Interview with Lucretia Clay
by Lucretia Clay-Ward

 motherhood  prostitution  reentry

S.C: Could you tell me about your childhood?

L.C.: I was adopted. My mom gave me away at 6 months. Well, actually she didn’t give me away. One of her sisters kept seeing me on our porch and asked if she could have me. And my mama let her have me. Growing up in the adopted family—I didn’t know I was adopted until later on—I had a pretty good childhood. I mean, my childhood went good until I met my birth mother (laughing). I can laugh about that now. I met my birth mother at 12. I had a lot of bad times with my birth mother…I’m still working on getting over a lot of the anger. The pain is not there, I’ve dealt with the pain. I still have some anger issues as far as she is concerned because I feel like if she hadn’t came into my life it probably would have been better. You know, my life got haywired at the age of 12… I mean, I was introduced into child pornography, turning dates, pimps, drugs, alcohols, all of that became a major part of my life when my birth mother came into it. I didn’t have a teenage life, I was teen in age, but I never lived like a teenager. But as far as my childhood, that was good…

S.C.: When you were a teen, what did you do for fun? Who were your friends?

L.C.: When I was a teenager, what did I do for fun? Who was my friends? My friends was my wife-in-laws, my pimp’s other womens. For fun, we looked at TV, we went out to eat, we went to the movies, we went to shows, we went a lot of places. But as far as seeing my family—my adopted family—I’d see them occasionally. I just didn’t have an ordinary teenage life, but I thought that’s what it was supposed to be… I went to school, for a little while, after I got into prostitution, but eventually that stopped.

S.C.: What was that like? Going to school while you were prostituting?

L.C.: Actually, I didn’t think about it because it was… glamorous. It was money, the furs, the cars. Here I am, 13 years old, 14 years old with a pocketful of money. I could go in a store and buy anything I want without anybody saying nothing to me. It was okay because I thought that was the way it was supposed to be. I had my first baby at 14. And that’s when I stopped going to school and that’s when me and my grandmother really fell out because she wanted me to give the baby up for adoption and I didn’t. She didn’t want the baby’s father to see the baby, and I couldn’t do that. I stopped going to school then and I started living my life as an adult, which I was already partially doing, but then I took it on full-time adulthood then (smiling). I didn’t want for nothing, my baby didn’t want for nothing. At least, I didn’t think my baby wanted for anything, until now that I go back and see the things that happened in my life. I thought buying my kids stuff and giving them money and stuff that was giving them enough love, but actually it wasn’t. It was just to keep them quiet and to keep them out of my way. I don’t feel good about that at all, but I would not let anybody exploit my kids because I went through that. I wouldn’t do that and I wouldn’t let nobody else do that.

My family, when I had my daughter, my family got my daughter because I didn’t want her around what I was going through. I didn’t want her around what I was doing. Actually, all three of my kids went to my family, my adopted family. It was okay with my older son because I thought I was being a mother, but when I got pregnant again my older son was 10 and things was getting worse. I was in and out of town all the time, so I was like, I had to do something because I didn’t want nobody else babysitting my kids because I didn’t trust too many people. So I took them to my family, and I would stop by there and I would give them money and take them shopping. We would go out to the zoo or whatever, and then I would drop them back off and go back to the motel where I lived. That’s not a life for kids, you know. I did the best I knew how to do. I wasn’t there physically for my kids, financially I was. I wish I could have been there more physically and whole-heartedly, but I love my kids to death. It’s just something I didn’t do because I had a drug habit and I was trying to please the man. And you know, it was just the lifestyle I was caught up in. And… wow…

S.C.: Did your adopted family know about the lifestyle you were living?

L.C.: Eventually I told one of my sisters. If the rest of the family knew, they never said nothing to me about it. They kept a blind eye to it. See I come from one of them families that everything that wasn’t right was hush-hush, pushed up under the rug. As long you didn’t bring it out into the open, wasn’t nothing to say about it. So I wasn’t getting hurt, they wasn’t getting hurt and nothing was ever said about it.

S.C.: They must have wondered where all the money was coming from.

L.C.: Well, they knew I had a boyfriend. I think they knew, me personally, I think they knew…

S.C.: So who’s the baby’s father?

L.C,: Which one?

S.C.: Any?

L.C.: My oldest son is my pimp’s baby. My other two kids are tricks’ babies.

S.C.: How did you get started in prostituting?

L.C.: My moms, my birth mother was supposed to be taking me school shopping and instead she took me to one of her trick’s houses because he wanted a young girl. She gave me beer and whiskey because I didn’t want to take my clothes off for him. I was a virgin, you know. I didn’t want no man looking at me. I got drunk and he didn’t touch me, but he took pictures, laid me across his bed. I felt real guilty about that. I didn’t feel like I could tell my adopted family because I didn’t understand, so if I don’t understand, how they gonna understand? Then I thought it was going to be God that was going to strike me down and I was sure I was going to go to hell for showing a man my body. I must have done something to cause that, that’s the way I felt, so I never told anybody. When I left home to go and stay with my mom for a summer, I met his pimp. We went out to eat and I met a bunch of other pimps and I ended up being sold to a pimp.

S.C.: How did that feel?

L.C,: Actually… I don’t know. I was confused, I was mixed up because she took me back and told my (adopted) mom that I was going to stay with her for that school semester. And we went and bought clothes and I really thought I was going to live with my mom. Then this man was sitting there and my clothes went from the trunk of her car to the trunk of his car. She told me to just stay with him and that he was going to take care of me. Any feelings that I did have… I cried a lot. I was too scared to run away. Then as time went on and I was being able to make my own decisions and my own choices, I was like, “What the hell? She’ll come back and get me eventually.” But then I guess I got brain locked into what I was doing, you know and that’s the way…

S.C,: When did drugs come into the picture?

L.C.: Drugs came into the picture with me a little ways down. I had smoked weed with my mom—I really didn’t like weed. I drank with my mom and I drank all through. I started using drugs, I started drinking syrup I think I was 16 or 17 years old. From syrup it went to snorting cocaine, from cocaine it went to snorting heroin. I didn’t like nothing that made me to paranoid so syrup and heroin were my choice of drugs. And I would drink, not real often. When I started doing crack I think I was about 19 or 20. We were cooking cocaine… and heroin was still my choice of drugs because I could do without some cocaine… heroin was my choice of drugs…

S.C.: Would you say that you were self medicating with the drugs or was it just fun?

L.C,: At first, you know, I drank because it made me feel like I was grown and sophisticated and it gave me more confidence to walk in my heels. I always admired Tina Turner’s legs and always wanted Tina Turner legs. So if I could drink and walk in heels, I could be Tina Turner. It was recreational fun at first. All through, until I got up to 30 years old, then it started to get worse.

S.C.: What do you mean?

L.C.: It wasn’t that I wanted to do it. It was that I had to do it, more and more each time. I had tried to quit several times. I had stopped smoking cocaine for about a year or two. I did heroin and I drank. I drank whiskey and cognac and I didn’t want for nothing when I did that. I didn’t start back smoking cocaine again until 1999 when I found out I was HIV positive. That’s when I picked up another pipe…and…wow…it got real bad. I didn’t care. I didn’t eat that much. I was burying the man I love and I was also dealing with the man I love was trying to take me with him “until death do us part.” He told me we was gonna be together for life and I was thinking, “Well, you really meant that shit.” But I’m okay with it today. I have no problem being HIV positive. What really bothered me was that I didn’t have a choice to say, “Well, back up, let’s use some protection” or “I love you so much, that whatever happens happens.” Had he told me, I wouldn’t have left him because I loved him that much, but I would have protected myself.

I was always the type of prostitute that thought I was way up here because the things a lot of other women were doing, I didn’t have to do. I always had regular dates and sugar daddies that would come give me money. I always had a car. Always had a place. My bottom was spiritual. Actually I was living with one of his friends who was a pimp too. And to this day I can’t tell you whether that man is really a man or a woman because I never touched him and I never saw him naked. He never touched me or saw me naked and we lived together for a whole year. I was there, but I wasn’t there. The only reason that he got some of my money was because I knew if I didn’t make no money I didn’t never have to worry about going without no drugs.

I got tired, and I had went to the penitentiary. I stayed in the penitentiary six or eight months. I got locked up on July the 18th, I was already fighting a prostitution case in Skokie and I caught another one. The lawyer said, one of these cases you’re gonna end up doing 61 days. So I ended up pleading guilty and taking the 61 days. I got transferred to Dwight in August of 2001. I came home November the 27th of 2001 and mind you, all these months I’d been clean, whether I wanted to be or not, I’d been clean.

When I came home, I came home to half a gallon of ??. That was my coming home present after this man had told me we gonna get jobs because I said I can’t let nobody touch me and not use, you know. I can’t be the first clean prostitute. You gonna tell me I can do what I do with those men and not use. You gotta be outta your damn mind… you know. I knew that because just the thought of me going home to him and never having any physical contact with him, but then thinking, “Wow, what if he want to? What if he tried to? How would you react?” The first time he touched me when I came home, my skin crawled. We didn’t have nothing to talk about, me being sober and all. For two weeks, I called a couple of regulars and I drank every time I went to see one of my regulars, I had me a drink. I wasn’t going to work on the street, but it still don’t make a difference because it’s the same. Just the fact of a man touching me, even men I dated for three or four years on a regular basis, made my flesh crawl, made my stomach turn. I felt filthy, I felt gross.

So my bottom was spiritually, I was empty. I started drinking heavier and heavier. It was like I was there, but mentally I wasn’t there, because I see what I was doing and I know I’m doing something against my will and I didn’t like what I was doing and I really can’t find a way out. I go do this and I go do that, but when my time is up, where do I go? That’s the way I felt… I wanted to kill myself. Actually, I took about 8 or 9 valium and drank a glass of alcohol and woke up the next morning. (Laughing) I was trying to kill myself, but I just woke up the next morning! God must have decided it just wasn’t my time to leave. So then I got another bright idea that I wanted to kill everybody in the house, but before I did that I called my parole officer and talked to him. I was going to the court center for my meds and the doctor for my chemical dependency. I had a counselor, and they got together and they sent me to Genesis House on Addison for a night. Then, my chemical dependency counselor got me a room the very next day—I don’t know how she did it—at the Women’s Treatment Center. I went in and I’ve been clean since then.

S.C.: That’s pretty amazing. What you call your spiritual bottom, would you call that your turning point?

L.C.: Yeah, because anytime you sitting somewhere and you feel like you’re sitting outside your body looking at you and everything somebody is saying to you is in slow motion. I’m not smiling, I’m not happy, I’m just sitting in a daze in one spot like this. And the only thing I hear is, “You want a drink?” or “Pass me a cigarette.” Come on now, something ain’t right with that picture. I felt empty, like there wasn’t nothing inside of me, hollow…

S.C.: You said earlier that when you were a teen and turning dates and it was glamorous and you got a lot of money, when you look at that time in your life when you were a young girl, when your mom sold you, does it look different to you than what it looked like to you then?

L.C,: Actually, no. It was glamorous. And that’s one thing that you get caught up in because when you first get started it’s about all the men drooling over you, all the men wanting you because you’re the new face on the block. It’s about that pimp showering you with jewelry, furs, a car, all this as long as you’re making money. Even though you’re gonna have your bad days, they don’t look that bad to you because you’re not wanting for anything. It’s the trap. It was glamorous going from town to town to town, going to different cities, sitting in bars knowing I wasn’t old enough to be there. It was exciting, you know. 20 something years of my life knowing I could take a man and have him dangle by the pinky of my hand. He would do anything I wanted him to do or anything I asked him to do anything I want him to do. It was exciting.

S.C.: What is your life like now?

L.C.: What my life is like now…(waving her ring finger) I have a fiance. I have 2 years 7 months clean now. This is my little bungalow. These are my little babies right here (pointing to a fish tank), I talk to them at night when I need comfort and I don’t want to wake up my fiance. I have my two little bears that I snuggle up with. Actually, I have a lot of peace in my life right now. Nothing is perfect. I still have a lot of things I have to work on, but I’m getting there. My CD4 count is remarkable. It went from 3 something to 750, I’m undetectable. (Laughing) I weigh 189 pounds! I wouldn’t trade one of my worst days for one of my best days back then, you know. I honestly wouldn’t. I’m actually getting an identity to who Lucretia is because Lucretia never had a chance to have an identity because I got in the lifestyle at such a young age I never knew who Lucretia was. But I’m learning about Lucretia today and who she is.

S.C.: She’s an amazing woman. How’s your relationship with your kids?

L.C,: Slowly but surely… They got to go through what they got to go through. I can’t make them accept me with open arms. We talk, not on a regular basis, but we talk, sometimes when they want to. If not, I just leave them and tell them I love them. They have my number. It’s gonna work out. I have plenty of faith. Even if it’s nothing but a “Hi” or “I don’t feel like talking to you today,” that’s something because there was a time when they wouldn’t even get on the phone. So, I’m okay with that today.

S.C.: How old are your kids?

L.C.: I have a 27 year old, a 17 year old and a 13 year old, soon to be 14. September the 18th my daughter will be 14.

S.C.: So it’s kinda hard for them to separate the regular issues kids have with parents—

L.C.: I think right now with them, with me recovering from drugs, them knowing that I’m HIV positive, that’s a lot for kids. Your mom coming back into your life and then finding out that she has a deadly illness, that’s a lot for them to internalize. I have to give them respect, and at the same time I need to let them deal with what they need to deal with. There’s a lot of things they have to accept in accepting me back into their life. I got plenty of time, I can wait. I’m not going to give up.

S.C.: Who took care of them when you were incarcerated?

L.C,: My family, their father, their step-father now. A real dear friend of mine who was in love with me. He was a date and he did anything for my kids. He calls them his kids and he took care of them and he still takes care of them today. He tells me how much he loves me, but he knows I’m happy and he knows I’m engaged. He also knows I could never take those kids away from him. I could never tell my kids that ain’t your father. I could never crush them like that.

S.C.: Does the past have any effect on your present?

L.C.: (Smiling) Actually, now, no. I wouldn’t give my past that much power over me today. If I did, I’d end up right back where I started from and I refuse to go back there. See the program I’m in, you know relapses happen, but it’s not in the program I work and it’s not in the program I’m working for myself. No, I don’t see me going back. I can say, “I am not going back.” My mom used to always tell me, “Whatever you do, be the best at what you do.” Now if you can tell me that at something negative, I can take that and use that now. So whatever I do I can do the best I can do. I can be the best me I can be. And I take it one minute at a time to do the best I can do for me because if I don’t get well then I can’t help nobody else. And if I can’t help nobody else, and I mean my kids and whosever, you know I can’t be there for them if I don’t give myself a fair chance. If I keep going in the past, that’s not giving me a fair chance.

S.C.: So does your fiance know about your life before?

L.C.: Yeah, we talk about everything. It’s good to find somebody that just loves you for who you are and that you can be open and honest with. We have our ups and downs, but I love him to death.

S.C.: What’s your vision for your future?

L.C.: Right now I’m trying to find me—me and my psychiatrist are trying to find me a med to keep my outbursts and my mood swings level because I’m bipolar. They’re not violent outbursts. They’re verbal outbursts. Eventually I’m gonna go back to school. I want to go back to school to get my CADC certificate for drug counseling. We’ll go from there. You know, I can’t say, but right now it’s looking good for me going back to school and once I make that step then I know what I want to go into, but we’re just gonna take it one day at a time, but that’s what I want to do.

S.C.: Anything else you want to say?

L.C.: What I want to say is… anybody can make a baby, but it take a real woman or a real man to step up to the plate—even after the mistake has been made—to be a parent. You know, because once you’ve been out of your children’s lives for awhile you can’t be mommy and daddy, but you can be a parent the best that you can be. So if you’ve got kids out there and you think that you can’t get a relationship with them, you’re wrong. If that’s what you want, give it time and it will happen.