My empty nest adventure

I just returned from dropping my daughter off at a University in a big city near the East Coast. Far away from Alaska, our home, where both of my children were born. Where I was born.

I knew it would be difficult. I knew I would feel like a hollow shell for some time, at least until I got my head wrapped around all the changes that come with this right of passage most parents want for their children. It wasn’t necessarily the going to a college or university aspect I found important. My youngest was heading out on her own. She was going to pursue her own life. I am elated that I had a part in creating someone, could credit myself in molding someone, brave enough to jump out into the unknown and create a life for herself.

Sure, I have an amazing older son (he turns 26 in this month) who went off on his own a few years ago. His leaving home was in easy-to-bite-pieces. He only moved to LA less than two years ago, and he is regularly back in Alaska for work.

So my last child at home, my movie buddy and fellow series binger, my let’s go to the museum or for a walk or shopping or sushi, my most effected by my incarceration, has moved out.

Out of State for that matter.

So, I decided to embark on a journey of my own. I’ve always had wanderlust. It was a perfect time to go visit friends and family on that side of the States.

The East Coast.

Two weeks.

Driving rental cars part way, riding in Amtrak trains part way, even public transportation trains at times,

I wandered big cities and little towns, careened down toll roads and held firm in the belief that the Universe would carry me safely along my journey. I was ready for the discoveries I would make along the way.

It started rough. We stayed in a hotel less than 2 miles from where my daughter would be attending school, both tired from the overnight travels from Anchorage, complete with a shitty late evening/early morning 5-hour layover in Seattle.

I awoke with my eyes itchy and watering and a sneezing episode that kept me from sleeping any longer than 7am. Allergies? Maybe I am allergic to change. Whatever it was, I dealt with it throughout the trip. Even at home now I am dealing with it. So maybe I am really allergic to change.

I have to clarify something that may not be obvious to all reading this. People like me don’t usually bring their children to college. Normally we don’t shop for dorm necessities and comforts for them. We don’t usually have friends and family open their homes to us, feed us, even clothe us. People like me are lucky and blessed when this happens. I try to never forget that fact. I don’t forget where I started from and everything I have been through.

Short story, I was a throwaway kid. Age 14 found me in State custody (mom had issues, I had issues, State took over and had issues) and thus begin a whirlwind shit show of group homes, foster homes, youth detention centers, treatment centers, wilderness excursions for wayward youth and a lot of running away and making the choices broken kids are apt to make. I made it out, survived.

And for a while, that was enough. Then I decided survival wasn’t enough and chose to thrive rather than survive. But, that is a whole other story, part of it in the previous blogs.

Back to the journey.

The first day on the road alone I drove for hours towards Philly. I left after 10am, after I had brought my daughter and her last-minute Target items to her dorm. I was trying to stay composed as I headed to my rental car from her dorm building. I had her stay in the room since I didn’t want to have her walk me to the parking lot, being seen with a blubbering mom. As soon as I saw the car in view I knew I was safe enough to let the tears start flowing. I was happy to be wearing sunglasses and drove off quickly.

Waves of emotion, anger, fear, loss, and loneliness crept in at once. Anger the last to leave and we drove halfway to Philly together. Anger that I had missed out on two-plus years of my daughters’ life due to a charge that was both illogical and unfair. I drove on, mad at Alaska’s judicial system, listening to music. Crying. Happy. Grateful. Yet torn.

I had a long trip before me and knew I would have some time to figure things out along the way, get out of my system whatever might be blocking this growth gently prodding towards me.

It was time for me to walk out, or drive out, into the unknown. As I had so many other times in my life. I was still among the living. I would be fine. I would survive. Hell, I was going to thrive.

I was headed to meet someone I had yet to meet in person but had spoken to many times over the last two years. I wasn’t entirely sure where I was going to be staying but was able to make arrangements if needed.

I had about 5 hours until I got to Philadelphia. I listened to music, streamed from my phone to the nice Bluetooth system the blue Nisson Sentra rental car included. I loved being able to skip a song just by the touch of a button on the steering wheel.

Note to self: Next vehicle I buy, catch up with technology. The cigarette lighter attachment seems archaic after being spoiled.

I found a new band I liked, listened to parts of two different audiobooks, “Feminasty” and “It’s Great to Suck at Something”, and drove on.

Before I knew it I was sitting at a patio in the sunshine at a fancy grocery chain, waiting for Melanie as I ate a huge greek salad.

It was great finally meeting this powerhouse writer I had shared several phone calls with. Her vibrant eyes, easy smile and gorgeous head of hair led me to recognize her before she even sat down.

She had me stay at her apartment and felt so very welcomed. I spent three days in Philadelphia, and they went by so fast. Our first morning we went on a “walk” that seemed all wrong for my shoes. It was beautiful, and being outdoors with the fresh air and the trees and the light, comforted me. Going back to nature is always what I needed to feel grounded, and this was perfect timing.

My second day was spent on the perusing around the waterfront and the Philadelphia Museum of Art. The last evening had me walking her casual neighborhood, stopping in for a pizza and a local brew a few blocks away at a well-seasoned bar with a feel of refined nostalgia.

I headed onward north after three days, the last stretch of having my rental car. From Philly I was headed to West Warwick to meet a powerhouse of an advocate, the incomparable Bella that formed Rhode Island COYOTE, positively impacting many sex workers and their allies’ lives.  She was also one of my pen pals while I was incarcerated for Sex Trafficking and really made a difference to me, both emotionally and mentally.

Watch this YouTube video of 10 years after Re-Criminalization: Reflecting on a Decade of Anti-Trafficking Activism in Rhode Island

 

I had a three-day visit planned with Bella. I really wanted to see how this amazing woman was able to do what she did and see first hand how her passion transformed in action that had made so much of a difference for so many.

From there I would be taking the Amtrack to Boston to visit my maternal family, a few cousins and hopefully find my grandparents’ final resting place. Then onward to spend time with my paternal side, my aunt and uncle, in Maine. I was about halfway through my trip now. I wanted to relish every moment. I remembered walking the yard at Hiland Mountain Correctional Center not knowing what my future held in store, and if I would even have much of a life after jail. Seeing the freeway, the open road even with traffic and bland travel stops, brought me back to the realization that I not only survived, but I thrived.

I drove through five states on my almost 5-hour drive. I had downloaded a bunch of Bruce Springsteen to listen to as I drove through New Jersey. My google map announced when I had arrived in New York State. As I passed the “Welcome to New York” sign there was a seemingly obligatory fender bender pulled off the side of the road. I only saw New York City from afar on I95. I was close enough. It seemed impossibly populated.

From there, I drove through Connecticut to Bella’s home in Rhode Island. I would be staying at her place.

Bella is vivacious. We shared similar life experiences. After we went to return my rental car and I felt the pangs of loss once again.  I loved the independence of driving, but my plan from here on was by train. Bella treated me to a delicious sushi dinner and a chance to catch up on the amazing projects COYOTE was working on.

Just look at this! I almost didn’t want to eat it, it was so pretty!

Spending time with Bella I got to see first hand the time and effort she put into COYOTE. She didn’t waste a moment of her day, always writing, reading or researching, I was enthralled by her sheer energy.

We discussed how sex trafficking propaganda and the harmful training and information given by law enforcement, and other anti-sex worker rights organizations that focused on rescuing sex workers, only caused harm.

Rescue usually meant handcuffs. The criminalization of sex work did nothing to help sex workers pay for childcare or their rent.

“When people are going to jail, they’re losing their apartments, they’re losing their vehicles, they’re losing all this stability they’ve created,” Bella shared, and I agreed.

 

COYOTE RI observes the International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers

The days went by quickly. Across from the Capitol building was the Amtrak station, where I would take a quick hour trip to South Station in Boston, Massachusetts. As luck would have it, my cousin Billy was working a food truck at a nearby Square. I easily maneuvered my rolling luggage a few city blocks and joined my cousin.

After dropping off my luggage I joined him on the food cart for a little drive to a private party a tech company had booked. There were other food trucks, some live music, and a beer garden. For free. Companies did this for their employees here? The sun was winding down and before long I found a not so expensive hotel in Malden, thanks to my Hotels.com app. I had no idea where Malden was, and not until the next morning did I realize that 1) I was quite an Uber away from Boston and 2) I was right next door to a graveyard. I didn’t mind the graveyard bit, but the location was killing me, and it became very apparent I would need transportation to get to Western Massachusetts. I booked another car and set off.

I will never rent from Budget again.

After a costly Uber ride to the city, I was told by Budget Rental that because I had a debit card and not a credit card I was not able to rent from them. The manager I spoke to on the phone made it sound as if I would be unable to rent from anyone in Boston due to not having a credit card. I didn’t understand. I had never had this problem before, and I had just rented a car from Budget and driven it through five states and had just returned it mere days ago!

 

Frustrated, I was able to call and make reservations with Dollar Rental and would be picking it up the next morning. Which meant a few more Uber rides. Always making the best of the situation I explored Bostons waterfront area, taking a sunset cruise and then hopping onto the Boston Gravestone Tour trolley.

I think things happen for a reason, and if I had a car and had to worry about parking,  I wouldn’t have been able to experience these two fun tours.

Still, Budget, you can bite me.

The next day I Ubered to Dollar and picked up my car. I headed to Revere to pick up my cousin Bill, and off we went on I90.  Learning to drive in Seattle prepared me for any big city driving. I had the keys points down: drive on the offensive; use my horn a lot; and pay attention to my mirrors.

Sadly, cousin Bill had no idea where my grandparents were buried. My Uncle Al had brought their cremated ashes to Massachusetts in the mid-2000’s and laid them at the base of baby Ray’s grave. Uncle Al didn’t remember where or how he found the grave, and cousin Bill had no idea. It seemed my maternal side was not at all close. Some unremembered squabble or just lack of care stagnating any familial ties.

I vowed to figure it out and try again next trip, and we drove on, me dropping him off at his cousins and I headed to cousin Heathers to finally meet her in person!

Heather is in the picture of us circa 1981, but she has a sensitive job, so no pics of her. But it was really nice to connect with someone I had been able to communicate with on Facebook, she is so creative and has a beautiful home and wonderful family.

I drove back to Boston in the dark, knowing the next morning I would be returning the car and taking the train to Maine. I was officially headed towards my last leg, and was really wondering if I was able to take in everything I was seeing and experiencing. Time was flying by too quickly. I was ready for a quieter pace and thankful to be headed to see my Aunt and Uncle.

I had been to their summer home once before when I was about 14 or 15 years olf. My aunt swears I was closer to 12. I had never met either of them before and wasn’t happy about being so far from my friends and my grandma Lorraine. They were so different than me. They ate pizza with a fork and a knife! They ate really weird cheeses I had never even heard of. My aunt, understanding she was being handed over a troubled teen, had made arrangements for me to assist a local lobsterman. He was a guidance counselor at the school. and he reminded me of my grandpa Ray. An old school seaman, they even had similar accents. It wasn’t a month later I was headed back to Juneau, Alaska. I had reached out after my dad died, the large array of flowers sent by them filling the entryway to St. Pauls Catholic Church where my dads’ service was held. I had last seen them when they had come up for a cruise to Alaska in 2007.

I immediately recognized my uncle standing near the stairs as I deboarded the train. He looked the same, besides the slight limp he had from recent hip surgery.  My aunt awaited in the running car. She had the same eyes my dad had. It was chilly out, fall seemed to have transcended before my eyes as the train traveled north, the trees turning golden hues of yellows and reds as I had neared Brunswick.

Dexter

I was older now, and able to see the beauty in everything. I was able to make the connections I didn’t even know I was looking for. The history of what made my dad into the person he became.

The summer house was even larger than I had remembered and had the most gorgeous water view. There were kayaks. I could walk the shore and smell the ocean. I love Maine.

Me at age 3

My uncle took me to Kinkos for some reprints of some pictures I could take home.

My aunt drove me around to see where she had gone to school, where my dad was born, and the house they had all lived in when they were children. We stopped for me to take a picture and the neighbor across the street saw my curiosity and asked what I was doing. We struck up a conversation.

Childhood home

I learned a man had lived there for years now, a shut-in, the house was to be demolished when he passed due to the asbestos in the old construction. The neighbor shared that his wife had grown up in the house they still lived in. He was probably about 60 years old. I felt right at home, encountering Alaskan neighborly hospitality I had experienced growing up in Juneau. Neighbors looking out for each other.

We went by my grandmother’s house, a woman I never met, bought years after she divorced my grandfather, a house sold long ago, after she had passed.

I felt a connection to this land so similar to Alaska. I hadn’t even realized that my dads’ side was from Maine. I wasn’t interested in family or relatives growing up. The ones I had either let me down or were unable to be there for me. Only after my children grew older and asked about family did I start peering around ancestry.com. It hadn’t crossed my mind. I had only ever known what I had grown up not knowing.

I wondered how much Maine my dad had remembered. Before long his father had been transferred to Germany. His parents’ relationship had been in decline gradually throughout the years. My dad, being the youngest, was sent to boarding school. Away from his older brother and sister. My aunt was the eldest and grew to feel a mothering attachment to him since his parents were distant from each other and, sadly, to him. My aunt felt she had failed him. I knew otherwise. Addiction is a mother fucker.

I went back to Alaska with a deeper understanding of who I was and where I came from. Answers came to light on things I hadn’t even thought to ask. Of course, it all made sense.  I had long ago forgiven my dad for his trespasses and now came to understand he didn’t have an idyllic childhood as I was led to believe. I hoped he was able to forgive. There were so many things left unsaid between us.

I took the train back to Boston, where my cousin Dave picked me up. My aunt was worried about the sketchy Airbnb I had rented and didn’t want me using an Uber alone, due to safety concerns. I happily obliged, I had only met my cousin once before, and we were both self-absorbed teens at the time. I had a great time getting to know him over tacos and his overly lovable sweet dog, Sage.

I flew home to Alaska September 5th.

September had been a difficult month for me in years gone by.

Septemeber 5th exactly was THE day.

September 5th, 2002, was the day my grandpa had died. I flew down to Juneau and stayed with my dad in order to go to his funeral.  I headed back home after a few days. My mom refused to answer any of my calls or let me know when the funeral was and I needed to go home for my son’s birthday.

I spent time with my dad on that visit, sitting with him in the evening as my then 1-year-old daughter slept in the extra bed that belonged to his roommate, who was gone on a trip.  My son and husband were in Anchorage. We talked about his HepC, how he tried to just smoke pot rather than drink alcohol. I learned he appreciated college football, “because they were in it for the love of the game”, and hadn’t sold out yet. He was proud of me, of the woman I had become. Of leaving Juneau and going on with my life. Proud I wasn’t stuck there in the revolving door of state assistance, domestic violence and going to jail. That’s where I had left off.

That was the last visit I ever had with my dad. A police officer knocked on my door a few weeks later. September 23rd, 2002. Or around that date, since a coworker had to break into his place after he didn’t show up for work for a few days. Very unlike him. He was found with a needle in his arm.

I lost my dad just as I was really getting to know him, and I brought my kids and husband to Juneau to be with me as I buried him. It was my first funeral I could remember attending, and the first funeral I had to make arrangements for.

Since then, September was the hardest month of all. It didn’t help the next year, at the very end of August, my grandma had passed as well.

Now September would remind me of finding family and the missing pieces of myself along the way. I wasn’t sure what to expect as I headed out, to meet friends and family I didn’t know too well.

I learned I liked my own company. I met kindred spirits believing in a just cause and doing hard work to bring about change. I found a connection with people I share relatives and generational trauma with. I l was reminded that people are good and caring, and still check in on their neighbors. I finally grasped that we all carry on the best we can, with the aches of regrets of things that could not be changed. That didn’t have ruin those moments of life we had left to live. Those moments of driving down the Jersey turnpike, listening to Bruce Springsteen, no longer angry at a time lost.

My aunt, my grandmother, and my father on the Linderhof Castle grounds, near Garmish. Circa 1951.

An Alaskan Life of Sex Trafficking

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?

I’m 30.

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.

I nodded.

“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.

“Name?”

Amber.

“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?

“Miranda…?”

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.

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Three cameras were installed for added safety. We worked together and made money. We laughed and bitched about our lives. We paid our bills and provided for our families. Some put themselves through school to learn massage or obtain esthetician certifications.

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.

amyablogpic
Visiting my son while he was at Alaska Military Youth Academy, circa 2011.

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.

juneauvisit
Happier times with my daughter and then-husband Quinn Batts, early summer of 2014 while we visited family in Juneau.
4thofjublog
Then-husband Quinn Batts and I on a 4th of July camping trip in 2014, days before I was arrested.

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. 

firstcourtappearance
My first court appearance.   (KTVA News Anchorage)

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.

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A court hearing with my OPA appointed attorney, Brendan Kelley, and his associate.

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. 

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January 2018 in Las Vegas at the Women’s March, with some kick-ass Las Vegas sex worker crusaders.


My Upcoming Release

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.

Sex Trafficking.

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.

Is media hysteria blaming criminal justice reform SB 91?

Blaming Senate Bill 91 seems to be the easy catch all when crime appears to be spiraling and nothing is being done. I noticed this as I skimmed the Facebook group “Juneau Crime” and saw how crime in my home town has taken a twisted turn. I mean, no names to be used, but a member of one of the bad ass families in Juneau had something stolen and no one was beat up for it. Instead, JPD was called and nothing was done. Frustrating to say the least.

What does this mean?

Well, one of two things to me.

1 – That thinking a posse could and should be formed to beat down the person who took the item means I am thinking as a criminal myself, rationalizing that an injustice allows me to act as such.

I am working on that. Hey, they say awareness is the first step to changing.

2 – How did we get here? Is SB 91 really to blame?

To answer those questions I sat down and did some reading, some research and looked within and around me.

I attended the Recovery Summit held in Palmer last month, and I was thrilled. Addiction, recovery and reentry all within the same sentence. I think of those as the Release Triad.

The only other time those issues have been brought together was when I was incarcerated, during the Success Inside & Out Conference. Since 2006 the Success Inside and Out Conference has been held at the Hiland Mountain Correctional Center each October. The conference was created as a pilot program by the National Association of Women Judges to ensure that women prisoners receive equal treatment.

Because of the smaller numbers of women in prison populations, the economies of scale can work against them, and they may not receive the same re-entry support services as men when they prepare to leave the institutions and return to their communities. As judges, we see first hand the need to stop the revolving door into our courtrooms, and we recognize that a woman prisoner’s simple desire to succeed upon release may not be enough. Full LINK here.

It had seemed that before SB 91 was passed, the conversation of the Release Triad was forgotten as the prison gates closed behind upon release.

What does SB 91 mean to those in the community?

I have read many remarks on social media about the frustration felt by the general public regarding thefts. SB 91 seems to be the easy blame for changing, when in fact, it isn’t much different than what we had before the criminal justice overhaul.

Theft Offenses  ak_practitioner_guide_2016-11-21

Sections 6-15, 8-23, 25, 93, eff. July 11, 2016
S.B. 91 increases the felony threshold value for theft offenses from $750 to $1,000 and requires the level to be adjusted every five years to account for inflation. The legislation also eliminates use of incarceration as a sanction for theft under $250 (first two offenses), and limits the use of incarceration to 5 days suspended imprisonment and six months of probation for third and subsequent shoplifting offenses. Before SB 91, theft was a 0-90 days sentence. (see additional details on page 12).

What does SB 91 mean to those incarcerated?

Resources. Plainly put, the availability of resources for change. For recovery, if needed and wanted. For hope. Recovery is connection to self, loved ones, society. Connecting to community resources, self-help resources, is where it begins. Addiction is disconnection. Recovery is only the starting point.

The long view of the Release Triad?

Everyone agrees on one thing.

Prevention.

Prevention of crime is the best deterrent. When I attended the Recovery Summit I saw and heard first hand of how over prescribing opioid medications went hand in hand with addiction. Propagated by Big Pharma. Some doctors have called bullshit on this practice and there is a call to responsibility being brought forth. The new trend? Responsible medication prescription by doctors who don’t prescribe for higher patient scores. The medical community is taking notice and now reprimanding doctors who over prescribe.

Not creating laws that further criminalize people.

I heard at the Recovery Summit the keys to this. So simple, yet so complex. Empower, educate, engage. Reducing recidivism must include peer support.

We do recover.

Community support can be found in various rooms. Celebrate Recovery meetings, Narcotics Anonymous meetings, and Alcoholics Anonymous meetings to name a few. Peer support was prevalent at the Recovery Summit. Hope dealers, those who know first hand the feelings of hopelessness, and many others who also understand the feeling of being forgotten as the prison gates close upon release.

With SB 91,  all seem to be held to a higher degree of action. From vivitrol shots to peer support, there are multiple tools the criminal justice system can put into place for both prevention and supervision to form a safety net.

SB 91 is still new. Plainly put, it is comparable to a young child, with boundless energy and good intentions. Only after time will we see how this develops into a mature and intelligent design of methods aimed at reducing crime and unnecessary incarceration rates, which honestly, we all pay for in one way or another.

Only after time will we see what the cost is. We know the cost of incarceration, lets give SB 91 a chance to show what the value of reform is.

 

A quick prisoner poll

I am on lock down today and started my day off with a list of to-do’s that I created last night while I binged watched The Mick with my 16 year old daughter.

My life is immensely better than what I dared to imagine one year ago. Two years ago, I would have thought being home with my daughter was impossible, three years ago I was paralyzed by too much fear to think of the future, and four years ago I would have laughed in your face and told you no way in hell would I find strength from my shattered life.

I don’t have much to write today. I have been searching for all the paperwork I saved from GWC to scan on my blog. Paperwork from when GWC wouldn’t allow my daughter to come visit me unless a guardian was with her. By Hiland Mountain Correctional Centers (HMCC) standards, I was able to get a notarized form signed and a close friend was able to bring my daughter to see me regularly. HMCC strives for family unification and has a conscience and a heart. Shortly after I got to GWC I was told that form wasn’t legal. Only a legal guardian, namely a parent, could bring my then 15 year old in to see me. I could not get something notarized by the court and have a friend bring my daughter. So, since I was still married I had my now ex husband bring her. He was nice enough to do it as often as possible, but then GWC said he wasn’t considered a legal guardian and I was threatened with a write up.

As you can imagine this whole ordeal became a stressful issue where I documented everything.

And that is what I am planning on writing about, as soon as I find those files.

But today, while I am on lock down, I get to spend the day with my daughter rather than being frustrated about visiting issues. I’ll save it for another day when she is at work or out with friends.

That being said, I wanted to add a poll to see what others felt was needed for prisoner related issues.

A pic of my disorganization when I read through all my old journals as I blog. This is just an assortment of loose papers in one of my many journals.

July and everything after

Anniversaries.

Personal holidays.

Everyone has a date or a few dates that impact their lives.

July 9th, 2014 is one of mine.

It was 3 years ago yesterday that I was arrested for Sex Trafficking. Never in my wildest dreams would I have seen that coming. Promoting prostitution, sure, but SEX TRAFFICKING. What the hell.

Anniversaries are stressful for me. They are personal holidays where I measure how far I’ve come or how much time I have wasted. I don’t know about you, but I never measure up to the standards I have in my mind. I am a perfectionist, and have high expectations of myself. Over the years, I’ve learned to not put those same expectations on others.  At almost 43 years old, I am attempting to give myself some slack in that area.

Not even a week after I was arrested was the big vacation my then 13 year old daughter and I had been planning. Her birthday is in January, and it was her birthday present. Universal Studios, Knottsberry Farm, just mom and daughter time in sunny California. Shopping, waterparks, ice cream. Memories that would carry us through the difficult moments of teenage rebellion that I knew where in my near future. Instead, I looked out the thick window of my two bunk cell, staring at the empty sky, when that plane we were supposed to be on was taking off.

I will forever owe her a vacation.

With this in mind, I am at home on electronic monitoring on lockdown today. I am still going through my paperwork I saved, and have plenty of journals from Hiland Mountain and  GWC.  This morning I stumbled upon something I wrote the day I got to GWC. I thought it would be a fitting way to celebrate not being in a closed wall jail, when only 3 short years ago I was uncertain of what the future would hold. With so many uncertainties, I quickly got used to not making plans.

It is taking me some time to think about the future. I have 10 months, and really in my mind, anything can happen to me between now and then.

The State owns me, so all my plans are for the long term.

Leave Alaska. Buy an RV. Travel. Blog. Write. Speak out without fear of being put back in jail.

Here are copies, forgive the many typos, as old fashioned typewriters are unforgiving!

EPSON MFP image
EPSON MFP image
EPSON MFP image
EPSON MFP image

I am now working at IHOP, after the job at The Bradley House ended when the summer season was over, I started as a cook at IHOP. After about 5 months I went to the FOH, and became a server. Much better money.

I am living in a cheap apartment about a 15 minute walk from my work. My now 16 year old daughter flew out on a plane last night to visit family. Not quite a California vacation, but I know that she knows that I know I owe her one.

My life is different than what I imagined it would be 3 years ago. I cannot wait to see how it changes in another 3 years.

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Rights of people with no voice

For many that are newly released, either on probation, parole, or electronic monitoring, the stress of being released from incarceration is felt on varying levels. Depending on the amount of support someone has from family, friends, support groups, resource agencies, probation officers, and employers, life can get complicated quickly. Yes, electronic monitoring is still incarceration, but thankfully there is the added bonus of being a responsible member of society. Rather than being incarcerated with walls surrounding the offender, electronic monitoring places clear and strict limitations on an incarcerated person, with the added bonus of less cost to the State of Alaska, along with many added bonuses to the offender on electronic monitoring.

Those are just the external issues that may impact someones choices.

Throw in the average internal issues such as anxiety, depression, fears of returning to incarceration, frustration over problems that arose over being incarcerated, and self esteem that may be lacking as the road to freedom is trekked (no car, no money, no clothes, health issues) life isn’t peachy keen just because someone is released.

I haven’t written in a few weeks because I was dealing with some of those issues.

I will finish the last of my Halfway Houses are halfway there series after I get this out.

What have I been up to, besides working two jobs? I have been going to the Alaska Criminal Justice Commission meetings, as well as a few Re-Entry Coalition meetings these last few months.

I have been out of Glenwood Center for a little over 3 months now, on electronic monitoring, living with my daughter and picking up the pieces of what happened almost 3 years ago to this very day. My arrest date is July 9th, 2014. Reflecting on this, I am amazed at how 3 years has gone by so quickly, yet on the same hand, everything that has happened within these last 3 years has seemed like an entirely different life than what I had lived before and am now living. It is safe to say that I have become a stronger person through the process, yet have some residual issues I will be likely dealing with the rest of my life because of 1) my charge and 2) the apparent discrepancy of how those with criminal convictions are treated.

What do I mean by this?

First, let me tell you how looking for a place to rent is difficult for a person with a criminal history. In Alaska, we have courtview, so any charges, whether dismissed, consolidated, or dropped entirely, are on the courtview website for any potential landlord to view. Landlords that don’t know any better can read what, lets use myself as an example, charges were brought forth. July 9th 2014 I was charged with 8 counts of Sex Trafficking. Courtview lists all 8 charges. All but 1 were dismissed, but all were damming in how someone could view me, a potential renter. I won’t even go into what Alaska deems Sex Trafficking as opposed to what the typical citizen views as Sex Trafficking. I know what I envision when I hear the term, and I know what the Alaska State Statute spells out. Read previous blogs if you are still unsure.

Or, how about the landlord that saw I had an Eviction Proceeding, not even bothering to notice I was the Plaintiff, evicting renters from the home I lived in and had a mortgage on before and while I was incarcerated?

Those with criminal convictions face many hurdles when seeking employment and housing. The screening out process is easy for landlords and employers when they have options of who to rent to or hire based on information that may be untrue or overblown by the way Alaska brings charges to those charged in criminal proceedings. From my experience, and countless others I have discussed the criminal justice system with, one charge equals multiple, only to be dropped as part of the bargaining process. This may not be justice, but this is how we as Americans have allowed the criminal justice system to be managed.

There is movement rectifying this issue within the Alaska Criminal Justice system. It is regarding the Sealing, Clemency and Expungement Options, a list of recommendations brought forth to the Barriers to Reentry Workgroup by Barbara Dunham. It discusses how other States have dealt with these issues, and shows options available, along with concerns that go along with those options.

Some argue that the more access is restricted to a record of conviction (courtview), the more like a pardon the restriction will be. This is not an issue in cases that did not result in a conviction. That STILL leaves the hanger on charges that were dismissed as part of a plea bargain.

Removing a case from courtview so any quick check wouldn’t further the misuse of information found on courtview would not hide information from background checks. A reliable background check from a landlord or employer would still show verifiable criminal charges.

In essence, once someone has a criminal charge, the sanctions of that crime does not end once incarceration is over, or even when probation is over. Thanks to courtview, those charges are visible for years to come, effectively impacting a citizens ability to live without collateral consequences, sadly being held accountable of choices made 10, 20 years ago although the price had been paid long ago for that crime. Life goes on, and sometimes what was illegal 5, 10 years ago isn’t a crime anymore, but still is on a persons record.

What does this mean for me? Well, not too much as long as I stay at the same minimum wage job I have been at for almost a year now, and don’t move from the apartment I am in.

Has discrimination based on criminal convictions affected you?  Or has it affected a decision you have had to make?

Do you think the proposed changes will impact Alaska citizens for the good, or do you think this will further confuse the justice being served?

What do you see as important changes that need to be made?

What does this mean for Alaskans? Depending on who you ask, it means the difference between breaking down a barrier that could, worse case scenario, lead someone to make poor choices and continue the cycle of incarceration that the difficulties placed them into already.

I hope that we, as humans, can make a change that will impact those to come and not just think of the here and now and what it means to only us.

Helpful links for more information

 

Wide array of resources listed here from the Alaska Criminal Justice Commission HERE

UAA Justice Center: Expungement and Limiting Public Access to Alaska Criminal Case Records in the Digital Age

Written on the fourth of July, so if you haven’t read this in awhile, read The Declaration of Independence.

 

Halfway Houses are halfway there: Part Two: Money

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This is my second blog about the halfway houses in Anchorage Alaska. Because I only have first hand knowledge of the Glenwood Center (GWC), ran by TJM Western, I will be focusing on the policies and procedures I know about.

What qualifies me?

I spent 14 months at the GWC and had countless conversations and many observations during that time. I will start out by saying the only reason an offender is there on furlough is to work. That is not an issue, believe me, 9.9 out of 10 of us want to get out of prison, where we are making anywhere from .35 to .65 an hour (some were paid $1 or more, but majority rules.) Going to a halfway house helped many save getting out of jail the necessary money for release, which is needed for obvious reasons.

But it isn’t that easy.

First things first. Being in compliance with furlough, which means following GWC policy.

Policy at GWC: You must have a job, working a minimum of 32 hours a week. If you do not have a job meeting the minimum requirements you are liable for an IR (incident report) and possibly a preliminary hearing.

What does that mean? An IR can cause residents to receive extra in-house duties, program demotions, and/or termination from the center. Easy fix, get a job washing dishes or working the drive through at a burger place.

That brings us to the funds request. You might say to yourself, “I won’t need money, they provide everything, right, so I will just bank my money!” Even if you didn’t ever need to take the bus, you still need to get submit one of these. You can get a write-up for not submitting a Resident Funds Request, because without doing so you are not paying for your court fines/restitution. Or, if required, child support. Also, you pay for your phone calls, .50 local, $1.50 for outside of the Anchorage area (the newer cell numbers would be this higher fee), laundry ($1.75 to wash and another $1.75 to dry) and your personal hygiene items as well.

Let’s say you gross $398.78, netting $307.00 from a pay check. $99.70 goes directly to GWC, while another $99.70 goes into a savings reserve you cannot touch until release. In order to pull out any funds to use, you must list your restitution on your funds request, whereas they figure the 20%. Another $79.75 gone. Well, you figure you still have $127 left, right. No, because that $99.70 is in savings, remember. You have $27. This happens each time you get paid, For this example I used my job at Denny’s. I got paid bi-weekly there. Needless to say I walked a lot. And I “threw in” with room mates to get my laundry done.

The short of it? They want their 25% before taxes. And yes, that includes any tips you may receive. Then 25% goes into forced savings, and 20% goes to any restitution an offender may have. Add that up, and 70% is gone before you can even think about pulling money out to do laundry or take the bus. Sure, you get that savings when you leave, but you don’t accrue any interest. You get what you put in.

You might be thinking, okay, interesting, but whats the point Amber?

Lets do the math. If am paying $99.70 twice a month (actually more because that was just from my check at minimum wage, my tips were turned in and divided up just like a check, but for the sake of this exercise we will keep it simple) that is $199 a month. There are about 70 residents at GWC, barring the new ones not working yet and a few short term confined misdemeanents. Even at minimum wage, GWC is getting approximately getting $13K a month (and that is a low estimate). Factor in what Alaska pays to house inmates there –  Alaska spends on average $44,000 a year per inmate  – and it makes me wonder, where is the money going and to what programs is it going to? Staff at GWC are paid $11.75 an hour.

The Alaska Criminal Justice Commission Justice Reinvestment Report – December 2015 summarizes the findings of the Criminal Justice Commission, as a part of the Justice Reinvestment Initiative. The Commission studied the criminal justice system in three areas – pretrial detention, post-conviction imprisonment, and community corrections. Many have heard about this report, but not until I started looking at how much money GWC was being paid to house residents did I stumble upon the actual report.

Recommendation 18: Improve treatment offerings in CRCs and focus use of CRC resources on high-need offenders. CRCs, otherwise known as halfway houses, have the potential to effectively support offenders who are transitioning back to the community from prison. However, the Commission found that CRCs are likely mixing low and high risk offenders, which research has shown can lead to increased recidivism for low risk offenders. Additionally, the Commission found that CRCs would be more effective at reducing recidivism if the facilities offered treatment for offenders in addition to supervision.

Specific Action Recommended: To reduce recidivism and improve outcomes for offenders placed in CRCs, the Commission recommends:
a. Requiring CRCs to provide treatment (cognitive-behavioral, substance abuse, after care and/or support services) designed to address offenders’ individual criminogenic needs.
b. Adopting quality assurance procedures to ensure CRCs are meeting contractual obligations with regard to safety and offender management.
c. Implementing admission criteria for CRCs that:
i. Prioritize placement in CRCs for people who would benefit most from more intensive supervision and treatment, using the results of a validated risk and needs assessment; and ii. Minimize the mixing of low and high risk offenders.

After reading that I am unsure of what programs the CRC was required to provide. I had to earn Level 2 status in order to go to 12 step meetings for my recovery. I signed myself up for MRT classes (interested in learning what this is? Click here) and was told that work was to come first. I asked repeatedly to be able to go to STAR (a non-profit organization providing options, support and information to Alaskans affected by sexual violence) and was almost given a write-up for bringing it up with a GWC casemanager after I questioned why I could not participate in STAR groups. Now, regarding my individual criminogenic needs, I would assume they would want me to address the underlying issues in my “crime”.

I don’t have any clever wrap up to this issue. I would like to have some strong closing argument, but in all truthfulness, this has just raised more questions regarding what can, what could and what should be done to assist the overall positive outcomes for those incarcerated and specifically, those in GWC.

Comments are welcome!

 

 

I didn’t get Tricked

Last night I watched a documentary about sex trafficking on Netflix. I braced myself for the bias views that many documentaries show of sex work, and knew I was in for a frustrating watch just by the Trick blurb:

trickedThis in-depth documentary examines all sides of America’s sex-trafficking trade, which destroys lives as it generates $3 billion a year.

Reading that, I at least thought that all sides, as they stated, would be represented. Instead I sat in on an hour and 13 minutes of assaults, rapes, kidnappings and torture. That is sex-trafficking. What was frustrating was the lumping of all sex work as sex-trafficking. I expected an in-depth documentary stating it will “examine all sides of America’s sex-trafficking trade” would cover all sides of the $3 billion sex-trafficking trade, yet it did nothing more than show me what sadly happens across the world. This is why I am strong in my belief that stating all prostitution is sex-trafficking undermines real sex-trafficking. Personally, men making money off women as pimps has never been okay, but for Tricked to say all sex workers are sex slaves is erroneous.

Sex work is not sex-trafficking. Sex-trafficking is sex-trafficking!

Per Obama, shown at a press conference at the end of the documentary, sex-trafficking is human trafficking, and therefore modern slavery.

Lets be real. All sex work is not modern day slavery.

Beware:  This is where I will personalize this documentary.

To moralize sex work and state it is modern day slavery and sex trafficking is complete laziness on behalf of our lawmakers. Something must change.

“Criminalizing the sex industry creates ideal conditions for rampant exploitation and abuse of sex workers…[I]t is believed that trafficking in women, coercion and exploitation can only be stopped if the existence of prostitution is recognized and the legal and social rights of prostitutes are guaranteed.”

Marjan Wijers
Chair of the European Commission’s Expert Group on Trafficking in Human Beings
in her article in the book Global Sex Workers
1998

I have experienced modern day slavery. Anyone who has spent any “quality” time incarcerated has experience with it. The closest I have ever got to human slavery and having a real pimp was when I was in jail (human slavery), and in the halfway house (my pimp). In jail I worked for $1 an hour. I had one of the highest paying jobs, on average the pay is 35-65 cents an hour. At the halfway house I gave all my money to them, my checks, my tips, and I had to jump through hoops to request up to $100 a week (never allowed more than $100 on you, otherwise they would take it, you would get a write-up, and would not see the money again. That was the policy). I was forced to work when sick. I had consequences for not working a minimum of 32 hours a week. Do you see the pimp correlations?

Human trafficking is defined in the U.N. Trafficking Protocol as “the recruitment, transport, transfer, harbouring or receipt of a person by such means as threat or use of force or other forms of coercion, of adbuction, or fraud or deception for the purpose of exploitation.”

The definition on trafficking consists of three core elements:

1) The action of trafficking which means the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harboring or receipt of persons

2) The means of trafficking which includes threat of or use of force, deception, coercion, abuse of power or position of vulnerability

3) The purpose of trafficking which is always exploitation. In the words of the Trafficking Protocol, article 3 “exploitation shall include, at a minimum, the exploitation of the prostitution of others or other forms of sexual exploitation, forced labor or services, slavery or practices similar to slavery, servitude or the removal of organs.

My crime, Sex Trafficking, is because I was a sex-worker, and I have the ability to advertise, market, create websites, screen clients, book appointments, and schedule appointments. I worked with women of age, and they had their own keys to the incall location. I booked for a few women I never even met in person, after the necessary age identification and independent contractor agreements were signed. After watching Tricked I wonder why the State of Alaska found it so necessary to focus on me and what my sentencing judge called a “slick call girl operation” rather than real sex traffickers.

Alaska changed their prostitution laws in 2012. Alaska’s definition of “sex trafficking” is broad and vague. Federal sex trafficking laws focus on fraud, coercion, and the exploitation of minors. Alaska’s law, on the other hand, defines trafficking more broadly, to include those who work indoors, or who work together. Read a clear overview in its entirety here.

As I stated before, I have a Sex Trafficking charge, a class B felony. I was arrested in 2014 and sentenced to 5.5 years. I am still incarcerated as I write this. I just made it to electronic monitoring, so now rather than the tax payers paying $140 and up a day to incarcerate me, I get to subsidize my incarceration, paying $400 a month to Department of Corrections rather than only the tax payers footing the entire bill.

This is Alaska’s sex-trafficking law in action.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Empowerment through Consequence

To finish the moment, to find the journey’s end in every step of the road, to live the greatest number of good hours, is wisdom. –  Ralph Waldo Emerson

I only became aware that I needed to stand up and voice my beliefs after realizing the personal consequences of unfair legislation.

I have been reading up on everything that I was unable to read about for the last three years. Binders, websites, resources. Luckily there is a lot out there.

A big BIG thank you to M. Dante.

I liken it very much to a baby taking her first steps, and peering up a huge stair case…the journey ahead. So, I will research, read, reach out, ponder and look within in order to learn how to continue on this very worthwhile journey before me.

It is easy enough because the way I have personally lived my life has been by a few rules:

Do the least harm to all I meet

I was raised that if you didn’t have anything nice to say, then keep your mouth shut. Over the years I have been able to generalize this. One of my fave quotes is “Even a fish could learn to stay out of trouble if it would keep its mouth shut.”  So very true.

I am usually the one sitting quietly on the side. I try not to say anything unless it brings some value to the conversation.

Disclaimer: If you are close friends or family this does not apply. I will continue to be a silly sing-a-song-that-I-hear-a-beat-to-and not know the words kinda chic.

Any positive moment is movement towards what is positive

Through my early readings I see many sex work advocates upset over legislation that doesn’t address exactly what they want. I keep in mind it is a process, and as long as we are going forward and not backwards, it is a step in the right direction.

This saved my ass when I was repeatedly denied requests I put in (mail with smudges, visits, passes, electronic monitoring, write up appeals…the list could go on). Although the outcome was not what I wanted (usually) I felt I was going forward just by requesting, questioning and trying to be heard, because I did get some answers that weren’t always “no’s”.

Standing together and not bickering amongst ourselves is a step towards change. Wasting time and energy against each other is what those who wish to dispel our cause wants. Ask some of the women I did time with, I was always talking about how we needed to support and be there for each other, not bicker, tell on or ostracize. That is what makes us weak, and by us, I mean women because it has been my personal experience that men call this b.s much sooner and work towards getting things done, not focusing on petty issues.

Tell my truth

Over time my truth has changed. I feel as if I have lived several lives, and you know what? I am okay with that. More than okay. I find my strength in that. It means I have a broader view of the world, of people and most importantly I am open to know myself. After all, I  see life as a journey towards who I authentically am as a person, woman, mother, friend and human. I define my journey, not any one else. I find empowerment through consequence.