Tag Archives: SWOP Behind Bars

Women’s March 2018 – Las Vegas

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.

Donations for shirts:

Paypal

Circle

Square

Google Wallet

Venmo

 

Contact swopbehindbars@gmail.com or swopbehindbars.com for information.

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.