Interview with Annette Anderson
Salome Chansnoff: Could you tell me your name?
Annette: My name is Annette.
S.C.: Could you tell me about your childhood?
A: I had a pretty good childhood. I came from a very loving family, mom and dad, four brothers, three sisters. I’m in the middle. I enjoyed my childhood. I grew up on the West Side of Chicago near Walnut St. and Damen. A good strong Christian family. My mom and dad were such loving parents. I couldn’t ask for better parents.
S.C.: So what caused you to get into sex work? What caused you to get into prostitution?
A: Well, drugs. I first experimented not knowing how serious it was, trying to be with the in crowd. Drinking a little wine, smoking a joint here or there and then I wanted to try and hang with the big boys. I started snorting cocaine, and I didn’t start that until the age of 26. I never thought that it would escalate the way that it did, but then I had to find ways to go out and make money. Basically, a lot of the guys that I did go out with, once we started talking and stuff it wasn’t even about sex. It was more of an escort thing, you know, keeping each other company. But to me it was still the sex trade because I was willing to do almost anything to get my drugs.
S.C.: Could you talk to me about your very first experience as a prostitute?
A: Well, my very first experience - I think - if I quite remember - it was this one particular night when I was waiting for my girlfriend on a bench right near the Burger King on North Avenue and Cicero. When she got out, she had a date. I was just sitting out there waiting for her. I didn’t have a man I was going to turn a date, but then I saw this guy circling the block, nice car, very handsome looking guy. He pulled over and he asked me if I wanted a date, so I got in the car with him. Then he asked me how much and I told him and he said “Okay.” I wasn’t really doing it for the money. I was doing it more for the excitement. I had a few dollars, but I wanted to see what this was all about. That wasn’t a very good choice I took that night because I almost got killed.
S.C.: How was that?
A: Well, when I told the guy how much, he said okay. Then he drove into a garage. He went into the glove compartment and pulled out a gun. I got so scared. I thought, “I got in this car so I have to do some fast thinking or fast talking.” He said, “Bitch, you’re going to suck my dick and I’m not going to give you nothing.” Immediately I just started crying. I told him that I had HIV. I said, “Please don’t hurt me. You’re going to have to get some condoms because I don’t have any. And I’m telling you know because I don’t want you to come back later and come back and hurt me. I’ll do whatever you want, but please let’s go to the store and get some condoms.” And I cried so bad. I was really, really afraid that he was going to shoot me for real. Some way I must have touched his heart because he looked at me and said, “You know, you don’t even look like you have to be out here like that. You’re not a bad looking woman and I appreciate you telling me that. Guess what, I’m going to give you a favor tonight. Did you eat?” And right then I felt a big f relief. Then he said, “If I see you on the streets anymore for real I’m going to kill you.” He said, “Take your ass home.” Then he gave me $40 and he took me home. I was so scared. When I got home, I got on my knees and prayed and said, “Thank you Lord for not letting that man kill me.” So that was an experience I’ll never ever forget.
S.C.: It sounds like you had a really dangerous experience. Why did you keep coming back?
A: Right now I can say the reason I kept coming back was because nothing bad had happened to me. I escaped by the skin on my teeth - and the excitement, basically, the excitement and the challenge. I got a major rush. Something almost happened to me. I was so close, but since nothing really really bad happened to me. It was just the excitement that brought me back.
S.C: I can understand that. Did you have children?
A: Yes I had one daughter.
S.C.: How old were you when you had her?
A: I was 16 when I had my daughter and I wasn’t even thinking about this lifestyle back then. Like I said, I didn’t get into this until my late 20s when I decided to get buck wild. She was like 10 years old and she was left in good hands because my mom basically watched her when I wasn’t there. So I didn’t neglect my child.
S.C.: So in a way it was almost like when you were young you didn’t have your childhood so you kinda wanted it.
A: Right, because once I had my baby - since I was from a very religious Christian family - my dad told me, “Well now that you’ve had her, you’re going to take care of her.” I really think that that’s only right because it’s not fair for me to lay down and have pleasures and put the responsibility on my parents. I must say, I was a very good mom - I was a very good mom.
S.C.: So, have you ever been incarcerated?
A: Yes I have been incarcerated. My first offense was a minor possession of a controlled substance. Like I said, when nothing really bad happens, I go for the gold. It’s like I was waiting for something really big and ferocious to happen. It didn’t stop there with me. I got arrested after that and got charged with a major Class 6 felony for transporting large amounts of heroin. That was real big. Right off the top, I was offered 15 years and that blew my mind. Then 15 years went down to 12 and then since I didn’t have such a bad criminal background God and the jury had compassion. I was offered six years by the state and I took it because I knew I couldn’t beat it. So then I was locked up for 2 years. That was a major incarceration and I’ll never ever forget that one.
S.C.: When were you released?
A: I was released on September the 3rd 2004. I’ll never forget the night of my release I sang, “It was the 3rd of September” all night long!! I couldn’t wait to come home! It seemed like an eternity and I couldn’t wait to come home. I’ll never forget that day. September the 3rd 2004 I came home - it’s a day I’ll always remember.
S.C.: Not really that long ago.
A: No, almost a year.
S.C.: What have you been doing since then?
A: Well, I’ve been involved in a lot of service work. Going into recovery homes telling my success story because I truly am a success story, I feel. I’ve been working with Chicago Coalition for the Homeless. I currently work for the Department of Human Services. I care for handicapped and paralyzed people. I did an internship working with schizophrenic patients. I’ve just been trying to give back and help those who are still out there and don’t know the right road to take. Basically, I’m telling my story because maybe it will help someone turn their life around. They can see that just because I made bad choices in my life it doesn’t have to be that way forever. One bad choice doesn’t mean you have to have a bad life after that. Good things can come out of it and I’m learning how to sit down and think. Think rationally, put intelligence over emotions mostly because I’ve always done it the opposite, put emotions over intelligence, and it landed me in not so good places.
S.C.: Who took care of your daughter when you were locked up?
A: Well, she was grown when I got incarcerated, but I had three grandchildren that I was the legal guardian of and it was a big impact on them by me going to prison. They were very hurt, and so was I. But I learned so much, I learned about me. I had time to sit back and reflect on the mistakes I had made in my life and what I could do to improve and have a better and productive life. So it really wasn’t in vain. And I want to say that going to prison, I think, saved my life. The reason I’m going to say that is because had I not went to prison and I was out there like I was, I could have died in my mess, died in my addiction. I always called the officers that arrested me my “rescue rangers” because had I not went to prison I have a true feeling that I would have ended up dead.
S.C.: So how did you end up being the legal guardian of your grandchildren?
A: My daughter was a good mom, but my grandchildren they all lived with me because of the way that my daughter worked. So one day I just asked my daughter to put it in writing because I was like all of you all’s mom even though I’m their grandmother. My daughter worked late at night and she wrote a little paper and had it notarized and that gave me legal guardianship of my grandchildren.
S.C: So then what did she do when you were locked up?
A: First of all, she was very sad. You know, everybody knew so she took over guardianship again so they wouldn’t be involved in the system or involved in DCFS.
S.C.: When you were prostituting did your daughter know?
A: No, basically nobody knew. It was like a secret life, another life. Like the Superman/Clark Kent thing. Nobody knew, it was very low key. I didn’t want anybody to know. I tried to keep it a secret because it wasn’t really something I wanted to do, but it was something I had to do because I knew that that was fast and good money.
S.C.: So is there any way that your past life affects your present life?
A: Yes, and I can’t really find the words right now to explain it - Um, I’m going through a lot of things right now - I never thought that things that I did in the past would really affect my future because I feel that once I’ve done what I’ve done and paid the price for it, it should be over. But however, some people don’t understand that and right now that’s my husband. I love my husband so much. I just got married in January and I didn’t tell him about that part of my life and right now my whole world is just falling apart. I didn’t tell him what I used to do because I really didn’t think it mattered because I don’t do that anymore. But apparently to him it does matter and I’m just praying and hoping that he’ll understand that what I did back then went along with being addicted to drugs. It wasn’t something that I wanted to do or that I’m proud of and it’s also not something I’m doing anymore. I’ve changed, I’m not that same person. And right now, like I said, I’m kinda miserable because I’m just hoping that he’ll see that I’m not that person anymore. He don’t have to be ashamed of my past because I’m not ashamed of it. I’m really not ashamed of it. I mean, tt’s done and I paid the price. I paid the price for everything that I’ve done. I went to prison. I came back rehabilitated. I talk to people so they see that they can turn around and have a better life. If I beat myself up for what I did in the past then I won’t be able to grow and progress for the future. I’ll stay stuck, so I can’t live in the past. I just can’t do it, but I can talk about it. Talking about it may help somebody else not go through the things that I went through.
S.C.: You said that perfectly - Do you have any health issues?
A: Well, right now I’m just overweight, but I don’t care about that. That’s really not important. I’m going to see an ear specialist on a regular basis because while I was incarcerated I developed an ear infection. Being in prison the medical attention is very poor, so I’m going now twice a month getting it looked at and hopefully around November I’m going to have surgery to have it corrected. Other than that, I feel great.
S.C.: What about your feet?
A: (Laughing) My feet? I’ve got crooked toes from wearing those penitentiary boots!! The second toe overlaps on the big toe. I worked in the warehouse and I had to wear the boots, like the combat boots, and they were so uncomfortable! I cried so hard and so much I had to get a slow walker’s pass because I never really got used to them. When I came home my toes were all crooked, but I do hope one day I’ll be able to afford surgery to straighten out because they were pretty before I went to the penitentiary. I do keep them polished (laughing).
S.C.: Tell me about being in the workshop.
A: The video workshop? Oh that is a choice I am so glad that I made. It gave me an opportunity to really let out some of the things that happened in my life and it gave me an opportunity to meet the very nice people that worked the workshop with me. It let me know that I wasn’t alone. I can truly say that I bonded with a lot of people, even the staff people, and I want to say their names - Salome, Joanne, Miss Betty, I just love you all, Daria. I’m just so glad and grateful that I had the opportunity to share into this and hope that once this is finalized and other people get the chance to hear and see our stories that it will have some sort of impact on their lives - It’s definitely made an impact on mine already.
S.C.: Anything else you want to say?
A: Well, I just want to say that this has been an experience of a lifetime. Every moment of it since day one has been so exciting. I’ve learned a whole lot. I think I’ve shared a lot too and I hope that something that I’ve said will touch somebody out there and let others that haven’t walked in my shoes know what it was all about.
S.C.: You know what I saw in you. I saw that you discovered powers that you didn’t know you had.
A: (laughing) Yeah, it’s a funny thing. There are some things that are just lying there dormant. I can say that I’m very proud of myself today - I feel so much love, and I love me. I’ve learned to love me and it wasn’t easy. I’ve learned to be humble and how to love others because I can’t love anybody unless I love me first - and it’s just been a blast.
S.C.: Say what you said early about how people tell you how beautiful you are.
A: Oh, I get so many compliments on a daily basis and it feels so good. “You smell so good,” “Your hair is beautiful,” or “You look so pretty.” But you know I start my day with my self affirmation. After I go to the bathroom and brush my teeth and stuff, I tell myself how beautiful I am because when I look in the mirror today I love what I see. I am a beautiful, Black and strong.