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Former D.C. Prostitute Still on the Streets Now Helping Others to Quit the Game
McReynolds struggled initially to raise enough money to run her program. The past two years, she has gotten steady funding -- $175,000 last year -- to hire four full-time counselors and three part-time workers. And in January, the U.S attorney's office in the District awarded its "John School" program to McReynolds. Men arrested for solicitation pay $300 and sit through a day of lectures to get their cases dropped.
Despite her daughter's success, Mathis has reservations about the work. She said she is proud of the achievements, but "I wish she would not be involved with those women and get away from that environment altogether."
Police, prosecutors and judges applaud the program. Detective Mark Gilkey, a 27-year veteran of the D.C. police prostitution unit, said few of McReynolds's graduates return to the street. D.C. Superior Court Judge Craig Iscoe, who oversees some of the cases, said women who had drug problems but weren't arrested for solicitation have asked to be admitted into Angels Project Power.
McReynolds holds people accountable but understands that they are fallible, the judge said.
That's one reason McReynolds added general equivalency diploma, computer and business classes to go with instruction about self-esteem, drug and alcohol abuse, and sexually transmitted diseases. The women go through mock job interviews, learn how to write résumés and get coaching in how to dress for the corporate world.
"When they were prostitutes, they were negotiating, making deals, selling and making that money. So instead of selling their bodies, we want them to learn how to sell their minds," she said.
Angela Simmons, 43, who worked the streets for more than 10 years, walked into a recent session dressed in what she thought was business attire. McReynolds told Simmons that her skirt was too short and too tight and that she needed to watch how she interacted with men. "You still have that flirtation spirit on you," McReynolds said.
Simmons, who didn't leave prostitution even when she had a broken leg and was on crutches, has nothing but admiration for McReynolds. "She taught us how to be ladies. I thought of myself as a woman, obviously, but never a lady," she said.
McReynolds also oversees a month-long, 12-bed inpatient drug and alcohol rehabilitation program for women on North Capitol Street in collaboration with her mentor, Marsha Richerson, executive director of Safe Haven Outreach Ministries. Richerson called McReynolds "a miracle" who can reach the women better than police, judges or counselors.
But not always.
At a recent hearing, McReynolds, dressed in a blue suit, told the judge that a woman sent to her program stopped attending.
"She took the program as a joke, Your Honor," McReynolds said. The judge ordered the woman jailed for 90 days, and a marshal escorted her away. McReynolds closed her notebook, shoved it in her briefcase and moved on to the next case.