off, you lose whatever level you have earned. How life was at Glenwood has been a topic of several posts. I have a few more in me, but that will come after I am off paper. I will say this: Recently, they moved the women out and relocated them to a different halfway house, and I heard they lost their DOC contract and are closing their doors. Good.
On March 31st, 2017, I was given the opportunity to serve my time on EM. EM is a privilege, and being home with my daughter, with my son, was an absolute freedom I cherished, regardless of any EM guidelines. I was able to get online again. I was able to touch bases with those that wrote me from all over the world, thanks to SWOP Behind Bars. I was able to start this blog and tell parts of my story. I’ve been allowed to go participate in Criminal Justice Commission meetings, attended a few Human Trafficking Working Groups, and have spoken up at the Anchorage Assembly about SB91/54. I am able to give back to SWOP Behind Bars, updating their website with the countless names of others sex workers serving time.
I went before the parole board in September 2017. I was asked many questions about my “crime”. Those close to me were afraid I would be outspoken in my personal opinion of sex work. Somehow, I was able, to be honest with my beliefs and still say something that the parole board found redeeming because they approved my parole.
In less than 72 hours I will be released. Not much will change in my day to day life, but the emotional aspect of this cannot be discounted. I knew I had to sit down and write something, not to show others how far I’ve come, but to have some closure for myself. A record of this. I denied myself the words I needed to share at my dads funeral. I won’t do that to myself again.
What I would say at the end of this adventure has muddied my mind since my arrest. I had always hoped there would be an end to what in the beginning I could only describe as a nightmare. I had days where I didn’t think I would make it. I thought I would break.
Now it is coming to a close and I am looking thru my personal journals I have kept through this. I found one entry, written 2 years ago. On 11/14/2017 I will be on parole, but on 11/14/2015 I had just found out that my TV was stolen. This was during the darkest of my time before I found my strength. I was just starting to realize in order to get through something I actually had to go through it. Thankfully, I was willing to do the work. I knew I was worth the cost of the battle. Although I am not religious, I had a higher power. I wasn’t God.
“Things will be okay, God has this in his hands” are the last two lines from that journal entry.
I don’t know what my future holds, but I do have some goals in mind. I know now not to limit myself to what I can envision. So, here goes to a full, happy and free life. Thank you to everyone who has been a part of my journey, and continues to be. My life is beautiful.