Thinkin’ about Shorty
In Minneapolis, as in “inner city” neighborhoods across America, street prostitution is as much a fixture as the sidewalks and traffic lights. Virtually all smoke crack and, while you’re not going find a world of statistics on exactly how many girls-on-the-corner were raped as youth, one source, www.rapeis.org, attests, “About 80% of women in prostitution have been the victim of a rape,” and, “Estimates of the prevalence of incest among prostitutes range from 65% to 90%.” The half-dozen with whom I spoke were sexually assaulted at least twice by age 14. Fay (not her real name) was first raped at age 10 by a boyfriend of her mother. When she was raped by another of her mother’s boyfriends at 13, she reflects, “I just gave up.” She left home in Milwaukee, showed up in the Twin Cities, hit the streets, got hooked on crack and, at 40, has been hooking ever since. Voss, 30, was first raped at 12.
The South Minneapolis intersection of Chicago and Franklin, police records verify, is a hub of prostitution traffic. LaTanya Jenkins, who goes by the nickname Shorty, frankly admits to being a working girl. “It’s what I do,” she says without batting an eye. It is hard to believe any child begins life with the ambition of running herself ragged up and down streets, hustling johns, dodging cops, constantly sucking on a glass pipe. She has circulated at Chicago and Franklin and Elliot Park, before gentrification cleaned it up, off and on (when not in prison) for at least the last 15 years.
How’d Shorty end up here? She stares at her feet, looks up, off into space. Then matter of factly says, “It comes from growin’ up around an addicted family and, just, followin’ in their footsteps and all my curiousities. It drove me to do the things I do today.” She acknowledges, “I’m a big girl. And I know I don’t have to, though.”
At 37, Shorty, true, is grown. Barely topping 5’, however, she presents, on the winter streets, a waifish figure, smothered in a ski-coat, sleeves well past her hands, scarf tight over her mouth, hunter’s hat tugged down her forehead. If you don’t recognize the eyes—or the clothes—you don’t know it’s her. The more years you spend scrambling on the streets, the greater chance you stand, rightly or wrongly, to make enemies who wish you life-threatening harm. Also, of course, known hookers, especially those who help run drugs, steering customers to dealers, want to be as invisible as possible to the police. “But,” she continues, “What can you do when you’re addicted? It’s hard to just stop. You take your chances.” What chances? An assorted dance in dangerous circumstances. The worst consequence being death. “You play Russian roulette.” She’s had friends who’ve died. More than a few from STDs. “I started smoking,” Shorty recalls, “at 16, [began] hooking at 13, goin’ on 14. Around the same age, also sold drugs, was gang-bangin’. So, I know what it is when I say Russian roulette. You can die any minute.” When most girls are getting their first period, she was turning pro at selling sex. It was, so to speak, all in the family. “My kid’s father was a pimp. I was raised around that. My mom. Aunts. Friends of theirs.” Hers, she observes, is not an uncommon story. Growing up, she saw life take place that same way for other girls. A more common fact of hers and other’s lives, she has had to survive being raped. The first time at 13.
Luckier than some, she is still alive. “Some [girls and women] just come up missin’. Quite a few. It depends on who you get in a car with. You [have to] know what you doin’.” A friend was stabbed to death in a motel. Another simply vanished. Along with violence, there is, it goes without saying, sexually transmitted disease. Shorty will generally tell a trick he has to wear a condom. It is, though, a bluff. Money is money, which is, in turn, the next crack hit. Point in case, Linda, with whom Shorty was never particularly friendly—competitors often aren’t— wasted away to literal skin and bones, trying, in her last months, to turn tricks on Park and Franklin aided by a walker. She died of AIDS, tied to tubes, at Hennepin County Medical Center. “Endgame: AIDS in Black America” (PBS-DVD), released last year, documents in narration by Robert Fullilove, Ed.D, of Columbia University, “If you’re the demander, you get to call the tune. And if you [demand] sex without a condom, then what’s [she] going to do? The addiction is that powerful.” As Shorty said, “You take your chances.”
She has, as the saying goes, left some hide on the brambles. The chances of her ever leading a legimate life are roughly slim and none. She never finished junior high school, has done prison time in MCF-Shakopee (Minnesota Correctional Facility-Shakopee) and doesn’t recall ever having held a legal job. Hers is, in summary, a dead-end lifestyle. To which Shorty is resigned. “I’m just gon’ be out here. Until I’m not no more.”
Available at CD Baby: “Lady Midnight” (Beat Bad Records) by Dwight Hobbes at www.cdbaby.com/cd/DwightHobbes
“End It All Over Again” by Dwight Hobbes & The All-Star Hired Guns featuring Alicia Wiley at http://cdbaby.com/cd/dwighthobbesashg