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Saturday, January 14, 2017



I once heard a story about Pablo Picasso.  He was dining out with friends when the waitress remarked how she’d “love to own a Picasso of her own”.  Pablo took out a napkin and made a doodle for her in about five minutes.  Then he presented it to her saying “That will be $10,000 please.”  She balked saying “But you only spent five minutes on that.  Surely five minutes of work is not worth $10,000.”  He replied straight faced “It took me 55 years of practice, tools, time and skill to perfect my craft so I could draw that in only five minutes.  You’re not paying me for the five minutes – but for the 55 years of time it took me to be able to do that in such short time.” 

Not only do you get better at our craft the longer you do it, but also the more you know about something the more your perception changes.  The waitress looked at it like being a “five minute doodle”.  Pablo looked at it like the culmination of over 55 years of perfecting his craft.  The difference in the value placed on the doodle was all in the perspective.    The same has been true with respect to me and answering the hotline for our program over all these years now.  In other words, I’m no longer as concerned with placing everyone who calls me somewhere.  What I am concerned about more is if I’m helping this person get onto the path they need to be on to get themselves not only off any drugs they might be using, out of the sex industry as well, but also into a life free from abuse.  Abuse which can happen even in recovery if I’m not very careful about what I’m doing. 

I had now launched our hotline and meetings.  We had public service announcements given to us by the local TV stations.  Frances Nuyen, the actress from South Pacific and later the Joy Luck Club, had volunteered to record them for us.  Fifteen second, thirty second and one minute commercials inviting anyone who wanted help to leave the sex industry was provided with our phone number and mailing address to write us with Frances being our celebrity spokesperson.  We choose her because everyone was worried if we didn’t use a celebrity that whoever else did the commercial would be identified as a “prostitute”.   Believe me, no one wanted to have the public think they were a prostitute.  It’s like a scarlet badge of shame.  Since no one would hire you, trust you, rent to you, etc., it had real world consequences.   People would on the hand think Frances was being so altruistic by doing these PSA’s for us – it worked in her case in her favor.

On top of the local TV stations running our commercials, or public service announcements, for us free in the wee hours of the night, so too did local radio stations run them for us also.  Frances had a bit of an accent which was hard to understand on the radio, so I recorded the PSA’s for the radio myself.  I had tapes made and ran them over to all the radio stations to also air in the wee hours of the morning.  Wherever they had commercial time unpaid for, our commercials were inserted in those unsold slots.  So we had a lot of commercials running on TV and radio in the late night hours.  Just when we were most likely to be heard by who we wanted to be heard by.  I even got a couple of local newspapers and magazines to give us unsold ad space for printed ads.  With these, and with my appearances on the local news shows, as well as the talk shows like Sally, Geraldo, Jerry, Donahue, and such, our phone was ringing off the hook. 

The first meeting we were holding was in the Tarzana Treatment Center.  It was always packed.  We’d have to bring into the room extra folding chairs.  The clients at the center would come as well as the people coming from the outside.  I felt more secure knowing I was entering into a place where you couldn’t just walk in from off the street.  To get in you had to be buzzed in.  They had this security camera pointed at the door but they confessed it was “just for show”.  Made people think twice about breaking into the place.  I asked if that was a problem for them and actually it was.  They said that “addicts will have people try and bring them drugs in the middle of the night or smuggle them in to them” or even abusive pimps would show up and try and drag their victims out of the place, so yes they did want people to think twice about just walking in their door by thinking they had a security camera rolling.  Smart thinking.

But our meetings started out huge.  We’d have so many people showing up that I’d have to bring in extra chairs.  I always greeted those coming warmly.  I’d hug them and offer them coffee and cookies.  I tried to make it as warm and inviting of a place for them to come as I could.  When new people would show up, I would always try and get to know their name, introduce them to the other members, and do everything in my power to make them feel comfortable and welcome.  For this reason I think we never had a problem with repeats.  People always would click right in with us and “keep coming back”.

As the hotline started picking up in calls, I started getting more and more crisis calls.  I would either get the calls saying “I really need to get clean” or “I need help to get away from my pimp”.  Those were our two most common crisis calls.  A lot of them too.  Every Friday night it seemed I’d have multiple people all converging on calling the hotline begging for help desperately. 

Now by this time, I’d formed our “mentor board” of people I’d gotten to know before putting together a group.  I knew all of the people who had houses and programs and had their direct phone number.  I could get anyone into a place with one phone call.  Didn’t matter if they had money either.  If I needed to get someone a bed, they’d get a bed.  If they needed to get in a domestic violence shelter, I had the list of all of the shelters in the area.  All I needed to do was call.

One of those people was Bob Barrett.  He had founded Impact House in Pasadena.  Actually he created a lot of things.  Bob had put together the first halfway houses for addicts in southern California.  Put them together before even such a thing technically existed.  What I mean by that is halfway houses and sober houses for alcoholics existed.  But ones just for addicts had not even been created yet when Bob set out to create them.  His story appeared in the Basic Text “The Only Meeting in the World” talking about how he found NA when there was literally only “one meeting in the world”.  In this story it talks about how his wife found him the meeting because she had wanted him to get clean.  This story is actually the story not only of Bob’s recovery, but that of his wife who had created Naranon.  In AA, they have Alanon for the wives.  Bob wife, Alma, was the woman in the story who created their version of Alanon for the addict. 

Bob also knew everyone in town when it came to finding a bed or placement for something.  He could put anyone into Impact House with one phone call because he was after all their founder.  Surely this alone was a good connection for me to find placement for someone who needed help.  Placement I got too.  I would call up someone and in one hour they’d have a bed.  Problem was they’d also be out of there just as fast.  Most people wouldn’t last a day in where I’d place them.  It became like a joke almost.  I’d no sooner drop someone off at some treatment program or safe house and I’d get a call before I even reached my house saying either they’d left, or they were calling me asking to be picked up again.  It was a complete merry-go-round of people.

But Bob insisted whoever he took in had to stay in a motel for three days first.  They’d pay for the motel so that wasn’t the problem.  The problem was he insisted he wouldn’t take anyone into his care unless they had first stayed in a motel he knew was safe for three days.  Well that was just too long for the people who were calling me frantic for help.  They were “so scared” and “so skiddish” they couldn’t stand being alone in a motel room for three days.  Not unless I stayed with them every minute anyways.

Which I couldn’t do.  I’m working full-time now as a paralegal.  I’m in night school.  On top of work and school I also now have this group running and I’m answering the hotline.  Now realize we didn’t have cell phones in those days.  This meant I had to be home to answer our hotline.  When I wasn’t home I had the recorder on to take messages.  But to answer our phone I had to be home.  So I would make a point of being home for a few hours a night to answer the hotline, and then all day Saturday and most of Sunday also.  I put on the recorder the hours I’d be available to take live calls and I had to be home to do this.  I couldn’t forward the phone into some motel room, nor take the phone with me.  This meant there was no way I could physically stay sitting with someone holding their hand in a motel room for three days straight.  Besides, I had other people I had to pick up and tend to.  My attention could not be placed all on one person for three days straight. 

What this meant was I would call up all these other programs who would take these women in immediately.  I wasn’t noticing at all though they weren’t staying.   Yes I had the sense of accomplishment I was “getting them checked in”.  But they weren’t staying.  They weren’t recovering.  They were either going right back to the pimp, or right back to getting high, or to the nearest dealer and getting high, etc. 

It was a revolving door.  In and out.  In and out.  I was completely and utterly spinning my wheels and I was getting exhausted.  I was getting what they call “burn out”.  I was getting tired and cranky.  I would get a call at midnight someone “needed to escape their pimp immediately”.  So I’d get up out of bed and put on my shoes and go and get them.  Then I’d drive them to the shelter or program.  I’d check them in.  I’d make sure they were all settled in nice and snug as a bug in a rug.  Then I’d maybe have an hour to try and get some sleep before getting up and going to work for a full eight hour day.  Then after work, I’d come home to more messages from more people who needed help with something.  I’d then sit up until 2:00 in the morning letting someone talk to me until they were calm enough to sleep because they were on maybe their third or fourth day clean (which that third day is the toughest because everything has left your system then). 

To say I was getting “punchy” is an understatement.  I didn’t have time to eat a meal because the phone was always ringing.  I didn’t have time to sleep because I was always going out on some crisis call to pick someone up and get them into some program.  I started screwing up at my job because I was exhausted from being up all night checking someone into a detox program.  I’d then be late to work because they’d call me the next morning saying they’d “walked out because their counselor was a dickhead”. 

I was beginning to see why people really hated working with our type of person.  I began to understand why people used to view the alcoholic as the “hopeless case” before Alcoholics Anonymous was born.  Many people wouldn’t take in the alcoholic into their hospital or into their treatment because they were known to be a complete waste of time.  I knew AA changed that.  I knew NA changed that for addicts. 

But here I was with the most resistant group of all – that of sex workers and of who most of them were also using drugs on top of everything else.  Add in those with pimps and it was just a revolving door of people going in and out of everything I’d set up for them to get into for help. 

I started having people laugh and say to me “told you so”.  I say that because the cops, social workers, therapists, nurses, shelters, chaplains, and other people who worked with helping us had been telling me when I started our hotline and program I was “wasting my time”.  They had well warned me how I could “set them up with everything they need for help and they’ll throw it right back into your face”. 

The older cops especially.  They would tell me horror stories of conditions they found women in with these vicious pimps.  How they’d get them out of there, put him in jail, and them put them in a nice little house in the valley with a great staff and how they’d then “go find them another pimp even worse by the next day and be off back to the streets”.  These cops would just shake their head paternally saying I “shouldn’t waste my time on these women anymore”.  So when another one would up and leave the place I’d just spent all the day before getting her checked into, they’d just shake their head and say “told you”.  They were all trying to show me they were right about us.

I didn’t believe that.  I didn’t believe we were hopeless.  Because to believe that would mean I’d been hopeless too.  Plenty of people said I was hopeless when I was back out there.  Here I am now with a few years clean, a job, a nice little apartment, and I’m recovering.  So how could we be hopeless?  What was the difference between them and me?  Surely it would be easier for them than me wouldn’t it?  I had nothing to help me and I “got it”.  I didn’t have a detox, or a treatment program, or a drug counselor, or even a halfway house who helped me.  I had detoxed on my grandmother’s living room floor on a futon.  She’d watched over me to make sure I didn’t seizure or anything, but I had kicked all those drugs out of me in her little one bedroom apartment.  She was a just a little old lady – not some professional drug counselor.  I’d had Paul drive me to endless NA meetings and countless nights of coffee in all night diners.  It made sense to me if I’d gotten recovery without anyone or anything to help me in the way of some kind of program, then surely it would be easier for these women now I was getting them help certainly.  Isn’t that why I started this whole thing?  I wanted to make getting recovery easier for others than what I’d gone through.

One night was particularly busy.  I must have had about five women all wanting help at the same time.  Only there’s only so many beds for a person so I had to divide them up into different places.  I had everyone placed somewhere they needed except for one woman.  She was leaving her pimp and he had just beaten her black and blue.  When I’d picked her up both her eyes had been blacked, her nose broken, her teeth cracked, and she looked a fright from how he’s just moped the floor with her.

Everyone was full except for Bob’s place.  I knew she’d had to spend three days in a motel room before he’d admit her.  But I knew he had a bed so I decided to plead with him to bend his admitting rules “just for me”.  This woman couldn’t possibly last three days alone in a motel in that bad of a shape.  She was also as nervous as a “long tailed cat in a room full of rocking chairs” as the saying goes.  I could tell the minute I left her, her anxiety would just too so high she’d never last.

I decided to beg Bob to make an exemption.  I told him how I understood his procedures for addicts, but this woman was “different”.  She’d just been beaten by her pimp and therefore she shouldn’t be left alone.  Considering he was looking for her, she was right in being afraid her pimp would find her.  Of course she was right for feeling anxious he’d come looking for her because he probably would.  Maybe he would come after her and it was dangerous to leave her alone in a motel for that reason.  I tried to convince Bob this logic as to why she shouldn’t be left in a motel room by herself.  Why he should just admit her into his place right now without putting her through these “pointless hoops” as I said about them.  Because I really felt he was being pointless about the hoops and the motel as a form of “detox” in a way. 

One of the things I love about Bob is he’d teach me.  He’d take the time to show me what he was talking about so I’d understand.  Upon hearing my convincing argument, Bob told me he’d make a deal with me.  He said he’d take this one in “right away” without making her go through the three day wait.  But he was doing it to show me she wouldn’t stay. 

Now her not staying meant more than just her not getting it.  Bob explained to me they were a business.  To check her in, takes staff.  It takes money, time and resources.  It takes resources which are wasted if she’s going to just check in, and then leave.  Resources better spent on the people who were there serious about getting help than in going through the motions with someone playing at wanting it. 

He said I had to look at this from their side of things.  Because if their program got a reputation for being a “revolving door” then this would harm their reputation as well for effectiveness.  His program was paid based on success rates.  That if he started just checking people in and out who weren’t making it, then his program would start getting a bad reputation.  A bad reputation means they aren’t going to be getting the money they need to even keep the doors open.  Again, I want to point out this was before the internet.  This was the days when your reputation “on the streets” was your reputation.  It mattered back then.  It wasn’t like someone you could just put a whole internet campaign to change the way people were talking about you.  Back then, if you get a bad reputation, you were sunk.  Because these were the days when people would talk about your reputation, not just something posted online.   So yes, in the late 1980’s, the way people viewed you, talked about you, and your reputation “on the streets” mattered. 

He pointed out to me all the programs that came and went by the wayside because they weren’t working.  Word spread they weren’t working and who is going to pay for that?  The grant people aren’t going to give grants based on failure.  Clients won’t pay for treatment which isn’t working.  Investors won’t invest in a program which isn’t working.  In other words, if they get a reputation for not being effective, how are they going to even stay in business?

Bob pointed out to me addicts are self-centered.  In other words, we only see things from our point of view.  Which is we want treatment and we want it now.  We also want it “our way” like the Burger King commercial.  We also want it fast and instant like microwave food.  But we aren’t looking at the world from the providers point of view.  He wanted me to try and look at things from their point of view as an operator of a program. 

As an operator of a program then I need to be looking out for the future of that program.  To continue operating means we need to keep getting paid.  Money which isn’t going to be coming to us in the future unless I can show we’re a program which works.  That or get paid by the state just for the day who didn’t care about success rates like the prisons do.  Because that’s how the field was divided.  He told me there were people who got paid based on their success rates, and then there were the people who got paid simply by the day. 

Those being paid for the day like those programs used by the courts to serve instead of jails, could care less about the quality of that treatment.   Now which was the program I was looking to get someone into?  Did I want a quality program with a good reputation and a solid track record of success?  Or did I want to just check them into what was basically a babysitting service who got paid by the day and could care less about the quality of that day.  Why would they care about quality if they were being paid by the day and the body.  For them, it’s about making a profit.  Meaning providing as little service as possible actually for that bed they’re offering.  Kind of HMO’s.

He pointed to the programs I’d been putting these women into.  He asked me “Do you even know their track record of success?”  I felt so stupid.  No I hadn’t bothered to research anything about their success rates.  All I cared about was they had a bed.  I was “assuming” if they had a bed and were operating they must know what they’re doing.   It’s kind of like “white coat syndrome”.  People think if it’s a doctor and has a white coat this means he’s a good doctor.  Which isn’t always the case is it?

This was a time when the courts had first started ordering addicts into treatment instead of jail.  All the court cared about was two things – the number of days and did the addict pass the urine test.  These places could care less about whether or not the addict actually grasped recovery or not.  All they cared about was the completion of days and the passed urine test.  If they could show these as their “results”, then they got paid for those days with grants which had just started coming through the state of California.  Prior to this, programs were paid for either by a grant from the state, or by the clients.  Another thing which had started changing was that of insurance companies.  Insurance companies were now paying for drug treatment.  Now did they know anything about the field?  Not a damn thing.  But they had people on their board deciding what they’d pay for, how much they’d pay for it, and well this was when HMO’s had started not only forming, but also taking on paying for drug treatment.  Which they also only looked at the number of days the client was checked in, and for a passed urine test.  As far as judging a program based on the quality of recovery the client achieved had nothing to do with anything. 

The same for some of these domestic violence shelters.  They were given a budget to operate on for the year.  Each person they worked with was money that came out of their budget.  Meaning some of these shelters didn’t want women to stay long.  That’s an ugly thing to say but it’s true.  These places would go out of their way to stick anyone and everyone in they could to make it appear they were “doing their job”, but upstairs there was someone counting beans and looking at the financial bottom line.  A bottom line which made money based on not how many women they changed their lives, but only on how many women they had admitted.  Out of that, if she stayed longer than three days then she cost them money.  So some of them would do things which actually made the client feel uncomfortable so they would leave after a short period of time.  Then they got to say “oh well they weren’t ready” and then pocket more profit because she stayed less days and ate less meals. 

Bob took the time to sit me down and take a look at how Impact operated from a business point of view.  Then he started explaining to me how other programs operated.  For example, when I first started our work, every jail and prison in California back in 1986 was paid for out of the California state budget.  They paid out of their pocket for every day I was incarcerated.  The state allocated a certain budget to Los Angeles county.  Los Angeles county also had a budget.  Since the state and county were the ones paying for the operation of the courts, the jails, the prisons, and so on this meant each day I was being held in their facility was a day’s worth of money I was costing them out of pocket. 

Bob explained this was why the county had been so eager to welcome me into their hearts.  Each woman I was able to show we were working with in our program, which cost them nothing, was saving them money.  Now with the average female inmate in the womans’ jail then costing them about $150 a day to house, feed, provide medical care for, etc.  This meant for every woman I got out of their jail and into our meetings, I was saving them at least $150 per day per person.  He explained this was why they were so eager to accept us into their system, and gladly hand these women over to us.  They got to also look like they “cared” even in the process of saving money and resources. 

But if you look at the prison system today, most of the facilities today are not paid for out of the state’s budget.  Most are actually “for profit” commercial prisons.  They make money off the inmates.  Some of these facilities make money by allowing medical research and even experimentation be done on the inmates.  They are an ideal community in fact to do pharmaceutical research.  They have the same hours as each other, the same food, the same everything so they’re a “standardized” community.  The doctors can all monitor them as to blood work, as well as even watching their daily routines on the closed circuit videocamera’s.  So even variances in their sleeping patterns, their behavior can all be noted for research purposes. 

For profit prisons also make money off labor.  Some even get government contracts to do manual labor jobs with their inmates.  At a substantial cost because the inmates are paid pennies on the dollar for their labor, well below the minimum wage even.  On top of the labor they provide as a resource, they even have products they make which are then sold at a profit.  These prison industries do things like make trash cans which can then be turned around and sold to their own facility at three times the market rate for a trash can.  The last statistic I read said that in the year 2015, over 80 % of the jails and prisons in the United States were now “for profit” corporate facilities.  But not the case in Los Angeles, California at the time I had started this work.

Look at the “No Child Left Behind” campaign we went through.  Record numbers of children were being graduated to the next grade, or graduated out of high school, while being unable to even read or add basic numbers.  This was caused by a system which refused to pay schools who didn’t show a certain percentage of kids passing.  When the kids weren’t learning, the school didn’t want to get their budget cut so they just went ahead and passed them through regardless of what learning they’d achieved. 

Bob told me to examine each one of these programs as to how they operated.  He also told me they’ll report different types of “success” rates based upon how they’d paid.  Some he pointed out are paid by the number of days, along with the number of clean drug tests.  He told me some programs were so desperate to keep being paid they’d even lie about the number of dirty drug tests because it was in their best interests to do so.   But how effective was a program who would lie about a dirty drug test just so they could keep their money flow coming?  Certainly the addict who wasn’t penalized in any way for the drug test, maybe even knowing they lied about their test for their own reasons, wasn’t going to be exactly getting any real recovery in such a place. 

He explained to me this was one of the reasons why Jimmy was so opposed to professional treatment.  Most weren’t rewarded or paid based on the actual recovery rates in their clients.  But by other standards which may even be harmful to their clients.  Plus, most aren’t based on how many addicts achieve the life long recovery.   They’re only judged on who they “graduate” and who gets a passed urine test on that one day.  It’s not in their best interests either to do any follow-ups with their graduates to see who is still clean a year later to prove how effective they were.   Look at Narcotics Anonymous as an example.  They aren’t judged by how many addicts are in the rooms.  They aren’t judged by how many have days of clean time.  They’re judged by how many addicts are finding life long lasting transformative recovery.  How many “old timers” there are who now care about others. 

Bob took the time to show me this was a business to most people.  Most of the owners of these programs weren’t even addicts for that matter.  They’d gone into the field for a variety of reasons.  Maybe to make money.  Maybe to make a name for themselves.  Maybe to add a notch on their belt they could write down on their resume they did for a summer.  Maybe even because they were predators who liked preying upon a weak, vulnerable, easily exploitable crowd of people.  He asked me to think about how many sexual predators we had in the field.  Pedophiles were attracted to work with children in jobs like being a coach, or a teacher, a priest, youth counselor, and so on.  But sexual predators looked for places they could be alone with women who had a history of drug abuse, mental illness and most of all had a sexual history which would count against them if accusing someone of rape. 

Then he asked me if I knew how many sexual predators were coming into the field of drug treatment, domestic violence, and the mental health field targeting adult women who were either prostitutes, or at least very promiscuous just as pedophiles target jobs working with children?  As the man who created Impact House, he starts telling me how they’re always applying for jobs.  They want to work as the night manager in the womens’ ward especially.  Was I aware of how many counselors and therapists each year were fired because of sexual misconduct with their clients?  No I wouldn’t be because these numbers weren’t going to be in the news because it would hurt the reputation of the program they’d come out of.  That most programs who had problems with sexual predators wouldn’t be letting anyone know about such things because it would cost them donors and clients.

Predators who would love to be operating a detox program for prostitutes.  Imagine all the women coming in to the program you’d then be alone with and who would believe them if they said “some man came into my room late at night and assaulted me”.  These were days when we didn’t have DNA tests to confirm things like semen samples.  If these women were found to have semen inside them, it could be easily dismissed they’d just had a sexual encounter right before entering their program even.  I hate to say it but the more Bob was talking to me about how these programs operated, why they operated, and the people who were working at them, the more I realized that where I placed someone who was calling for help was a much more complicated thing than just “finding a bed”. 

He asked me what I knew about these places I was checking women into.  What did I “really” know about them?  Like priests, when they get complaints about a sexual predator, what do they do?  They just move him around right?  The new congregation isn’t warned about him.  There’s no press in the newspapers about this guy is coming to your church now.  Didn’t I know if a man has a license to be a therapist, or even a director of a program, if they were to get a complaint they just moved around the field also.  I couldn’t help but remember when I had called the corporate office for Sambo’s back before I’d entered prostitution.  I remembered how they knew good and well this guy had been sexually harassing the waitress’ for years, but had done nothing about it because they “needed someone to run the place”.  I also remembered how certainly there wasn’t anything in the news about this manager who thought a job interview was asking to “see my tits”. 

Bob explained to me when he hired someone, he had “fake” clients he’d have them working with.  People who would report back to him everything about his counselors because he knew predators were very charming and deceptive.  It was their stock in trade even.  To fool people into thinking they were “nice guys” or even “nice gals”.  He told me when he was checking out other programs, he’d talk to a lot of the staff to get a good idea what the place was like.  But not when the boss was around because then they might not be so honest. 

I hated to admit it, but he was making a lot of sense.  I not only needed to examine how programs were structured, how they got their money, but also really get a sense about who was working at these places.  Who was going to be alone in a house in the middle of the night with these women who the courts notoriously don’t believe when making a rape or sexual misconduct complaint.  ESPECIALLY when this woman is a prostitute.  I’d never even thought about how pedophiles target jobs with kids, so wouldn’t sexual predators be targeting jobs where there’s be a lot of women who would be in a vulnerable state who the police wouldn’t believe if she cried “rape”. 

What’s worse is he really was opening my eyes.  He had opened Impact House because he was an addict.  Because it was his way of “carrying the message” to helping himself stay clean.  This was our “check and balance” system.  We didn’t screw over other addicts because it would mean we wouldn’t stay clean.  However, a “normie” or “non-addict” wouldn’t have the same check and balance system.  Man screwed over man all the time in the name of business and money.  So why would a non-addict who was running a treatment program of some kind care more about the quality of the program over the bottom lines of dollars and cents?  Because that’s all a businessman who wasn’t an addict would care about – the bottom line with respect to money.  Even if that money was tied to the success rates of their program.  Success rates gauged exactly how?  By the number of days?  By urine tests? 

My head was hurting but he told me he’d take this woman in as an exception just to teach me a lesson.  He wanted me to understand he had his reasons why he did what he did and why he did things that way.  Bob also explained to me people value what they either pay a lot for, or what’s not that easy to come by.  To stay a month in his program he said cost about $30,000 back then.  Here we are giving it to this woman for free.  Now how is she going to gauge the value of that gift?  She’s not paying for it in cash.  When not paying cash, people value what they have to work hard for.  That or what’s hard to get into.  Look at Studio 51’s reputation which was built on the doorman turning people away.  Nightclubs built their street reputation on how hard they were to get into.  You were considered “some body” when you could get into places no one else could get into.  Bob explained to me at some level everyone at that level has money.  So when reaching this level, your importance is then gauged on what you can get no one else can get.  Like on who got into Studio 51.  You could offer the doorman a ton of cash and it wasn’t the wallet that got you inside.  Meaning if I wanted someone to value what we were giving them, if giving it for free of charge, then would they think it’s valuable if I’m making it that easy to get into?  Don’t people say “oh it must be something if there’s a huge waiting list”?

On that one I joked this rule of thumb also applied to prostitutes.  Men also felt “boy she must be something” if she charged more than the other girls.  It was still the same girl, but men would gauge her not only on her looks, but also on her rates.   Yes with some women they were judged on hard it was to get her to give up the sex.  But for those who gave up the sex, it then became a matter of how much they charged for this access.  I had to admit he was right.  I hadn’t been looking at those operating programs like they were operating a business.  To me, they were “supposed to care” and all of that.  Bob joked with me about “Didn’t you tell me you read Ann Ryn?”  Of course she wrote about just these types of conflict between need to make money vs. the need of the people for services in books like “Fountain Head”. 

The more he was explaining to me, the less I was realizing I knew about this whole field.  But that’s why I’d formed a mentor board in the first place.  I knew I didn’t know about running such a program as this, and why I wanted to be able to tap into the minds of people who did know how to do such things effectively.  I also had to take a look at my own motivations.  I had admittedly been getting some of my own sense of accomplishment on how many people I was able to get placed into some kind of help.  I wasn’t however looking at instead how many people I was actually truly helping.  A whole other criteria.  I realized if this applied to me, then of course it would apply to these programs as well.  Maybe they had a whole other criteria as well. 

He took this woman right into Impact House on the spot.  Bob told me he would treat her in the same identical manner as she would have been treated if she’d come through the motel first.  He said it would be easy to insure this because everyone was “treated the same” at his program.  Remember, “principles before personality” meant everyone would be treated with the same respect as the other.  Bob didn’t treat me differently because I was a woman from a man in recovery.  He treated us the same because we were all addicts.  I knew this meant she’d receive the same treatment as anyone else, and as if she had gone through the three day detox period first. 

I got a call by 6:00 a.m. from her.  She’d walked right out of the program to the nearest payphone to call me.  I then heard a long list of all of the reasons why she “hated the place” and “couldn’t she come and stay with me?”  With her pimp looking for her most likely, no I didn’t want her staying at my place.  Besides, I had to work, and go to school, and I couldn’t watch her 24 hours a day.  My world didn’t revolve around her even though she was making it clear to me this is what she wanted from me.   Pimps can afford to spend 24 hours focusing on these women because that’s their livelihood.  I however had a life and a job and I just couldn’t take on providing this kind of supervision. 

I patiently listened to all of her complaints about the place, and then held my ground.  I told her I had just placed people all weekend in beds all over the county.  It was Super Bowl weekend and this is a notorious day for violence towards women.  I had used up every bed in every domestic abuse shelter, halfway house, detox and treatment program.  The only bed I knew of in the whole county was that bed she’d just walked out on like it was nothing.  But then again I had made it like nothing hadn’t I?  I knew nothing else had changed by 6 in the morning anyway and everyone would be asleep.  There’d be no point in calling to see if anything had opened up because no one was going to even answer their phones until at least 9:00 a.m.

Bob had his three day motel “detox” in place for a reason.  I knew people who came out of his program, and it worked.  I knew Bob.  I knew his staff.  There was no good reason for her to get up and leave before even having tried the program for one full day.   She’d get no help coming to my place.  All she’d get would be my empty apartment while I was at work all day.  Certainly not going to help her get clean or find recovery from everything.  I refused to come pick her up.  I told her I had worked really hard convincing Bob to allow her into that program, and it was all just now wasted because of what she’d done.  That I wasn’t going to waste anymore of my time on this.  She either got it or she didn’t.  I knew they wouldn’t take her back now after having walked out, so she’d have to go in the right way this time.

I told her I’d take her to the motel where she would have to wait there three days until a new bed opened up.  She told me “well I just left a bed so I know there’s an empty bed”.  I told her it didn’t matter.  She’d forfeited that bed by walking out.  What was to stop her from walking out again if they took her back?  Why have an empty bed just sitting there when there were people dying for want of a bed who couldn’t get one?  After I explained this to her, I told her I would have her taken to the motel where she would wait until they readmitted her into the program, or she was on her own.  I was in Van Nuys while she was in Pasadena.  It was a half hour drive just for me to get there, and then what?   It helped no one for her to be at my vacant apartment, and I was not going to lose a day of pay over someone who didn’t want help. 

She cried she had “no where else to go” so she’d go to the motel.  I agreed to pick her up and take her to the motel to get her settled in.  The motel was clear across town from Impact House.  I asked Bob why it was so far.  He explained for one, he didn’t want the pimp to know where she was.   After she was checked in, he wanted her to be able to walk down the street without worrying the pimp was cruising the area looking for her.   Which if he knew where she was in the motel, he would assume the program was nearby.  The other was it was a cheaper motel than by him. 

The last reason was he said he also wanted her to be “too far to simply walk back home”.  He wanted her so far from where she’d come from, or anyone she knew, he said this way she’d have no way out by just walking out.  It made sense because if she was only a few blocks from her old house, or one of her closest friends, what would stop her from just walking down the street to them.  He told me by having to arrange a ride to get back, she’d have a moment to really stop and consider what she was doing.  It made sense because so many bad decisions are made impulsively.  This is why dieters remove all their forbidden foods from the pantry.  Forcing them to drive to the market makes them slow down and think about what they’re eating.

I was worried about her being all alone though.  She wasn’t.  There were three other women in the room with her so I knew she had company.   Bob laid me odds maybe only one would be left in that room by morning.  He explained it’s why he didn’t bother with paying for four rooms.  Why bother when most likely three of those women were going to be running off before the sun even came up, let alone check-out time. 

Like clockwork, she called me about two hours after I’d returned home.  She “didn’t like the other women” and she was complaining about “their clothes are everywhere” and “they don’t like me” and I just heard the whole laundry list of her complaints about the room, these women, etc.  I listened and then said quietly “So?”  I mean what are the options here?  She wasn’t going to advance to the head of the line.  She wasn’t coming to my apartment for sure.  She couldn’t go back to the pimp surely.  This left the motel room with these three other women.  I explained they were probably just as uncomfortable with her as she was with them, and that maybe, just maybe, that’s why they were all driving each other nuts.  I asked her if she was being nice to them?  I mean she’s complaining they’re not nice to her?  How was she treating them?  She admitted she wasn’t treating them very nicely. 

She was a grown woman.  She could go or stay.  Those were her options.  She had to make the decision.  I had to think back to the night I’d made that decision.  I think everyone who enters recovery does.  I was at a meeting in a Glendale Alano Club.  I went into that meeting thinking it was “all wrong”.  I didn’t agree with the seating arrangement.  I didn’t agree with the format.  I didn’t like the readings.  I didn’t like speaker for the meeting.  I was just a list of complaints about the whole thing.  I remembered I got so angry and upset I had gotten up in the middle of this meeting, threw my reading down on the table in disgust, flipped my chair back across the room to protest the whole thing, and then stormed out of this meeting screaming what “stupid bitches” everyone was. 

I then got to my car in the parking lot and stopped.  I sat down on a transformer box and had to stop and think.  Where was I going to go exactly?  Was I going to go back to my old life?  If I was going to stay clean, this meant meetings.  It meant a lot of meetings I couldn’t stand and people I couldn’t stand.  But what were my choices here?  Not go?  I saw what happened to people who simply didn’t go.  Go back to my old life?  I looked back at that Alano Club and I realized it wasn’t nearly as bad as some of the crack houses I’d been locked up in when I was back running the streets.  Those ladies weren’t worse than some of the tricks and drug dealers I’d run with.  Once I put it into perspective of what my options were, maybe these ladies weren’t so bad after all. 

An old-timer had followed me out of the meeting.  She was worried about me and wanted to check on me.  She asked me point blank “Where are you going to go?”  I told her I didn’t have anywhere else to go but right there.  I started crying when I realized this.  She gave me a hug and asked me to come back into the meeting with her.  I was horrified.  I couldn’t possibly face those women after the way I’d thrown a chair and insulted them.   Then she cracked “You can’t save your face and your ass at the same time sweetie.  We’ve all been there.”  She offered to walk with me back into the room for support and I let her.  I let her walk me back in like a mother almost doing for a child.  She told me “We all have to make that decision at some point if we’re going or staying.”  I had chosen to stay.

Maybe this is what this woman was needing to do.  I told her to make her choice.  She told me she’d stay.  I called Bob and he confirmed part of the motel process was for them to go through that decision making process.  He assured me nothing else had changed.  His program was the same.  The motel room was the same.  But now she’d made her choice to choose recovery, everything would be different now.   She stayed in the room and even got some sleep that night.  The important hurdle had been crossed.  She’d made her decision to stay.  Because of this, Bob went ahead and brought her into the program the next morning instead of making her wait the whole three days.  I later learned it wasn’t the three days so much as it was the “decision” which had to be made.  I referred a lot more women to him that year, and once each had made her “decision”, he always went ahead and checked them into the program.  I noticed his program wasn’t as packed as the others.  But those who came into his program stayed.  I’ve had the privilege of meeting many good people who had achieved long term recovery coming through his program in fact.  When Bob had a birthday celebration for his 30 years of clean time, all kinds of people turned out with double digit recovery thanking Bob for going through Impact House.  I was able to help a lot of women go through the process, and come out the other end with Bob’s help.

Nothing had changed with his program.  What had changed was this woman had made her decision, and that changed everything.  But also, I don’t think she wanted to lose her connection with me.  I had let her know if she went back to the pimp I’d then have nothing to do with her.  One thing I’ve seen about working with those coming out of sex work, is they don’t hit “bottoms” like other addicts.  They don’t get into recovery because they’re afraid of going to jail.  They don’t get clean because they’ve lost their home.  They don’t get clean because their teeth are falling out.  They don’t get clean because they know the drugs are harming their body.  No threats or consequences or any of the bad stuff seems to be anything that phases them.  In fact, we don’t seem to care about a lot of the bad stuff happening to us because in way it’s usually all we know.  We only know the bad stuff so why would we be motivated by the idea of having bad stuff if we don’t stop? 

What seems to motivate us the most is the idea of losing someone.  I know I didn’t even think about stopping what I was doing for a moment until Bruce, my attorney, told me he wouldn’t represent me in the future.  That if I got arrested again I’d have a public defender.  It wasn’t I was afraid of getting arrested again which made me pause, but the idea I couldn’t just call Bruce up and he’d come and “make it all better” for me.  He wouldn’t be riding up on his horse to my rescue any longer.  The same thing for me with respect to my mother and grandmother.  Even my first sponsor, Paul, once I’d gotten attached to him.  Same for Bob.  Both Bob and Paul were too people who I knew would not even speak to me if I was to go back out and use drugs or prostitute again.  None of the people I’d bonded to in recovery would so much as associate with me if they thought I was back out there again. 

Bob agreed with me.  He told me the fear this woman has of me cutting her off, was what was keeping her pushing forward.  It’s also why he cautioned me I couldn’t go back over to join them in the using and criminal world.  Because if they thought I’d come over to their side to join them, why bother coming over to my side in recovery?  I hesitated because I pointed out many women would take the option of going back out there again, and not talking to me again.  He then promised me “Yes that’s true.  But when they’re done.  Really done.  They will know to call you for help and they will.  Your job is to be standing over on the recovery side of the line and still standing there when they get ready for them to call.”

Which I saw ring true many times over the years.  I lost count with how many have made the decision to keep going back out there again for a while.  But I did see when they were done, when they were ready, when they had decided to try this thing called recovery again, I was the first person they’d call.  It even began to amaze me at the things I’d hear they’d done to make sure they’d kept my phone number just in that case of emergency.  One woman told me she had kept my business card in her dresser drawer for 19 years until she decided it was now “time”.  She knew right where that card was she told me, and used the phone when it was time to call me asking for help.

As I continued to help get people placed who were calling the hotline, I began to notice a real paradox develop.  The programs which were really just revolving doors they “loved”.  But those who were highly effective, they’d “hate”.  It got to even be a joke with me in a way.  Whenever I’d hear someone grumbling in a meeting about how “bad the staff was” and how “stupid the program was” and “they had no idea what they were doing” and on and on.  I’d always go up and ask them simply “Did you stay clean?”  The answer was always “no”.  

The indignation used to always just crack me up also.  The pimps would be wanting to come visit them in the program.  Of course the staff would refuse to let them see the woman.  Then both her and the pimp would be complaining about how “stupid” this was, and many of the women would walk over just that issue.  I mean how dare they not let their pimp come and visit them when they only had a week clean right?  Imagine the nerve!  I’d ask if they stayed clean and stopped turning tricks.  The answer was always “well I had to pay for the time I’d lost” like how stupid could I be to think they’d stay clean after leaving the program because they wouldn’t let their pimp come visit them.  They’d say this to me sometimes with black eyes and a cast on their arm and not understand what was wrong with this picture either. 

As I continued to answer the hotline, and place people into the programs they needed, I also started to understand more about the program’s I was referring them to.  Their screening process as well.  It’s funny because when I started answering the hotline, I had literally a huge thick binder of places I had listed to put people into.  But after what Bob had taught me, I started taking the time to get to know these places better.  I started asking how they got their funding, how they determined what a “success” was for them, who their staff was, and just really getting to understand more about how their programs operated before just sending someone over to them who had trusted me with their lives. 

I also started asking people in the meetings to tell me more about what the programs were like on the “inside”.  Anyone can tell me they have so many success stories.  It’s another to be asking people in the meetings if they stayed clean after they got released.  Did they get out of prostitution after being in this place for a year?  I started going to meetings not only for my own recovery, but also to do informal surveys on how well certain programs were doing. 

The list of programs I was using to refer callers to on our hotline grew smaller and smaller the more I got to know about them.  

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