By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
In the world of rehab, it's key to belong to a group that both encourages and holds one another accountable. The day Diane and the other graduates visited STAR Court, for instance, one of the newer participants admitted she hadn't yet called her sponsor. "I didn't have money for the pay phone," the woman said in a quiet voice. There was a long pause. Myers was first to speak. "Don't we do the things we want to do? Don't we find a way?" she said. "You can make excuses, but it says one thing to me, and that's that you don't really have an interest in having a sponsor. Do you agree with that?"
"No," the woman said in a small voice.
Diane shook her head. "I was one of the first people in this program, and I didn't have no phones. I was living in a recovery house, and let me tell you, I called my sponsor once a day, sometimes twice. Everyone has a cell phone—somebody would lend you 50 cents or a phone. There's no excuse."
Liz, a 30-year-old who after a year in the program is living with her family while she applies to nursing school and hopes to get hired at Parkland Hospital, stressed the potential ramifications of missing one phone call. "If you're not working your recovery, then you're in active addiction, whether you're using or not," she said. "With your addiction come certain ways of thinking, and if you don't arrest that, you're gonna use."
Myers looked at the woman who'd failed to make the call and said simply: "Make up your mind. If you're not serious, there are others who are."
Just as they talk about the temptation to use drugs, the women deal constantly with the pull of returning to prostitution. In an early November STAR Court session, one woman told of her struggles to find housing. "But then I ran into an old friend, and he put me up in a beautiful apartment, thank God."
Liz, the same woman who called out the newcomer who avoided her sponsor, wasn't buying it. "As a prostitute I relied on a man for everything," she said. "What I'm hearing is that you're not on the streets, but you're allowing a man to take care of you. Judge Myers is helping us get on our feet, not lean on a man."
The first woman looked like someone had just slapped her. "But I'm gonna be independent," she stammered. "It's not like that."
Myers interjected. "I think Liz makes a good point," she said. "To be self-sufficient, you need to have a plan, and that's what I'm here to help you with. What Liz is saying is to go into the situation with your eyes open."
"But he hasn't touched me since I got there. I made it perfectly clear," the woman, clearly feeling singled out, said. "I've heard enough. I don't want to feel low today. I just want to be happy." Yet as she bowed her head, she seemed to be considering what the others said.
Myers moved on to logistics and business, including ensuring that everyone had calendars to keep track of their counseling sessions, meetings, classes and jobs. Then she announced the list of "Stars of the Week." This time, Cristina was on the list of women who completed all the week's requirements. She looked proud as she collected her bag to leave and catch the bus. "When they throw their support in, it feels good," she said, surveying the other women filing out of the courtroom. "There are some girls that when you need them, they're there."
On a chilly November night, the command post has been erected in an empty parking lot off Interstate 20, a trucking corridor thick with Flying J truck stops and cheap motels. In trailers set up in a square, Dallas County staffers prepare to screen prostitutes for health problems, officers get ready to run background checks and collect criminal information, and a community court magistrate sits down to issue alternative sentences for those who qualify. On the pavement in the center of the trailers, a small army of counselors and church volunteers set up folding tables and wait.
Sergeant Felini, clearly concerned about being seen as some sort of bleeding heart, briefs new volunteers before the patrols begin arriving with prostitutes. "Do not hug my prisoners," he says, reminding them to rein in their do-gooder emotions lest they undermine his department's authority or get smacked in the face by an agitated crack addict. "If I see you screwing up, I'm going to yell. This is a paramilitary operation." The statement sounds a bit ridiculous, but he gets his point across.
Two officers walk up with a young woman in handcuffs. Just 17, the girl wears a pink terrycloth jumpsuit and matching Crocs. Her fringed bangs, dark ponytail and fine features suggest youthful promise, a fresh beauty that could blossom into anything. Yet instead of getting ready for bed on this school night, the lanky teen was flagging cars off the freeway when she was arrested. It's her third prostitution offense in two years. At first she puts on a stoic front. She gives her name as if introducing herself at a party. But when she sits down with a counselor and two female volunteers, she begins to cry. Her thin arms crossed against the cold, she tells them between sobs that she's selling her body for sex to pay for an $80-a-day crack habit. She says she's tired of it, that she wants something different. At the end of the night, after some 20 women have been apprehended, interviewed and evaluated, she'll be taken to a drug rehab center for a 45-day inpatient treatment program. If she does well, she'll move on to outpatient care and, in lieu of jail time, work her way through counseling, classes and job training under the supervision of a judge.