Misty Lachelle Clanton, 39, died in October. Her body was found in front of an Ivy City fish market steps from where, for years, she strutted along West Virginia Avenue NE, selling her body $20 at a time.
She is survived by a family that includes two children in Front Royal. Locally, Clanton is remembered by those who tried to help her — among them Johnson and a D.C. jail volunteer chaplain — and who invested time, emotion and money only to watch her fall further into despair and dependency.
Each year, many on the District’s margins die as Clanton did — alone, addicted, all but forgotten. Clanton was found dead on a public street, and police issued a news release. The report prompted only brief mentions in the local news. Authorities have not yet determined the cause of her death, though it is not being investigated as a homicide.
After she died, advocates for District prostitutes said they had never met Clanton. Her name did not stand out to police officials intimately familiar with the neighborhoods she worked for years. People who answered doors at her past addresses had never heard her name.
And neither Johnson nor Christine Swift, the jail chaplain, knew Clanton had died until contacted by a reporter.
When Johnson found out, he expressed frustration that her drug addiction was treated like a crime rather than a disease. “The system is not designed to help addicts like Misty. It destroys people who need help.”
But he also bemoaned Clanton’s unwillingness or inability to get clean. Court documents reveal a law enforcement community that grew similarly exasperated as Clanton threw away chances until prison became the only option.
Cyndee Clay, executive director of a D.C. group called Helping Individual Prostitutes Survive, did not know Clanton. But she said the woman’s experience was common — as was that of her would-be benefactors.
“The courts alone, and one or two individuals alone, are not necessarily equipped with the vast amount of tools that are needed to help someone make a 180-degree turn,” Clay said.
In rare moments of sobriety, the tall lady with reddish-brown hair was lucid and smart. She spoke of becoming a lawyer or a schoolteacher.
Court records show her free of disease. She registered to vote in the District in 2008 and 2010 under the name “Mysty Clanton,” using Johnson’s home off H Street in Northeast as her address.
From jail, she wrote letters in flowing cursive, thanking those who had tried to intervene, expressing remorse for having let them down and promising that this time she’d do better.
She sent one such letter to Swift, who volunteers in the women’s section of the D.C. jail, after the chaplain persuaded a judge to spare her prison and send her to an intensive drug treatment program in North Carolina.