» This Story:Read +|Talk +| Comments

Get Local Alerts on Your Mobile Device

Text "LOCAL" to 98999 to get breaking news, traffic and weather alerts.

On the Street, Selling Hope

Former Prostitute Offers Others the Chance to Change

Discussion Policy
Comments that include profanity or personal attacks or other inappropriate comments or material will be removed from the site. Additionally, entries that are unsigned or contain "signatures" by someone other than the actual author will be removed. Finally, we will take steps to block users who violate any of our posting standards, terms of use or privacy policies or any other policies governing this site. Please review the full rules governing commentaries and discussions. You are fully responsible for the content that you post.
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Late one Friday afternoon, a car pulled up to Jackie McReynolds on a busy city street. Three men forced her inside and drove her to an alley, where they punched, choked and raped her.

This Story

That day in 1987, McReynolds started thinking about leaving the prostitution business, which she did four years later. "I thought I was going to die right then and there," she said.

McReynolds, 50, still prowls the streets, only she hopes to help women who are following the same destructive path that defined her life for so many years. She tempts those who have been arrested with this offer: Spend four months with her, interning and learning life skills, for the chance to avoid up to six months in jail.

Her program is called Angels Project Power. Nakita Harrison, 34, a sex worker for nearly two decades, was in and out of jail before signing up a year ago. She now rents a furnished apartment from the group and works as a grocery cashier, her first legitimate job.

"She speaks our language," Harrison said. "She knows us and allows us to be ourselves as long as we remain respectful to her and the other women in the group."

Many of these women, ages 18 to 60, are mothers, grandmothers and even great-grandmothers. They would blend in easily in a grocery store line or at midweek church services. Their clothes are baggy, not tight. Instead of high heels, many go to work in tennis shoes. Most find their clients on the street, out in the open, with little protection from sexually transmitted diseases, violence and arrest.

Most of the women are trying to support their drug habits, and others are engaged in "survival sex" to pay the bills or buy food for their children, McReynolds said.

"Putting these women in jail isn't going to solve the problem. They just become repeat offenders," McReynolds said. "They have to change from within."

* * *

Angels Project Power, started in 2004, is a way to prod that change along.

The program got its name from the celestial beings McReynolds credits with keeping her alive when she was on the street. It includes counseling sessions, literacy classes, other coursework, and internships with retail businesses and other local employers.

McReynolds and her counselors go to court to identify women who could use their help. They submit reports to judges about participants. But the hardest work comes in the daily meetings with 40 or so women on the first floor of a Northeast Washington apartment building, where the program is based.


CONTINUED     1           >



» This Story:Read +|Talk +| Comments

More in the Metro Section

Local Blog Directory

Find a Local Blog

Plug into the region's blogs, by location or area of interest.

Virginia Politics

Blog: Va. Politics

Here's a place to help you keep up with Virginia's overcaffeinated political culture.

D.C. Taxi Fares

D.C. Taxi Fares

Compare estimated zoned and metered D.C. taxi fares with this interactive calculator.

FOLLOW METRO ON:
Facebook Twitter RSS
|
GET LOCAL ALERTS:
© 2009 The Washington Post Company