A Writer With Street Sense

Ivory Wilson penned a book about life as a pimp while he was in prison. He now writes for Street Sense, a newspaper by and about the homeless.
Ivory Wilson penned a book about life as a pimp while he was in prison. He now writes for Street Sense, a newspaper by and about the homeless. (By Dayna Smith For The Washington Post)
By Dan Zak
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, March 16, 2008

In his youth, Ivory Wilson says, he drove a Bentley, drank Hennessy and rolled joints with $100 bills. Now he's a middle-aged man, bent but not broken, homeless but not hopeless, writing fiction for Street Sense, the District's twice-monthly newspaper written by and about the area's homeless.

A cowboy raised in Texas, Wilson says he joined the Army to go to Vietnam but was seduced by the pimp life while stationed in Kansas. By the time he saw the error of his ways, he had spent 20 years as a pimp and had gone to prison for drug distribution. Behind bars he wrote the autobiographical "A Player's World Manual: Wanna Be a Pimp?" to caution young men and women against the destructive lifestyle.

Eventually Wilson made his way to Washington and self-published the book. He sold all 500 copies, ran out of money two years ago and has been on the streets since. Now 51, he's based at a shelter near Judiciary Square, is taking job-training courses and has developed a loyal Street Sense customer base at Seventh and E streets NW. He writes for Street Sense ( http://www.streetsense.org), buys the newspapers for a quarter each, sells them for whatever people are willing to give and uses the money to build a new life. All that's left of his former one is a set of serious life lessons and four diamonds encrusted in his gold front tooth.

What's one thing you would like passersby to know?

Sometimes I get a lot just from a friendly smile. A "Good morning, how you doing?" That goes a long way. When I first started, people treated me like I had a disease. But now even old ladies come up and hug me. People bring me coffee. That makes my day now. Just the gesture.

How much do people give you?

Anywhere from $1 to $20. For Christmas, people were generous. One lady gave me $50. I usually make $40 a day selling 13 to 14 papers.

Where do you see yourself going next?

I stand on the corner [with] these short stories, hoping I get discovered by somebody for my talents. I can write. I can help write plays and stories, maybe a movie, if they just give me a shot.

How do you write?

It just flows out, flows out, flows out. . . . I can't explain. I came from [being] a rodeo rider, a soldier, a pimp -- I don't even know how to write. I only started reading when I went to the military. I can't use big words. I write simple, basic. It's just a gift. [God] let me see that: When I was younger he took it away from me and now, at 50, it's uphill, not downhill. He gave me a new chance in my later years to maybe have a decent life. I know that somebody is gonna discover me. I just gotta have faith. I have my hand on the door, turning the knob. It just ain't open yet.

What was prison like?

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