It all started because of 9/11. The police department was investigating truck stops as possible staging areas for terrorist attacks involving massive 16-wheelers instead of airplanes. But instead of terrorists they discovered 1,000 prostitutes servicing the 2,000 trucks that cycled through every day.
“We did what we do well,” Felini says. “We arrested everybody.” But soon, officers realized women were trading sex for survival needs, many of them were trafficked, and some were so damaged they “couldn’t do anything else if [they] wanted to.” The oldest was 64. “We thought they’d die” if the police department didn’t do something about the vicious cycle, Felini says.
It’s not that easy to convince the women to play along. Many are not enchanted by the idea of being arrested and pushed into treatment. For that, there are ex-prostitutes to help. Jammie**, who heads up the outreach, has nine felony convictions and used to do sex work to support a $500-a-day crack habit. “We interact with them on a level that other women don’t have the ability to do,” she says. “I’ll say, ‘What is so great about getting calluses on your knees that you don’t want to leave behind?’”
The program, PDI New Life, aims to get prostitutes out of jail or off the streets, and into rehab, counseling, and job training. And it works, officials said: a nearly 60 percent drop in crime in truck stop areas in Dallas, and, in 2011, 48 percent of the women who completed inpatient treatment were not arrested again for prostitution. Well done, Dallas.