|Driving down Niagara St., looking for interviewees; sometimes the prospect is grim.
One might certainly reasonably ask why the Niagara Falls Reporter has revisited this topic of prostitution in Niagara Falls.
After all, it was only two years ago this paper published as a cover story, "An Interview With Three Prostitutes."
But there has been continuing interest in this topic. The web page which carries the story has been visited by hundreds of thousands.
I decided to revisit the same streets, not only for those who found the original interesting and might wish to hear more, but also for those who had not read the first story.
For those, this topic might be new.
And as for those who find it redundant, repulsive or indecent, I can only apologize and ask you not to read on.
For this is a real part of life on the streets of Niagara Falls, one of the poorest cities in the nation, and one beset with drugs, crime and the hard life of struggle.
In this milieu, prostitution exists and a frank and candid recording of the voices and the stories of the women who live this life is, to my mind, every bit as important as the voices of politicians or developers or businessmen, who are always finding their way into the pages of newspapers and magazines.
Here are the voices of those we rarely hear, or stop to listen to. Not as sellers of sex, or as degraded creature, but as people: Hear their voices.
(The names of the working women and some incidentals were changed to protect the privacy of those who agreed to be interviewed.)
Once again I ventured, by car, down the streets of Niagara Falls, specifically Niagara Street, where street walkers - prostitutes - are known to walk each night. It was Wednesday , October 29, around 11 pm.
It was a moderately cool, October night. The thermometer on my car read 48 degrees.
As I drove down Niagara, I saw a white woman, 35, standing on the sidewalk near Frenchie's Pizza.
She had a piece of pizza in one hand and a can of soda in the other. Dressed in jeans and a white sweater, she had a pleasant look on her face as I pulled up in my car.
She approached the car.
I told her, I am a reporter.
No names, she said.
No real names, I agreed.
Anne got in the car. I noticed she was slender, well built. With a friendly face, but one that wore the marks of care or worry, maybe something else, something more than fear, but that of sorrow or despair, a look often seen on the faces of those addicted.
How much will I get paid? she asked.
What do you normally charge for sexual services?, I asked.
How do I know you are not a cop, Sir?
I'm not, I said.
I usually start at $60, and then see where they will meet me. I won't go below $40.
How about if I give you $30. You won’t have to work, just talk.
Would you make it $35?
Alright, $35. There's no sex involved, I said.
She agreed and I turned on my recorder and we drove down Niagara. We put on the heat and, while she ate pizza, and sipped soda, she spoke.
What's it like?, I asked.
Horrible, she said. You can walk around all day. You'll be freezing. It'll be raining. You don't make a dollar, sometimes. Other times, I will make a lot of money because I am one of the better looking girls, I guess. But, at the same time, sometimes the money is just not there. Other times I will be chasing a high.
What percentage of what you earn goes to crack?
About 90 percent.
Are you on crack right now?
No. I'm eating right now.
How many men have you seen tonight?
Just one. He's actually somebody that cares about me. He buys me cigarettes and gives me rides. He'll buy me clothes. He'll take me out to eat. Besides giving me cash. He'll try to keep me off the street to make my life easier, so I don't have to ... because there is never enough. You can never do enough. The urge never seems to go away.
How long have you been on crack?
On and off, 15 years. More on than off.
When Anne finished her pizza, she asked, can I light a cigarette, or will that offend you?
Go ahead, I said.
I have crack tools on me now, she said.
Crack, too?, I asked.
No. I have the pipe and the choy (a brillo put in the crack pipe).
Where will you find crack? I asked.
There's a million dealers out here. Every other car is a dealer, she said.
Would any of them talk to me?
Oh, God, a dealer, that'd be really tough, she said, because they're scared to get caught. See, me talking to you is totally different than a dealer talking to you because they're facing such higher consequences. In the case that I'm setting them up, or you're setting them up.
When was the last time you smoked? I asked.
Earlier today. But I'm ready to smoke now.
Will you use your interview fee to buy crack? I asked her.
Most of it, she said. For me, it kills my emotions. I got a lot of pain, family, failed relationships.
How many customers do you have a week? I asked.
I would say from 10 to 25.
Do you like your work?
Absolutely not, she said. I mean it's quick money for the most part, because I know how to talk my way into a buck. I'm not going to take $20, and, if the guy's pulling over, he's pretty serious about getting what he wants. On the other hand, I demand protection and if they don't want to use it, then it’s a no- go. Absolutely a no- go.
What's it like? I asked.
It can be exhausting, she said. It can be degrading. You can get to the point where you don't sleep for a couple of days. You're walking around. You can't even keep your eyes open but all you want to do is either take another hit and keep going, or make a couple of dollars to get something to eat and lay down and go to sleep.
How much do you make?
Some nights I make anywhere from $500 to $600. That would be a good night. There's been fluke nights where I made a couple thousand. That only happens on the first of the month and somebody will f--k up and gets too high and then they'll give too much. That’s their fault. But I don't take advantage. I don't steal.
Where do you perform your services?
Mostly in their car. We will park in an alley or a dark spot. Usually they are so excited and ready that it takes three minutes and I put $40 bucks in my pocket and smoke it up in five minutes, which is just as stupid.
Do you always use a condom?
Yes. I carry my own.
Do men go along with it? I asked,
Absolutely not, she said. I lose more than half of the men that stop because I won't perform even oral sex without a condom. They're filthy bastards. They don't give a sh-t about their own lives. But I'm not to the point where I'm hopeless, and don't care about my own life. I get to the point sometimes where I don't. But I don't understand these men. They're married and they have families and I don't know why they don't care. I do vaginal. I don't do anal. Usually in their homes, which is scary, and I have some clients who are wealthy. They are seen every day by the public. People in the legal field.
They bring you to their houses?
Yes. One client, I'll go there and we'll have something to eat. We'll drink some vodka and watch a movie then I will give him oral sex and he'll give me $200 or $300. Everybody in the falls knows him.
What's his name?
If I tell you, is it confidential?
Yes, I said.
She told me his name. He is a well known person.
He is one of my favorites clients, she said. For him I will take as long as it has to, because I know I am going get compensated properly. But when somebody gives me 40 bucks, after seven or eight minutes, I'm going to start bitchin': "If you don’t hurry up and finish, I'm outta here. I'm taking your f--ing money and there's nothing you can do about it or I'll start screaming and, when they come, I'll tell them you're trying to pick me up." I can be nice to them, if they're nice to me, but if I feel they are trying to use me, to keep going, and holding back, I get angry. I feel like, "you know, I'm leaning over your console. I'm laying on my arm and bobbing my head up and down and you want me to continue and continue and continue?" I've gotten into some pretty ugly arguments. But there has been some occasions where the guy's been a good guy and its been actually surprising, that it actually felt good. It didn't feel bad like it usually does.
How much do you spend on crack cocaine? I asked.
Average week, around $400. A big week: $1,500. A low week: $200. I just broke up with my boyfriend. He was a crack dealer. When we were together, I didn’t have to work because he had it.
How many crack dealers would you say are in the area?.
From 30, tops 60, Anne said. I can call 12 right now.
Overall how would you say you're doing? I asked.
I'm depressed, she said. Low self esteem. Out here, I'm not bad. But to an average person, I feel different. I feel lower than the average citizen. I'm kind of excited to have done this interview, but I'm kind of embarrassed because I've come to the realization that I'm just a crack whore. It brings it to light for me, I guess. By talking about it. I think it is a good thing to get it off my chest.
She asked me to stop on Niagara. And as she got out of the car, I paid her $35.
|A woman waits on the lonely street for a customer to come by.
After I drove off, there was another woman standing on the street.
A white woman, Monica was 32, a little heavy set. She was wearing sweat pants and a jacket. I pulled over.
She agreed to be interviewed and explained she had a drug problem for 12 years, which coincided with the time she had been a prostitute.
How many men have you seen tonight?
Actually one, she laughed. It's horrible tonight. One guy stopped me and I wouldn't have took it anyway. He said, "I got ten dollars." I said, "guess what? You still do." I charge at least $20.
Sometimes at the guys' houses. Sometimes in cars.
What percentage in cars?
How long do you provide your service?
Depends on the guy. There has been times it lasts less than a minute and sometimes it lasts half an hour.
Do you like your work?
Not at all. For the most part you run across a-s holes, people you don't want to touch to begin with. And you're praying for them to finish. If he smells like a-s, it's just not a pleasant situation. I carry diaper wipes and disinfectant. I'll tell a person, "clean up" in a heartbeat.
Monica explained she turned her first trick at 17 when her father set her up with one of his friends.
As we spoke I realized she was one of the prostitutes I interviewed in the previous article of two years before. She remembered too. I recalled she had told me she had one client who was a police officer.
Is that officer still a customer of yours, I asked?
No, she said. I was doing him after I did the interview and he said - all friggin nervous - "you didn't tell him my name, did you?" I seen him even after that. But then the task force came and talked to me and after he seen the task force pull up on me, he stopped seeing me and I haven't seen him since. It's been like a year.
Did you tell the task force his name? I asked,
No, she said. But he refused to see me anymore.
As we drove she explained her life.
There's a lot more stuff I could be doing, she said. Go back to school. Get a place. I really don't know what the future holds. I mean I really don't want to see myself doing this 20 years from now. I want to (give up crack) in a way and I don't want to, in a way. I could do so much more with my money. I'd give up this work. I can do cleaning. I could paint houses. But just because somebody's out here doesn't make them a bad person. A lot of persons drive around and call you, "whore" and "skank." It’s not a lifestyle that somebody chooses. It’s a lifestyle that drugs kind of push you into. It doesn't do any good to friggin' mope.
|A prostitute leaves a customer and walks down a lonely street. Her
mind is now on getting crack with the money she just earned.
When I dropped Monica off, I saw Anne again on the street.
She got in the car.
She said, I called my one buddy to cop some crack. I bought a little and smoked it. I still have a little piece.
She pulled it out.
This isn't top quality crack, she said. This is not what I would have got from the kid I would have called. I ran into this guy and he gave me a little more than $20.
I pulled over. She stepped out of the car and smoked. As soon as she finished, she got back in and started talking fast.
I am going to have to call this kid, so we can go back to Niagara St.. This is how this drug takes you through horrible things. I need to buy some more.
She called someone on her phone.
Hi, can you come outside …. Is it good or trash? …. Ok $30.
She hung up and said, He's a really nice kid. When I'm broke, he'll throw me something. This guy I just went to and bought the crack I just smoked, he asked me to get naked for him and he told me he'd pay me $40 and when I started to take my sweater off and said, "ok give me the money," he said "I'm going to go to the ATM in a little while." And I said, "f-u buddy."
Referring to the young man she spoke to on the phone, where she placed her order, she said, he's 17 years old. He's a child. But he treats people the way he wants to be treated. Another crack dealer I know, he is selling crack to put himself through law school.
I took her to the place where she had requested. When we pulled over, a young black man came to the car.
He was not wearing shoes but only white socks on his feet.
She got out of the car and an exchange went on between them.
Again she smoked and after she got back in the car, as we drove, we passed two police cars.
Straight ahead, she said. Two cops. I think we're getting pulled. Yep, we are we, absolutely are. They look like they're ready for business, right now. I think we are going to get pulled. They're going to arrest me. I have pills in my pocket.
Let's see what happens, I said.
I turned on Portage and the police turned also. When I turned right on Pine, the . The police car turned left.
It was kind of exciting, she said, now more relaxed. He was going to pull us. He recognized you. I believe he did. He must of recognized you. What the hell did I do with my bag of dope?
We turned down an alley and she continued, I think he recognized you, because that wouldn't have happened otherwise. He would have pulled us over. That’s what they're waiting for. They must have seen me hop in your vehicle, and they were going to pull us. They recognized your car.
I stopped so she could get out and smoke in the alley.
When she came back in she said, they were going to pull us. They recognized your car.
You live a bold life, I said.
Absolutely. I need cigarettes bad.
As she got out of the car, where I dropped her, I asked her, do you have your crack with you?
I got my crack and my pills on my body. They're in my bra.
She went back to the street by a dark house, and stood near a corner.
I drove down Niagara St again. It was midnight. The street was quiet. Everything looked deserted. Then I saw a brunette. Her name was Susan. She was 38.
She got into the car and soon began a narrative of her life. She spoke of family. Her youth, her time in college.
And she spoke of Ryan Warme, the Niagara Falls police officer who went to jail for tipping off drug dealers and selling narcotics while on duty.
Ryan had an addiction problem, she said, but he never hurt none of those girls. He was an addict, but he was a good person and they framed him and set him up because he let his addiction take a toll. Ryan came to see me sober, when I was clean, and sober, at my house. Put aside the drugs and the addiction and you get to know people in their heart. You’re sick of me talking to you?
No, you're a nice woman, I said.
I had one cop out here, Susan continued. He pissed me off. I was arrested for disorderly conduct. Then the one cop made me suck his dick or I was going to jail. He was a younger guy, His name was ---- and the other guy was -----. This guy said, this or that? (sex or jail). I talked sh-t back to him. 'You gonna give me some money?' He didn't arrest me cause I sucked dick. I never even told on him.
Susan spoke next of how she was molested when she was a child of three.
You know the man who did it, she said, his brother is a cop in Niagara Falls and you know what this brother said to me at a family function in front of everybody? He said, "Oh, don't touch me." He joked like that and said it out loud in front of everybody and humiliated me. The sad thing is I could call him right now and he would come get me and give me money if I did sexual stuff right now.
The cop or the brother? I asked.
The brother who molested me when I was three, Susan answered.
|An abandoned building on Niagara St makes a perfect spot for a
woman to stand and wait...
After dropping off Susan, I did not have far to go when I saw Linda, 27. Tall and slender, blonde, she seemed reluctant to talk.
She, too, told a tale of sexual abuse.
How old were you when you were molested?
I was four.
You remember it?
Do you make money doing this?
Small amounts, Linda said. It varies. I use it to support myself.
Then you're not doing this to get enough to buy crack?
No, Linda said. It's survival. It's how I pay everything. I don't like doing it. I don't work the streets every day.
What could change your life? I asked.
Getting out of this hell hole, this city.
Where would you go?
I don't know, she said. Somewhere far, far away.
What would you do different? I asked.
Start all over again. Just start my life for me and my kids all over again. My kids, they're old enough to understand. (she started crying). It's just too much to talk about, too much to explain. This ain't me.
What is the real you?
Just a content and happy person.
When was the last time you were happy?
I can't even tell you.
You’ve been sad for awhile? I asked.
For years, she said and she started crying, again.
When will things change? I asked.
Hopefully soon, she said. Hopefully, hopefully, soon.
It could get better, I ventured.
Hopefully. You'll put this all in the paper? she asked, still crying, as I dropped her off.
|One of several convenience stores in the area.
It was nearly 1:30 am. I was thinking about going home when I saw a woman walking with a man. And she, leaving the man behind, approached the car.
It was, ironically, another woman I had interviewed two years before.
Jane recognized me and got in the car.
She was 32, an attractive, fair complexioned woman with light brown, flowing hair. Her boyfriend, I had noticed was black. She said he was 43.
As we drove, she reminded me that when I had interviewed her last, she had been pregnant.
I had the baby, she said proudly. I started doing ok. But I got arrested a couple of times for loitering. I am trying to get custody of my son, but I am losing that battle. I went to see him last week. He's in a foster home. He has two gay mothers. I'm thinking about signing my rights over. My boyfriend, he don't approve of the gay thing. I live with my boyfriend - he's the father - on ----- and Walnut.
You look healthier than when I saw you last, I said.
I've been doing better, she said. I'm not saying I'm clean and jail preserves you a little bit. My boyfriend, he's on a program, too. Counseling, classes.
He is doing better. We both got out of jail. We were clean for week, then somebody came by. He had some crack.
How many days are you working now? I asked,
Twice a week. Not making as much as I once did. Maybe $100 a day.
You look happier then when I saw you last.
I'm not content or happy. My father has been coming at me lately, hitting on me. He's treating me like a piece of meat.
What do you mean?, I asked.
My father wants to have sex with me, she said.
Your biological father ?
Yes. That’s been happening for about six months now. He offered me money. I told him. "that's sick. It's gotta stop."
Did you have sex with him?
No. I have my regulars, same as I've been having. They come to my house.
What does your boyfriend do when they come over?
He leaves, she said.
Do you share with him the drugs you buy from the money you make? I asked,
If I gave you $40, would you put it all on crack?
I'd probably put $30 on it, she answered. I have to get some things from the store. Toilet paper, a pop, a couple of cigarettes would help, and a lighter.
Have you had much trouble with the police? I asked,
No. But I don't bother nobody. Some of these girls, they drink; they're belligerent; they're loud. They steal from these guys. They rob them. They do all kinds of messed up things.
So are you somewhat happy?
I haven't been happy in so long. I don’t remember ever in my life actually being happy. I don't know what is like. When I find something good or someone treats me well. I run away from it. I don't understand. I've been abused all my life. I know how to handle it. But when I find someone good, I ask, "why do you like me? Why do you want to be so nice to me?"
As we drove to her house, her boyfriend was outside.
Come here, she called to him. Honey, remember, a couple years ago, I talked to a reporter.
Hey what's going on, he said, nodding to me as he stood outside the car.
Jane remained in the car.
How's life?, I said.
I'm living, he said. I'm hoping for a better day, wishing on a good dream.
What's your dream?
Do you have a plan?
I got plenty of ideas, he said. Executing them is what the problem is.
How do you get it done? I asked.
If I knew that I would have it done it already, he said, laughing. I have faith in the Lord.
I asked, the work Jane does, does it bother you?
Of course, it bothers me, a great deal. I'd be abnormal if it didn't bother me,he said.
Jane smiled and said, so you do love me? and she laughed.
Of course, I look at it as a bad thing, he said. We don't live according to our best. Things in our lives are f-up; things came to be twisted, discombobulated. But you know things get better with time. It’s a part of life right now, at this particular moment. It’s a flip flop.
Jane chimed in. He means the struggle of addiction. Trying to be clean and getting high. It's two different lives.
It's hard, isn't it? I ventured.
Jane said, It ain't easy. Sometime I want to be numb. Sometimes I just don't want to feel.
Laughing nervously, she continued, one day, I'll be happy again. One day, you're going to pull up to me and I'm going to have a great story for you.
She laughed again.
He said, a positive story.
Maybe that’s coming soon, I said.
Very soon, he said.
If you want to come back tomorrow, she said, as she fidgeted in my car, I can talk to you a little better. Right now, my craving to get high is so bad it isn't funny. But I trust you, Frank. You've been good to me and honest to me. You always been a good man. I kept the story you wrote under my bed for a long time, then I lost it. What you wrote about me was true.
I drove away and went home.
It was after two am.
Most likely, all of those I had spoken to this evening were out, most of them craving to get high. Then getting high. Then wishing they could quit.
They were all living two different lives.
|A crack pipe or stem with a rock of crack inside it.
Also read: "An Interview With Three Prostitutes."