“I Have Hated Every Single Minute Of It”
“The natural progression for the addict male is to fight, steal and deal,” Fourth Street Clinic’s Hunt says. “That’s the path of least resistance.” Women addicts often follow the path of retail theft, forgery and then sex solicitation, he says.
Steele’s lengthy criminal history, under a multitude of different names from four marriages, reflects that pattern.
She says she grew up in an upper-middle-class family in Salt Lake City before unsuccessful marriages, homelessness and escalating drug addiction led her to street prostitution in the late 1990s, when she left her third husband.
“What are we going to do?” her youngest son, Nathaniel, then 8, asked his mother on a street corner in Salt Lake City. They were standing outside an Albertson’s on North Temple, Steele holding a handwritten sign that read, “Please help, I’m homeless.”
After she took Nathaniel to a nearby boxing class, she says, she walked along the street, and was given a ride by a man who then offered her $20 for oral sex. They drove to Payless to purchase condoms, but in the parking lot, he pulled out his police badge.
“I never once thought about [prostitution] until that cop solicited me,” she says.
Steele did three days in jail for solicitation. After that, she says, she began to turn to street prostitution at times of economic desperation, depression and homelessness. “Truly, in my heart, I have hated every single minute of it.”
Nathaniel, now 24, is finishing a five-year sentence in prison in central Utah for aggravated burglary. When Steele wasn’t on drugs, Nathaniel says during a prison interview, “she was like a suburban mom,” taking him to soccer games and making sure cooked meals were on the table. “Everybody has the perception that prostitutes are worthless pieces of shit, but they did have a life before all this started,” he says.
In 2006, Steele was run over on State Street, breaking both of her shoulders, an eye socket and multiple other bones. She was in such pain she was put into a medical coma. Shortly after she was released, her fourth husband left her, and she returned to prostitution, so many bone-setting screws jutting out of her, she says, that she resembled something out of Hellraiser.
Medical issues continue to dog Steele. She has battled Behcet’s syndrome, a painful condition involving inflammation of the blood vessels, has had breast cancer for years, and may also have lymph-node cancer. “I’m not sure,” she says, of her current list of illnesses. “I don’t have the time to deal with it.”
Heroin, she says, gives her the energy to get up in the morning, and then helps her relax on the nights when she isn’t pounding the streets till midnight in search of a client.
A third of her clients, she says, are LDS, evident either by their church-required undergarments, or, as in the case of a clean-shaven 53-year-old man in a truck who took her to nearby “hot tubs,” their attitude. He paid her $40 to watch as he masturbated, but wouldn’t allow her to touch him. “You could tell he was good LDS,” she says dryly. Most of the men are married and complain that their wives won’t give them oral sex.
Nathaniel says his mother has been trapped in a circle of addiction, homelessness and prostitution for years. “It’s not Hollywood. She doesn’t make $3,000 a blowjob. She does it to survive. That’s what she knows; she doesn’t have any skills.”
Steele says she yearns for simple things—a cooked meal, a Christmas tree. “Once upon a time, I had all that.”
But what she needs most, Nathaniel says, is for someone to extend a hand. “If somebody would pull her up, build her confidence, if she wouldn’t have to worry about paying for a hotel room,” then, he believes, she could turn her life around.
While Steele is alone, Candyss and Tina have each other, though the tensions of life in a small room, struggling to move from drug addiction and prostitution to a life of normalcy, isn’t simple.
“Dealing with all these issues, of course we are each other’s favorite person to let off steam on,” Tina says in an early August interview in the couple’s motel room. That venting has occasionally deteriorated into physical fights or tear-stained departures.
Tall, wiry and intense, Candyss, 44, is fast-spoken with a shy laugh and a dark, angry gaze. She was adopted at six months and raised by a well-off Mormon family in Bountiful. Her biological parents found her when she was 8, resulting in her shuttling back and forth between Rhode Island and Utah.
She says that before crack cocaine consumed her life, she worked at Market Street Grill in Cottonwood Heights as a sous chef. Her only cooking in recent years was an annual Thanksgiving dinner for prostitutes and addicts paid for by a well-known pimp, whom, she says, was murdered by two sex workers in late November 2012.
She gave up everything for crack cocaine. “I’m a mom. I couldn’t even put crack down for my own kids.” Her 21-year-old daughter told her four years ago she wanted nothing more to do with her. She hasn’t seen her 12-year-old son, whose photos adorn the dresser in the motel, in four years.
Her descent from addiction into prostitution began after she was released from jail at 3 a.m. in September 2009, after serving time for a probation violation on a possession conviction. She had no family to go to, no home to return to, no friends to call. She was walking down 900 West when a man in a minivan, child car seats in the back, stopped to give her ride.
“He pulled a gun out and raped me with the barrel rectally,” she says, before he pushed her out into the street to wander naked and bleeding. She needed 135 stitches.
The only visitor she had in the hospital for the month it took her to recover was her estranged adoptive mother, she says, her voice dropping. “She just shook her head and cried and asked me what I was going to do.” Candyss says she felt worthless, “like a throwaway.”
When she got out, Candyss walked from LDS Hospital to Pioneer Park to find crack. She weaved through the dealers and runners, muttering “sex for drugs, sex for drugs.” For six weeks, she says, she was a pass-around, having sex in ditches, then being tossed bits of crack. “I never wanted to die so bad.”
Then a prostitute called Marnie took her hand, told her to keep walking as men called out to her to stop, and took her to her apartment by North Temple. She told Candyss, “You can make money yourself.” All the advice she gave was about pricing: oral sex was $30, intercourse $60. Three hours later, Candyss had made $350. “It was so easy.”
Candyss says she was “a popular item” on North Temple, partly because she was new “and fresh,” partly because “I cornered the market for not ripping people off.” Through word of mouth, she garnered several well-off clients in the Avenues, a doctor and a lawyer, whom she charged between $1,000 and $3,000. “They were so thrilled with me. I didn’t rob them and I was as close to a normal person as they were going to get.”
There were other “sweet deals” along the way, she says. One came from a 23-year-old Honduran crack dealer, Pedro, whom she met on the street. “I walked home with him and did him and his partner, his uncle and cousin, and then had dinner with them and Grandma.”
Pedro offered her $2,000 to spend several days in Park City during Christmas. In exchange, she would have sex with nine Latinos, twice, with a half-hour break after each three, then do another nine the following day.
Those were things, Tina, says, that when Candyss told her about them, “made me feel weird inside. It was like watching a bad movie.”