Tuesday, May 31, 2005

In Oregon The Scarlet Letter is P.

My Way News

It’s not that a former prostitute can’t teach in Oregon, it’s just that they won’t let her. That’s right; a conviction for prostitution at anytime in your life is a lifetime bar to getting a license and job as a schoolteacher. Now I am not advocating putting active street prostitutes into elementary schools and letting them teach minors. I am however wondering how a crime which is a misdemeanor (a less serious offense) can work as a lifetime prohibition to a career in the teaching profession.

I have been working with people in the adult entertainment field since I started practicing law. I have represented everyone from street-walking-male-transvestite prostitutes, to expensive escorts, from strippers and strip club owners, to madams and even a few adult entertainment movie “stars.” I have never once interview one and found that the work they were doing was a life long dream. In fact most of the lower pay scale sex industry workers (street prostitutes and pimps) were in “the life” (their euphemism for the work they do) because of drug addiction alcoholism and other social and medical problems. Few of these people get out of “the life” intact. Many die of disease or are murdered or suicide. Others just keep falling out of society deeper and deeper into homelessness and despair.

Those higher up on the food chain of the sex industry have a better chance of making it. If they are young enough and pretty enough they can bring in a lot of money for a while. The work and “the life” take its toll on a young person. There is nothing worse than seeing a kid just starting out in that business. They are still hopeful that it will all be over in a short while, and still optimistic enough to think that they can beat the odds. See them just a few months later and it is sad to say you see a dull glaze in their eyes. They are cynical and keep others at a safe distance. They build a wall around themselves so high that few if any can scale it. They grow cold toward others and their chances of coming out normal have all but faded away into the night. They often turn to drugs to help them block out the work and the people.

Now of course this is not everyone’s experience. Some of these kids find true love in a john who takes them off the streets, or out of the massage parlors, and takes care of them. However, that is so few that it is almost a statistical anomaly. Others however do make it out. They are smart enough or lucky enough to meet someone who will mentor them. Someone who will help them reach goals they used to dream about in better days. Many of my clients’ are here because the have no other skill that can pay them enough to keep them clothed and fed with a roof over their heads. Many suffer abuse and have no choice; they either play... or die. Others still have little children with no one to help them care for them physically or financially.

So then why do I think that the Oregon law is so awful? Because every so often someone of them makes it. Every so often one saves enough to get a home, or to pay tuition or to get the mental or physical help they need. Every so often one will surprise you. If you think that those that make it out have no value, you are just burying your head in the sand. What those kids can teach another about perseverance and keeping out of the gutter is amazing.

From the beginning of my career in criminal law, I have always tried to get this group to the next level of their life as quickly as possible. I have advised many of these (mostly) women on how to save money and how to find a financial adviser or accountant. The result of my work has yielded some truly amazing stories.

I have one former client who has finished medical school after 2 years of being a NYC street walker and homeless person. She cleaned up in a shelter for battered women that I took her to after securing her release from custody. Her pimp had been beating her from the time she was 16. It has been sixteen hard years. Now in her 30’s, she is an OB/GYN. She donates her time to a charity that works with runaways. She is giving back and she has told me I was her inspiration for that. I have a couple of law school graduates and more than a handful of social workers, schoolteachers, and even a couple of psychologists in the group.

This week I am attending one of my former client’s graduation ceremonies. She is getting her Master’s degree. She was a homeless mother of a young child when I met her. She became pregnant in her last year of college and left school. The baby’s father is of no help and her own family thinks her a disgrace. At least they did until she achieved her master’s degree. They were not there for her when she needed them so she did it on her own, (with a little encouragement from some others and me.)

I hope that her case will not come back to haunt her. She took the road she had in front of her to clothe feed and shelter her little one and herself. I am of the belief that she will be a great public servant and a role model to many women in the future. I already have her mentoring a young Hispanic mother who is trying her hardest to make it out of “the life” and into a program that will help her to become a teacher. We are not there yet. She is still working out there, but she has potential.

Imagine what would happen to her if she lived in Oregon. Imagine more what will happen to the kids that she could mentor. Like the Doc, the lawyers, and the shrinks we have worked with, she too has the ability to help others not be where she is. In Oregon, they fail to see the value in having someone who has “been there.” They only see the scarlet letter on her chest. They do not care about the child she raises while still a child herself. They are oblivious to the sexual and physical abuse she endured that led her to the work she now does. They fail to see the value of the person she is and can be. They focus instead on a behavior. They would rather point at her and ridicule than learn from the rich lessons that she can teach. Seeing and encouraging potential in a person is what a leader does. The state house in Oregon is devoid tonight of leaders.

Shame on leaders who will not lead! Opinion polls should not be the sole basis of political decision-making. Polls need to be consulted no doubt about it, but sometimes you have to lead people through a forest and hope they will not hate you for it in the end. That too is what leadership is.

Those of my clients who have been in this crazy life and made their way out, have more insight into human nature and more courage than the entirety of the state senate and the state assembly of the state of Oregon. I pity the taxpayers there.

If you want to comment, you may leave one here, or, you can write to me directly, by visiting our website at www.colleluorilaw.com.
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