I meet my sister, a downtown whore, in Las Colinas

A story of drugs and crime and a broken family

Las Colinas Women's Detention Center is located just off Mission Gorge Road in the flatlands of Santee. It's an ugly place, surrounded by high steel fences and bare earth. The walls inside the visitors' waiting area are painted a drab, institutional beige; the white-and-brown speckled linoleum floor is shiny and slick where the footsteps of prisoners and their visitors have worn it smooth, and dull with dirt underneath the molded plastic chairs lined up against the walls.

The matron behind the admittance window was impatient with the group of visitors lined up outside her cubicle one March afternoon last year. She avoided all eye contact with me as she asked the name of the prisoner I was to see. I felt uncomfortably conspicuous in the crowd, which was made up mostly of black and Chicano men, with only a few women besides myself. Despite the No Smoking signs, everyone smoked. As I slouched into one of the plastic chairs I noticed that all of them were pitted with cigarette burns. The inmate I was waiting to see was my 19-year-old sister Linda.

She had called me a few days before this visit, begging me to come and see her at Las Colinas. Her voice was on the verge of breaking, as if she were about to cry. Even so, I wasn't feeling too sympathetic. She had just run out on the $3000 bail that our mother and stepfather had paid to a bondsman to release her from jail in December of 1980, three months prior to her sentencing date for check forgery. She had never shown up for that courtroom appointment. The events leading up to her disappearance and her betrayal of our parents' trust bore the usual earmarks of Linda's manner of sliding through her relationships and her life — contradictions in goals, lies, confessions to the lies, which were in turn lies themselves. She had told me over the phone, "I know you probably won't believe me, and I don't blame you for not trusting me, but I didn't jump bail. I really thought the court date was the 27th. It was the same guy that told me it was the 27th that turned me in, because he just wanted the reward money from the bail bondsman."

I hadn't told any of the other family members that I was going to visit my sister because I knew they would object. They felt we'd all gone through enough hell already in coping with Linda's problems. And in the end I, too, felt I had been conned somehow, but still I agreed to see her. She sat across from me in the visiting area, a long room divided by a wall that was separated into about twenty cubicles. A window of plexiglass separated us, and we spoke to each other over the telephone.

Soon after we began, while she was in the middle of a sentence, Linda stopped talking, tossed her ash-brown hair, and began batting her eyelashes and smiling seductively at a red-haired sailor standing just behind me on the visitors' side. "What in the hell are you trying to do?" I asked when I followed her gaze and turned to see the pimple-faced young man. He was mouthing something to her. "Do you even know that guy?"

Linda unconsciously affected a jive-talk accent, and while still keeping her eye on the boy, she said, "Hey, man, he could be my ticket outta here if he got the money:'

I was incredulous. "You don't even know him and you think he's going to bail you out?"

''Aw, man, you don't have to know 'em to know what what they got." She smiled again and met my eyes for an instant. Her gaze was vacant; her bright blue eyes darted away. The strange hardness in her demeanor was new to me and I suspected it had something to do with her mysterious disappearance a few weeks ago. I asked her over the phone where she had been prior to the court date she had missed. She rolled the metal-covered phone cable between her fingers nervously and lowered her eyes to the windowsill between us. Her voice was a monotone, devoid of expression. "You're not going to like it. Neither is the rest of the family." She took a deep breath. "Okay, I've been a whore downtown. I did it for a living. And I wasn't even a good whore. The guy that turned me in [to the bail bondsman] was my pimp, and he did it because I couldn't make enough money. You can go ahead and tell Mother all this; I don't really care." She gave me a weak smile. "I mean, I just don't want to go on lying to the family anymore."

Up until about eight years ago, Linda had been an ordinary girl. She was chubby but was growing tall. She had a sprinkling of freckles across her nose, and big, long-lashed baby eyes that stood out in her round face. My three sisters and I had always been very close. I was the oldest, followed by Wendy, who was a year younger. Linda and Sonja were our half-sisters by my first stepfather, though that had never made any difference in our love for each other. We were widely separated in age, Linda being almost seven years younger than I, but we still shared the intimacies of our adolescent world — a closetful of stuffed animals, secret code words and special hideouts, daydreams, and fantasies. The four of us at one time even formed our own club called the Sewer Rat Gang. We would mysteriously leave home early on summer mornings, each outfitted with a flashlight, lunchbox, and walking stick, to being an underground odyssey through the storm-drain tunnels of our neighborhood. We had supply caches at important junctions and a homemade map outlining the maze of tunnels. For years it was our special secret.

With time, though, the family structure changed. I moved from our home in the Los Angeles suburb of La Crescenta to attend UCSD, and in the first year I was gone, Linda grew up fast. Soon after I left she was involved in what the police (inaccurately) called a statutory rape. She had crept out of our parents' home through her bedroom window and had gone to a nearby party. She was necking with an 18-year-old boy when the local sheriff discovered them both partially undressed in the back seat of the boy's parked car. Linda was 12 years old at the time.

More trouble followed, but I only heard bits and pieces of it down in San Diego — shoplifting, running away from home for days at a time, smoking cigarettes and marijuana. However, I knew my parents were overprotective and somewhat naive, so I remained slightly skeptical of these worried familial news bulletins.

Following her third runaway attempt, though, my parents decided to send her to Sarasota, Florida to live with her real father, who had long since been out of touch with all of us; my mother had divorced him when Linda was three. But Linda didn't last long there and soon returned to Los Angeles. In 1976 my parents moved to Salem, Oregon. hey took Linda, who had just turned 14, but left behind my 18-year-old sister Sonja, who wanted to live with her boyfriend in Los Angeles.

A few months after moving to Oregon, Linda and my mother went on an outing to the state fair in Salem. That morning they each went their own way and made plans to rendezvous in the afternoon. Linda never made it back for that meeting. My mother was frantic. There had been several unsolved murders that summer, mostly young female hitchhikers, and the thought occurred to all of us that Linda could have been the latest victim. Nearly a year passed before we heard from her again.

She called one night to tell the family that she was alive and well, living in Oregon, though for months she refused to say where. She had moved in with a logger named Ed. Sporadic phone calls were all that kept us informed of her life. She eventually left Ed and by August of 1979 had worked her way up to assistant manager of a small restaurant in Coos Bay. She was 17 years old. I was traveling through Oregon on my way back from Canada that summer and decided to drive down with my mother to visit Linda. It was the first time we'd seen each other in three years.

That meeting was strange and wonderful. Time faded away and hid itself until the three of us seemed to regain the intimacy we'd thought we'd lost. We took Linda's decrepit 1969 Ford Fairlane down the coast through the cool August night to a small fair in Couquille County and went on every carnival ride, laughing until tears came. Then we toured the crafts exhibits and gorged ourselves with junk food from the concession stands. On the drive back to Linda's little rented cottage, we jokingly called each other a "Boonya," our childhood code word for a creepy, detestable person. I was especially pleased to hear Linda's laugh again; hers is a marvelous, irresistible, sincere laugh. We stayed up talking most of the night, and it was difficult to say good-bye the next morning.

Linda, too, must have been touched by the closeness of that evening, because she decided soon afterward to move back to my parents' home in Salem. But things didn't go as smoothly as we all had hoped. First there was Linda's new job. She worked the night shift at a local Salem pub and often came home later than three or four in the morning, giving rise to anxious speculation about her activities. She had also mysteriously acquired, while in Coos Bay, a wardrobe of expensive gowns and designer jeans, and my parents came to suspect that she had stolen them. Linda, in turn, began to resent the close scrutiny of her private life. She was relieved when my parents left Salem for an extended visit to see Sonja, Wendy, and me.

Unexpectedly, Linda herself fled Salem a few weeks later and turned up in Los Angeles to join our parents. She refused to discuss why she had left Oregon so suddenly. Soon she moved in with Sonja, who managed to find her a job as a receptionist. Wendy and I, who were both living in San Diego, were ecstatic that the whole family was within close call again. But the problems that seemed to plague Linda's life soon reappeared. First she was fired from her new job, then she began having trouble with her new roommate (she'd moved out of Sonja's apartment in sun suburban Tujunga a few weeks before). In June of 1980 she moved down to San Diego and joined Wendy and me in our three-bedroom house in Clairemont. Sonja, when I asked her what had happened in Los Angeles, would only say ominously that Linda "really blew it" and that she didn't ever want to see her again. Amid this stress and confusion, we received a surprise visit from Sonja and Linda's real father, Bill. He had moved from Florida to work at a job in Saudi Arabia, where he'd been for the past few years. He had brought back with him a sizable amount of money to spend on "his girls," as he called us. My mother and second stepfather returned to Oregon soon after Bill arrived. Bill gave Linda enough money to set up house in San Diego, so she moved out of our home in Clairemont and into a $220-a-month studio in the Astro Vista apartments in Linda Vista. As Linda would say later, that's where she lost control of her life.

Wendy and I were appalled at the change in her behavior and dress within the first few weeks of her move to Linda Vista. She had found a job waitressing at an Ocean Beach coffeeshop called Nappy's and was assigned to work the graveyard shift. Within three weeks, however, she was fired for being undependable after missing work too many times. We seldom saw Linda during this period, and the few occasions she did drop by, she looked awful. She was dead-fish pale; dark circles ringed her eyes. She had lost a lot of weight, but was proud of it and excited at first. With every visit, though, her vitality seemed to dim a little more. She seldom laughed, and often would come over just to lie on the couch in a semistupor, claiming she had the flu. She seemed unable to carry on a coherent conversation and spoke only in monosyllables. Though she no longer had a job, she still managed to have money and things — one day a used (broken-down) Harley-Davidson motorcycle, another time a crisp set of three 100-dollar bills. She refused to explain where all this money came from.

Her father, Bill, was still in San Diego, but had decided to move back to Florida. We had planned a small going-away party for him at the house in Clairemont and had tried to reach Linda, but she had no telephone and her apartment was always empty when we came to visit. So Wendy, Bill, and I ate pizza out in the back yard one balmy June day. Bill was drinking Scotch whisky. After his sixth or seventh drink, he took me aside and we stood in silence for awhile, leaning against the fence and looking out at Mission Bay glistening far below in the late afternoon sun. "Honey, you know I drink too much. You know that, don't you? And maybe it's this stuff talkin," he said as he held up his glass. "But damn it, I'm so worried about my little girl. She's up to something and won't tell me what. I mean, I could help her if she'd just let me in. God knows, she hasn't done anything I haven't done myself..." He threw up his hands in a gesture of helplessness, spilling the rest of his drink. He didn't notice. "I've tried to do good by her, but your mother, you know — she really had to raise Linda. I just haven't been there when she needed me, and I couldn't handle things worth shit when she was with me in Florida..."

His eyes began to fill with tears. I stood for a long moment and stared at his face, lined and pallid. He had never looked so old. His daughter was an utter stranger to him.

After she had used Bill's money to move to the Astro Vista apartments, Linda had found herself more or less alone. Wendy and I lived too far away to spend much time with her, so she began to look for some friends in the area, and made a few casual acquaintances among a group of young black men she would see every day in front of the local Mini-Mart, where she bought her cigarettes. One of them, Manny, approached her one day and offered her a drug called Preludin. She invited him over to her apartment and he took out a large pink pill, scraped off the outer coating, put it in a spoon with some water, heated it up until it dissolved, and then sucked it up into a syringe. A few minutes later Linda was shooting up her first speed. She began to spend more time with Manny and his friends, shooting speed during the day and working at Nappy's during the night. Within a couple of weeks, she discovered some very interesting things about the new crowd she had joined.

Of the 12 people she knew, all of whom were less than 30 years old, no one held a job. Some of them had never worked in their lives, yet they lived in fairly nice rented apartments, drove late-model cars, and always had plenty of money to spend on drugs. Manny, who was now her new boyfriend, made his living by visiting unethical doctors who supplied him with prescriptions for the diet pills called Preludins. (Manny's skinny frame clearly belied his legitimate need for diet pills.) He had developed a virtual network of these doctors, from La Jolla to Nation City, and would visit an average of three per week, fill the resulting prescriptions, and sell the pills for ten dollars apiece. He was not the only "patient" who asked for speed from these doctors. One National City doctor he and Linda visited tolerated drug-fazed young people lying on the lawn of his office.

Manny's friends each had what they called a "profession," and these ranged from routinely robbing liquor stores and mugging people to forging prescriptions for speed to stealing and fencing diamond jewelry. As Linda became more addled by drugs, she stopped going to her job at Nappy's and was fired. Out of work, evicted from her apartment (Manny had spent the rent money on dope), she, too, began looking for a "profession." About this time, Linda made the acquaintance of an attractive black woman about her own age named Bernadette. Bernadette was apparently very wealthy and often bought as much as $300 worth of pills at one time from Manny. She drove a different, brand-new car every week, and wore only the best clothes. Her "profession" was check forgery and she introduced Linda to it when they became friends.

At first the two of them worked together. They found a way to pilfer blank payroll checks from various businesses, which they then would cash at supermarkets or banks. According to Linda, this period was a wonderful time. "We used to make up to a thousand dollars a day and blow it all that same night," she recalled. "God, we used to rent cars and live in fancy hotels all over. At one time we had five cars and all our friends drove them. We'd have parties in the hotels every night. I'll never forget that. Everybody was really happy then."

Linda's final play in the check-forgery game, however, was a nightmare. She and Bernadette had split up in a fight over Bernadette's boyfriend, and now Linda was acquiring and forging checks on her own. In early September of 1980, Linda decided she would drive to Los Angeles to cash her latest stack of payroll checks. Late one Sunday night she put the checks in the trunk of a friend's car along with her now-necessary hypodermic needle. As she and a male companion drove down Interstate 8 toward I-5 north and L.A., her friend suggested they buy some Preludin to help them through the drive. They stopped at a friend's in East San Diego, got the Preludin, then pulled into an alley off Fairmount Avenue. Linda went to the trunk, pulled out the package of checks, needles, and speed, and got into the front seat with her friend. Shortly after they had shot up, a police car suddenly stopped alongside them, lights flashing. The officers had received a call from some local residents who had noticed Linda's friend's car and had thought it looked like the same vehicle used in recent neighborhood burglaries. The callers were wrong, but even so, the police found more than they bargained for. There on the front seat was enough evidence to put away Linda and her friend for quite a while.

While she waited in the back seat of the police car, Linda slipped her hand through one of her handcuffs, opened the car door by taking off the inside panel and turning the exposed handle, and then ran into a nearby canyon. A little less than an hour later the police caught up with her. Though she offered no resistance at this point, Linda claims she was slapped in the face several times, thrown to the ground, called a bitch by one of the officers, and pulled by her hair for several yards. The experience was degrading and violent, but it was not as bad as the next two months she spent in Las Colinas awaiting trial.

Her charges originally included forgery, burglary, possession of controlled substances, and escape from confinement. Linda's court-appointed attorney, after a number of court appearances and plea-bargaining sessions, managed to get the charges reduced to one — possession of checks with intent to forge. She spent the time between court appearances trying to survive in Las Colinas. In the detention center, lesbian rapes are fairly commonplace, according to Linda, but she learned to use her size (she is five-eight) to advantage, threatening would-be attackers (I'm twice as big as you are, girl") and bluffing them with a tough attitude. Still, she says she was beaten several times for real or imagined insults to some of the girls there. Finally, after two months of incarceration, she faced only one more court appearance — her sentencing, which was to take place February 23, 1981.

She would have remained at Las Colinas until that date had my parents not decided to bail her out. They were in Southern California from Oregon to spend the Christmas holidays and had gathered the necessary $3000 bail money by mortgaging their home in Salem. Linda managed to convince us all that she should stay in San Diego and attempt to find a job prior to her sentencing. She argued that steady employment would look good on her record and would make her eligible for a program in which she could work her job during the day and serve her anticipated detention time at Las Colinas only at night.

If there was an obvious problem with this plan, it was that Linda had no place to stay here. Our sister Wendy had recently married; furthermore, her landlord objected to extra tenants in the apartment. Only a month before, I had rented a very small studio apartment in Pacific Beach and couldn't imagine sharing it with another person. During an emotional discussion with my stepfather, I openly expressed my misgivings: Linda seemed to have no conscience to speak of, and I wasn't all that sure she really intended to find a job. But I relented, and when we told her of the decision, she was overjoyed; she hugged each of us and promised to live up to what we'd all done for her.

She stayed with me for about a month. Though I wanted to help her, at the same time I resented her constant presence. She didn't fit in with any of my activities, and she turned sullen and silent around my friends. She rose about an hour earlier than I (ostensibly to begin her day's job hunting) and retired for the night sometimes as early as 8:30 or 9:00, which meant there was a body lying in the middle of what little living room space I had, long before I was ready for bed. Admittedly, I wasn't the most gracious roommate. When my mood would turn sour — for whatever reason — I was likely to take it out on Linda. We would apologize to each other after quarreling, but the situation became increasingly strained for both of us. Finally we persuaded our parents to pay her rent on a room in the downtown YMCA on Eighth Avenue, close to where she had been looking for a job — any kind of job.

At first Linda called me nearly every day, but then, after telling me she'd gotten a job in a downtown tailor shop, there followed a long period of silence. She was never in her room at the Y when I called her or came by, and the tailor shop she'd mentioned wasn't listed in the telephone book; in fact, it didn't exist. One day she called me to say she'd been ripped off — everything but a few of her clothes had been stolen. Her voice was dull, tired, and she broke into a hacking cough every few words. "I don't know what to do, man," she said over the phone. "Think I'm going to move into the YWCA instead; it's supposed to be safer. But I don't have any money and I'm real sick. I've been throwing up for days."

I asked if she'd like to stay with me until things got better, but she stopped me before I could finish the sentence. "Shit, you know what happened last time I stayed at your place. Forget it, just forget it." We paused for a few seconds as she tried to stop coughing. Finally she managed to say good-bye and that she'd call again when she was feeling better.

Several weeks passed until, in late February, with just a few days left before Linda's appearance in court for sentencing on the forgery count, my parents called from Los Angeles and asked about her. I was forced to tell them she'd effectively dropped out of sight. That evening my mother drove down and showed up at my door. She asked me to go downtown to look for Linda with her, and I gladly agreed to do so. We searched every likely place we could think of — cheap hotels, the Salvation Army, every tailor shop in the downtown area, but no Linda.

As the 23rd approached, it seemed more and more certain that Linda would try to contact us, but she never did. Finally the sentencing date arrived. My mother returned from the courthouse in tears. Linda had not appeared, meaning she had jumped bail and was now a fugitive. It wasn't until nearly two weeks later that we received word that a "friend" of Linda's had turned her in. By doing so, he had collected an $800 finder's fee, which was then billed to my parents. Linda was back in Las Colinas, they told us, and had been there for almost a week. A few days after hearing this news, I received Linda's call and her plea that I come to see her.

The Las Colinas visitors' room was uncomfortably cold and was so barren that voices echoed slightly, creating a strange atmosphere of amplified whisperings. It also felt very odd to be talking to my sister via telephone, with a glass-and-concrete wall between us. My eyes kept wandering to the women deputies pacing the corridor just behind Linda. She noticed this and told me, "Just ignore them. I do."

I was in shock from her casual confession of prostitution a few moments before, and couldn't keep the disgust from my voice. "I just can't believe this. Why did you do it, Linda?"

She shrugged nonchalantly, as if our conversation were mundane and concerned someone else — a stranger, not her. But as she lit a cigarette her hand shook uncontrollably. "it was back in January and I was living at the Y downtown," she said at last. "I didn't want to live with you no more then. Feelings in the air and stuff.... And I couldn't afford to live in a good way. I as running around, man, and I was broke all the time, and I was going to all those free meals down there, and I was getting sick. So one day I was walking down the street around Broadway and Fifth and this black guy — he was about 30 years old or so — he pulled up in a car and asked if I wanted to get high. I did, so I got into his car and we went to his room at the Workman's Hotel. It's a dump. Some of the people who lived there were junkies — mostly heroin, but there were speed freaks too. Anyway, this guy Sherman was only into speed. He got me really high on speed and some pot too.

"For about two weeks he just kept turning me on and turning me on. I got really addicted and then he said, 'Well why don't you move in with me?' He was paying my rent at the Y too.... So I moved in with him. And then ... his rent was due. When that first happened, he told me he had this game selling bunk cocaine. We'd go down to the Navy base at 32nd Street and sell it. We'd use a taxi to get through the gate because the guards will let you in without a pass if you tell 'em you're going to pick up a friend. After a while some of the guards recognized us, but they were cool. We'd drive to the bowling alley and I'd go sit inside and watch Sherman's back to check for security people while he sold the stuff outside. The sailor boys would buy a hundred dollars' worth of this fake coke at a time. We used this stuff called Cocoa Stuff that sells for $7 a gram. It looks and tastes just like coke, even numbs your mouth and gives you a little rush. But you can only sell it on payday; otherwise there's no money around.

"Anyway, this is after payday, and he had to pay the rent and he was talking about me whoring, or 'selling my body,' as he put it, and ... um, we didn't have any money and we were hungry and we needed some dope and he was talking about all the stuff he'd done for me.... So I said, 'Let's me try to go sell some of this bunk cocaine and I can't, I'll do it.'"

Linda looked directly at me with a cold, defensive stare. "Hey," she said, "I was hungry too. So I went to Balboa Park — all over the park — trying to sell some of this shit and I only sold ten dollars' worth. It's like ... well, it just wasn't payday. People downtown, who haven't worked all their lives, they say, 'Payday's comin' up!' That's when the Navy gets paid and that means it's payday for everyone." She paused as she lit another cigarette. "So I ended up selling my body to pay our rent at the Workman. He was really nice about it at first and only made me do it when we were hungry or we needed money."

The two of them lived at the Workman together for more than a month. During that time, Linda would spend most of the day looking for tricks while Sherman tried to sell his bunk drugs — fake coke, fake Thai sticks, and fake hash and speed. Linda would go to various cheap hotels downtown with her tricks (the tricks paid for the room), or sometimes to one of Sherman's friend's apartments. Later the two of them would get together and Linda would hand over to Sherman all the money she had made that day. He, in return, would buy her "anything she wanted." They never cooked at home but ate at restaurants in the downtown area; in fact, during the time she was with Sherman, they only left downtown twice, on trips to Oceanside, where the Marines made for good whoring and drug sales.

Linda caught on to the hooker's life easily. Her introduction to it was relatively painless, she claims. "The very first time I whored was funny, believe it or not. I had met this sailor boy downtown. I just said, 'Hi, howya doin'?' and just started talking to him, you know, and after a while he asked, 'Well, do you date?' And I said, 'Yeah," and he said, 'How much?" So I go, 'Well, let's go have some coffee,' and so we went...."

Linda paused to explain, "You never do that; you're supposed to say right off, or you don't do it. Buy anyhow, we went to the I-Hop over by the Trailways bus place and we and some coffee, and I was all nervous, so I said this was my first time, and he said, 'Yeah, this is my first time too!' I mean, it's just like it's out of a storybook!"

She was trying to control her laughter at the thought and was getting out of breath. "It was so stupid!" she continued. "I'll never get over that. And so we left there and he took me to this peep show right across from the Y on Broadway where you go in and watch these movies. They show 'em in a closed booth where you put a quarter in the slot to open the door. And he said, 'Okay, I'll give you $20.' It just took a second and we were zipping up our pants when the manager knocked on the door and told us, 'You guys can't be in here!' So we left in a hurry. And that was my first time."

Linda said she never took less than the twenty dollars that marked her debut as a prostitute, and usually asked for more. The heroin addicts downtown, in contrast, would go as low as ten dollars; sometimes they'd be satisfied with nothing more than another fix. The highest price Linda ever commanded was $120. "I decided I'd play it classy," she told me, "and I went to that Littlefield's Restaurant on Broadway, you know, next to the Jack-in-the-Box, and I just sat there and I flirted with this old man. So he followed me out and we got in a taxi and went to the Travelodge on Pacific Highway. He paid $30 for the room and he gave me $120. It just took a second, too; it never takes long. And I kept the room and even brought another trick up there, but the woman who managed the place knew what I was up to and told me to leave or she'd call the vice.

"Most of the guys are sailors, though. One of my pimp's friends was a taxi driver who would drive me around in his car and then we'd pick up tricks. A lot of taxi drivers downtown do that to make extra bucks. A lot of the tricks downtown are real young; a lot of them aren't even 20. I've had some virgins, too. And a lot of them are cute, but since they're sailors, you know, the girls just don't look at them."

I asked Linda if this man Sherman had been a pimp before he met her. "Yes. Oh, God, yes!" she replied sarcastically. "After I'd been with him for a while, he'd pray to the almighty pimp god: 'Oh, mighty pimp god, help me today!' and stuff like that — you know, just shit. All his friends would do just the same. His friends are all pimps. They all know each other down there and know which whore belongs to who. They really are dedicated to whoring, those pimps. As a matter of fact, most pimps spend their time, when they aren't watchin' their whores, trying to catch more whores so they can build up a whole stable. They'll say things to you that you won't believe, just to get you attracted to 'em and if any one of the girls gets jealous, he beats her. How they work is — he'll take them all to Horton Plaza and then they'll split up and work about a block apart. The pimp either watches them or sells fake drugs or goes after more girls. If he's not there to keep an eye on things, his 'bottom lady' is in charge. She's usually older than the other girls and is number-one with him, but not necessarily the girl he prefers most. Stable sisters are usually friends and everything, but I wouldn't ever have another stable sister, and Sherman knew that.

"This stable thing, it's just like you're some kind of animal or something. But if you're a girl downtown alone and you don't have a good man that's strong, you're sunk. There are a lot of guys downtown that do nothing else for a living but beat up whores and take their money. I've seen a lot of girls get beaten up."

When I asked Linda if she had ever tried to do anything about such violence, she acted surprised. "Oh, no, are you kidding? If I did try to help any of the girls," she said, "the next day — pimp or no pimp — I'd get the very same shit! You don't do nothing about it; you just close your eyes and walk on by. See, people downtown ... I know this one guy, his name is — his name don't matter. Anyway, his profession is to beat people up. That's the only way he has to make money. He's 45 years old and he's not good looking enough to be a pimp.

"If I was to go on whoring, you know, and I don't plan to, I'd get myself off the streets and I wouldn't do no drugs. And I'd just go to places like Hotel Circle; you don't need a pimp there because there's not the violence like in downtown. You don't need the protection of a pimp. If you're a whore downtown, well, like me — I'd turn a trick then get a fix of speed. And if you're that kind of person that's into drugs, you're going to be downtown where you can get a fix, and you need a good man to watch your back. I was talking to some deputies here a while ago, you know, and they were saying the police don't bust the high-class whores, like the ones that cost, you know, a hundred, a hundred and fifty dollars over at Hotel Circle. So I'd work there over downtown any day.

"I used to work right on Fourth and Broadway. Right there. And that's the hottest place in town." She laughed. "You can stand there at night and almost every car is a trick. It's so easy. All you have to do is stand out there a few minutes."

"it was hard to stay out of jail downtown, though. They'll bust you for dropping a cigarette butt. That's down around Fourth, Fifth Street.... You don't drop cigarettes, you be sure to stand on the curb when you're waiting for the light to change or it's jaywalking. A lot of times they'll just make up a charge; they do that a lot. Or if you have any kind of a track on your body from the needle, it's 'under the influence,' and then you're in jail. So, like you've got to get so alert that when you walk on the streets you can see every car — you know, every vice car especially. And when you see them, man, you've gotta take off, hide around corners go into buildings, take an alleyway or a ditch. If you do go to jail for whoring, though, your man will either bail you out or you'll get out on OR after 24 hours. You go to trial, and even though they can give you six months, they almost never do. Some of the whores I met in jail here have been busted ten times or more before they were sent to jail. Even then, they usually only serve a couple of months."

I could not hide my astonishment at what I was hearing from my little sister. It was absolutely incredible; she was so young — too young, and I told her so. She corrected me immediately. "There's a lot of whores my age downtown. But I've never met one under 18 or 19. Either that or they just been on the streets so long they already look 25. Like, I've met girls that are 18, 19, and they look like they're about 26, just totally demolished; skeletons of what used to be. Their arms are covered with big black lines, their neck has these big black lines from shooting up. Their veins are dead in their arms and they can't hit up anymore.... But being young don't matter. You learn all about it real fast. Like with pimps, you got to know about pimps or you're in trouble. Like this: you don't change pimps. You could, you know, but that's not generally a good idea, because it's like once you pick your man, even after you break away from him, the motherfucker — you're going to have to watch your back for him because he'll be there and he's gonna be mad. They're just, you know, really proud, and you make money for them and they don't forget it.

"One of the stupidest things I ever did was when I got out of jail on a petty theft charge and tried to leave my pimp, Sherman. I took this big cassette thing — it cost $178 and he'd been saving it for me — and told him I was going out to score some dope. I decided not to go back to him but I didn't have anywhere to go, and I didn't have hardly any money, so I took a bus to Oceanside. I got this one trick and he brought me to a room at this motel. He went out for a few minutes and said he'd be right back, but he showed up with a bunch of other guys. It was so fucked. They raped me one by one and then took my cassette player. All they left me with was the clothes on my back and the bus ticket I had for San Diego. When I got off the bus, my pimp was standing there, just leaning against the wall like he knew I'd be coming. And I was just there, looking stupid. But he was really nice; he took me back. Oh, God, that was fucked though. He never let me forget that.

A deputy walked into the visitors' room, signaling the end to the hour-long session. In a minute or so all the prisoners and all their visitors would stand up and go their separate ways; then another group of visitors would be ushered in to face their friends and relatives on the other side of the partition. I realized I'd been mesmerized listening to Linda's tale; the time had rushed by too quickly. There were more questions to ask and, I imagined, more sordid stories to be told. I was sure I would return. (After being tuned in to the bail bondsman by her "friend" Sherman, Linda had been sentenced to a total of six months' detention at Las Colinas. Two months of that had been suspended for the time she spent there before my parents had bailed her out. If she behaved well, she could expect that another two months would be dropped, which meant she had about 60 days left.

As the visitors around me were beginning to leave, I looked at my sister. "Linda," I said, but couldn't finish my thought. What was my thought? What could I possibly say?

She took a final drag from her Kool cigarette and butted it out with an aggressive jab. "I feel so old, you know?" she said as she exhaled. "All the girls I see look so young to me now. Maybe it's all this shit I've done and I'm old before my time. Look at my eyes. See those lines?"

She was twenty years old. I stared at her face and thought of her father. It was the same face, and it had never looked so old. My sister was a stranger to me.

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