On Peckers and Prosecutors
“I massage a pecker and they call police,” I massah a peckah n day caw poe-lisse Ming reported to all the lazy Food Prep workers who sat at the break table for the third time in two hours. Ming is a hard worker, assigned to the pot sink because her English isn’t great and dirty dishes are in everyone’s dialect.
They were needling Ming about her charges. She is a good-looking Chinese girl, about 21, with innocent skin and an uninformed, pretty smile. She had no idea that they were ridiculing her. They harass anyone fresh-faced, debilitated or speaking a language other than English, so Ming had two strikes against her. They did it to me pretty fiercely when I got here and I had only one strike. I don’t know which one.
Usually I see this and walk over to the group to issue my usual: “Hey guys? NOT COOL,” pronouncement to get them to stop. But Ming came out with that answer and before I could intervene, laughter had me bent over.
Outside of Hawaii, very few Asian women do time. As much as black and Latina women overrrepresent their ethnic groups in prison, Asian women are statistically underrepresented, much to their credit. Asian women in the United States break the law far less frequently than the natives. In fact, so few Asian women enter the penal system that any research into how many crimes are committed by women of Asian descent usually dredges up numbers on rates of their victimization.
In the time I have spent in this prison, one that houses both pretrial and sentenced inmates, I have learned little about this racial disparity but what I know is reliable. When Asian women do break the law, they arrive here facing prostitution charges. In exchange for passage to and housing in the United States, women from China, Vietnam, Korea and other countries agree to work in “massage parlors” or “spas.”
Essentially, it’s trafficking. But because these women cross U.S. borders in planes not the backs of un-airconditioned trucks like the one Ludacris opens in the movie Crash, we don’t see it that way. The massage man picks them up at baggage claim and drives them into a life where they service as many as forty men each day, a rate that Geneva Convention standards call torture. Women endure torture to experience the elevated American quality of life. They become slaves to find opportunity. We see immigrants pursuing the American Dream.
Every time I see a Asian inmate, she is usually in a group of other Asian women. Police prostitution stings cast their nets wide and they bring in a bunch of women who worked at the bust site. Then, in a few days, the women depart en masse, just like they arrived, when someone cobbles enough cash together to post their bonds. In almost five years, I have never seen one return to serve a sentence.
I always hoped that the reason they never returned was that a judge dropped probation on all of them or made them pay fines and enroll in one of the state’s “Prostitution Classes,” courses that define abuse, instruct women on their legal rights, disseminate safe-sex strategies and drown them in pamphlets announcing various resources: hotlines, shelters, walk-in clinics. Many times, even if you walk the stroll you get chance to walk a line again quickly.
But I think that the reason they never return is that they never answer the charges; their traffic gets re-routed to another small city.
Because they are in and out so quickly, their names are not in the system long enough to light up ICE [Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the new INS] computer screens to invite deportation. Besides, we don’t deport for mere misdemeanors.
And that was why Ming was unusual. Ming had already spent several months in custody, and in the high bond building no less. She, too, fled a foreign country to work in a massage parlor in a medium-sized Connecticut city and got ‘stung’ selling a hand job to an undercover cop.
“Why haven’t they come to get her?” I wondered aloud, the ‘they’ being the massage parlor owners. I didn’t understand how she wasn’t on the usual Asian pattern of bonding out after a few days, doing a “skid bid” – detention where prisoner leaves skid marks because she comes in and leaves so quickly. Ming has skidded past a skid bid months ago.
“Immigration hold,” another worker, Shawna, whispered.
“ICE is wasting it’s time putting a hold on this little girl for a misdemeanor hooker charge?” I challenged her.
Shawna shook her head.
“Not prostitution, conspiracy to commit prostitution,” Shawna said, subtly yet explicitly explaining why Ming’s case was different than the charges filed against other Asian women who had been at York for massaging peckers.
Connecticut is one of several states that thinks that two heads are not better than one when committing a crime with a pecker. We have a conspiracy statute that elevates any misdemeanor to a felony when it is allegedly committed in concert with another person. The co-conspirator need not be charged at all for a conspiracy collar to stick.
Prosecutors chose to charge Ming with conspiracy to commit prostitution because she negotiated the price for (and probably performed) a sex act in a building where other women were doing the same thing instead of becoming a sole proprietorship on a street corner. Now the Federal government can chuck her back whence she came because of the felony status of the charge if and when she is convicted. Prosecutors think they are disrupting the flow of human traffic by deporting Ming and doing nothing to her trafficker but they are just putting more vehicles on the road.
Because she faced a conspiracy charge which meant someone else was at least involved with her crime, I approached the pot sink and asked her:
“Ming, where’s your boss, the person who runs the place where you worked?”
“He in Waterbury.” Watta-bay. There’s no correctional facility in Waterbury.
“What, he bonded out?” I asked. Ming didn’t understand.
“Did he get in trouble with police, too?” I broke it down for her. Then she was the one laughing.
“No. No. He a man. He not work with me,” she sniggered because she thinks only direct-sale sex workers broke the law and no one ever hired a male prostitute. A man in trouble for anything related to prostitution, even if it is the international trade of human flesh? That’s a joke to Ming.
She wasn’t totally wrong. This is how we do it in the United States where the debate about what to do with illegal immigrants prolongs itself. Where we bust the janes and not the johns. Where prosecutors go after someone with less power much harder for no other reason than they have the ability to do so and can fool themselves that they are not caving to crime.
Meanwhile Ming walks a maze of detention warehouses until we return her like defective merchandise. The man who trafficked in Ming and enabled the crime that will toss her home will stay out of prison and stay here. If he doesn’t have it already, he may even pursue citizenship and become one of us.
From CBS.com: Philadelphia cops use stings to bust prostitution customers and it seems to work; when johns get busted, they rarely re-offend. This is expected to curb prostitution in the City of Brotherly Love.
Is setting up stings and arresting only the johns the way to eliminate prostitution?
- No. Prostitution should be legal and no one should be arrested. What's 'wrong' might be 'right' if we just leave it alone. (67%, 4 Votes)
- Yes. We have arrested only the prostitutes for so long and their recidivism rates are usually high. Creating only one 'wrong' can make it right. (17%, 1 Votes)
- No. We should still arrest both the prostitute and the patron when both commit the crime of selling/buying a sex act. What's wrong is wrong for everyone. (17%, 1 Votes)
Total Voters: 6
Connecticut is one of several states that thinks that two heads are not better than one when… Click To Tweet Prostitutes service as many as forty men each day, a rate that Geneva Convention standards call… Click To Tweet Prosecutors think they are disrupting the flow of human traffic by deporting ...but they are just… Click To Tweet