Month: September, 2011


Sam, 2009.

Edited Audio Transcript

Everybody knows me as Sam. That’s my real name.

I started this fifteen years ago. Obviously drugs, heroin. That’s always been my thing. I used to smoke coke back fifteen years ago when it first came out. That’s what turned a lot of the girls out here. And um, it used to be real wild. Like the cops were wild, you know what I mean, they worked with the girls. You could be out here at three o’clock in the morning, I mean the dates would line up in the streets. And um, you were just making money over fist but you were spending it on drugs. I remember the cops driving around with kegs in the back of the van, and they would help us out- the girls that were doing the right thing. You know what I mean, a lot of us just wanted to make our money so we could keep our habit and mind our business, but fifteen years ago a lot of the girls were robbing the guys. And that’s when things started to get bad. And then there were a lot of young girls. Now from here, basically we go around for a minute. If you go up the other way they, they have pimps, they have, you know it’s a bad scene. I’ve never needed anybody to tell me what to do with my money, ha. But um, you know, it’s a rough life, and a lot of the girls they don’t think, you know what I mean, they just wanna make that money and they don’t think about what’s gonna happen. You know but you learn as you get older and you start doing this.

Now, I left for a while went to Florida and took the habit with me, ended up in prison. Three years, three years for possession, yeah it was crazy. And um came back out and decided I was gonna come back here. Now it’s been all together about 10 years. Now, its calmed down, a lot. But the girls look really sick. That cocaine, it’ll just take you under. It’ll just make you not think about what your doing.  Cause you just want the next hit. You’re constantly on the go. With the heroin it’s not like that, you get your fix and you go in. And your good till the next one. So it’s a lot calmer and you can think better you know what I mean. You really can, I mean it really, believe it or not it makes a difference. So I got off the coke. I’m working on getting off the dope. I’m going to um, as a matter of fact tomorrow at five in the morning I gotta leave and go to Parkside. I don’t know if you heard of it, it’s a methadone program. That’s up on um, by across from Fairmount Park on Parkside Avenue.  It’s just time to stop. You know, and what’s made it really hard tho, is that I’ve met some nice people, who I like; we meet up at the bookstore. And that’s a great place you pay twenty dollars you go in, they have booths, movies, you pay twenty dollars you have a half-hour. Legally you’re allowed to go in there to watch a movie and you can go in with somebody. As long as the bookstore’s not profiting from the women. As long as I’m not giving them money for letting me bring somebody in, the guy has to go in he’s got to pay for the booth and he can bring whoever he wants in, they have nothing to do with that. What happens in the booth between the guy and the girl, that’s between them. And then, they just leave, so they’re really, even though they’re aware they’re not aware but they know without us they’re not gonna make no money. Because it’s a lot easier to go in their and do something and pay the twenty dollars than to be in your car getting a blowjob, or trying to get in the back seat, especially in the winter cause I got like layers and layers of clothes on, hahaha, cause its so cold you know.

Most of the men I date are married. They’re over 35, probably over 45. They’re married their wife doesn’t give head or they don’t have a lot of sex and they’re just trying to do their thing and go about their business. They’re not real into the touchy feely wanna kiss. Some guys are, some guys wanna kiss and all that. I don’t really care for that. It’s kinda personal. I don’t like the oral sex on me either. That to me is like, you know cause I don’t have no feeling for you, I can do you with no emotion and its like somebody else. Cause my dates like my body, it’s not me. I don’t let it touch me, I just, it’s an act. You know what I’m saying. But if I have to lay back and you’re all over me, that makes it really uncomfortable you know. You start with the oral sex. You flip over, you hit it from behind and put their condom on, come, you throw everything away, wipe up, by see you in a couple days or whatever and it’s a done dollar. Nobody gets hurt.

JS: How many dates do you average in a day sometimes? What’s a good day?

Sam: A good day would be three, cause I charge fifty dollars a date when I go in there. You do have to have money when you go in there cause its twenty for the booth. Most of the men don’t mind paying it if you treat them right. And that’s all they want. They want to feel special, for about fifteen, twenty minutes they want to feel like they’re all that matters. Like what they want is important to you. And you’re gonna make it happen for them without them feeling like they’re gonna be surrounded or the cops are gonna come or you’re bringing them to a secluded place and somebody’s gonna jump out and rob them. They don’t want all that drama. They don’t want have to take you to buy drugs first, take you to a hotel and then you geek out and you don’t want to perform the act, you know they don’t want to go through that. So if they can get a girl that says, come on, lets do this, you know what I mean, what do you need, I got you. And I’m real sweet, you know, I’m like real nice because as long as you pay me I don’t have a problem with what you need. Just pay me, don’t disrespect me. You know I don’t want to be talked to like a nut, you’re not gonna spank me and slap me, and pinch me and all I’m not in to all that, but, but at the same time, they’re feeling nothing but pleasure through the whole thing. They’re feeling wow this girl is paying all attention to me; just by the way she’s doing me. You know what I mean, there is a way to give oral sex and its just, you don’t want it to stop. Then there’s all right, lets get to the sex part cause this aint working. There’s a way to have sex and moan and groan without being hysterical, without hollering like a banshee, you know what I mean. But, where he feels like he’s making you feel good, cause guys get off on that. They’re visual and they hear. So if they can look at your face and you’re kinda licking your lips and mmm, you know what I mean, they’re liking that. They’re feeling like they’re doing all that. And at the same time they get off. Business is handled. And the next thing you know they want to see you again.

You know I have a fire chief, and accountant, that I see and a mechanic that I see every week. They call me, they pick me up right near my house, I don’t have to come down to the avenue. And we’ll come up to the bookstore. And I mean they’re excited to see me. You know what I mean; they thought they’re the only on dating me you know what I mean. One likes to do everything. And he just thinks I’m like the sexiest thing you know what I mean. Its almost every day at like 5 o’clock, he’s at the bookstore.

Where else can you go and walk, blend in, it’s- Kensington’s been known, I mean it’s on the Internet, its known, it’s the avenue. You can’t really downtown, that’s really a gay scene. Okay, that’s the boys club. You know if you’re going to spruce and locust, it used to be Locust Street but that’s all gay now. Then you got Broad Street but that’s mostly black. So if you want a white girl your gonna come down to the avenue and because everybody knows the avenue, everybody just comes here. And I’ll tell you what, its addictive. I mean I left Florida where it’s beautiful and all to come back to the avenue because this is where I can be me. I can be me, you don’t have to like it but you’re all right with it and you’re gonna be you. You’re gonna ride down and your gonna see girls out here and its not gonna phase you, its part of the norm down here. Cab drivers, dope dealers, hookers and johns. A bar and church on every corner. This is what you’re used to seeing. The avenue will always be.

Now we used to sit on these steps. The bikers would come out. We’d be out her four o’clock in the morning, everybody smoking crack, shooting dope, getting ready to turn tricks. It’s hot out. It’s the middle of July. Where else you gonna be able to just run the street. The cops get to know you and as long as you’re not doing anything they don’t mess with you, the people that mess with you out here is vice.

Me: Is this one of the corners here?

Sam: That’s the bookstore. The famous bookstore. I’ve known them for 15 years. And when they see me they go, ‘Hey Sam where you been?’ Like cause they didn’t get to see me for a few years cause I went to prison and all and I’m back, they have made money every day cause I have brought somebody in there every day. Sometimes I’ll go in there like when I want to be left alone and I’ll give them five dollars and I’ll go up and watch a movie. And just chill for a minute you know what I mean cause I have a headache or whatever. You know what I mean, we’ll sit there we’ll have some drinks, they’ll make drinks in there you know, it they, they know you. There’s a lot of use who’ve been around here a long time. So certain guys that work in there, they might bring a bottle to work with them. So we’ll go in they’ll be like you need a drink, yeah, we’ll have a drink smoke a cigarette, all right see what I can do and go out. They don’t take nothing from us, we don’t owe them anything they don’t ask, they won’t play that game. They don’t even want to hear it. And we that have been around for a while know this. You know the deal when you come through the door. You come in, he comes in, he pays they give the booth your escorted to the booth and handle your business, we don’t wanna know. They don’t say well what did you get twenty, did you get thirty, did you get forty. You know. They don’t say anything like that.

I’ll tell you the saddest part. I would do this without the habit. Which that’s my plan because its extra money in my pocket. I’m sick of having the habit. You don’t know what its like to go buy a bag of dope, do it, and not get high cause your tolerance is high, just to feel normal. You know what I mean, you’re spending money just to feel normal, you’re not even get- the thrill is gone. I’m forty, You know, I’ve been shooting dope since I was fourteen.  The thrill is so gone. But I can’t take being sick, but now I’m thinking you know I’ll get on a program and I’ll make some money on the side and I can use it for other things cause I think I’m just hooked on the whole game of it. You know, it’s the place that I belong. It’s not for everybody but some people look forward to seeing me and I look forward to seeing them. It’s just where I’m known. And when I’m not with them I can be home in my own and just chill. Its like putting on a mask you know I can go out here and be whatever I want to be and then I can go home and just be with me and I’m okay with it. You know I’m just not okay with having the habit anymore. Ain’t that something?


Stephanie, 2008.

Bentley’s Place

Bentley’s Place, Kensington Ave 2009.


Carroll, 2009.
A few months after first meeting Carroll and Shelly I spot Carroll alone and asleep on the church steps adjacent to the Huntingdon El Station. It’s the middle of the day and Carroll is sleeping like a rock. Carroll often sleeps out in the open during the day as a safety precaution – a bag of her personal belongings tightly grasped in her lap. By making herself vulnerable she finds an odd sort of protection that activist and writer Jane Jacobs referred to as “Eye’s on the Streets” also known as Natural Surveillance. I approach and attempt to talk with her but she is inert, anchored to the steps. A storm is coming so I set up my camera quickly and get off one shot before a downpour hits. When the rain starts Carroll is brought back to life. She slowly gets up and walks under the tracks for shelter.

Tic Tac and Tootsie

20100109 001

Tic Tac and Tootsie, 2009.
I met Tic Tac and Tootsie also known as the twins, Carroll (left) and Shelly (right) standing on the corner opposite the Huntingdon Park El Station along Kensington Avenue. At the time I made this photograph, the sisters were 20 years old and had been living on the street for one year.

Edited Audio Transcript:

Shelly: The only reason why we pros, we are out here is so that we can get money so we has somewhere to rest our heads. We look out for each other, if I can’t get money she gets it and whatever money we get we share. Our money is together, my money is her money, her money is my money. There’s are a lot of guys that pick you up and then they try to tell you they’re an undercover cop, that if you don’t have sex with them they’re gonna lock you up. We need quick money cause we need somewheres to sleep every day. I mean trust me we don’t want to be out here doing this. This is the last thing I want to do.  But I do what I have to do to take care of my sister. Cause she’s all I got and I’m all she’s got.

Extended Transcript:

Shelly: We barely prostitute, we do it once in a while so we can get somewhere to sleep. We do one a day.

Carroll: We mess around with Zanies, once in a while we do Wet, sometimes we do Percocet’s and that’s about it. We don’t do no hardcore drugs, dope, crack, none of that. We don’t drink… We’ve been out here a year. My dad lives in a halfway house and my mom lives with her boyfriend. She gives us money here and there but we can’t live with her. We’ve been raped, tied up, guys try to say they’re undercover cops… That’s why we stick together cause we try to be there for each other as much as we can… cause without each other I guarantee we would have been dead by now. We wouldn’t have made it this far.  We were out all this winter. We had nowhere to live this whole winter and we made it, sleeping out on the street… together. And like… we’re twins but like… I’m the older sister. We’re seven minutes apart but still I feel obligated to take care of her and it hurts me that I can’t provide a house for her and stuff like that. So I try to do the best I can to make sure I get money so she has somewhere to rest her head, food, and stuff like that. No matter what I gotta do, any means necessary.

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