Woman recalls past as prostitute for more than 20 years

 A desire to live on the edge led to a dangerous, addictive lifestyle

By Angie Jackson
The Grand Rapids Press

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (AP) — Lucretia Harvey’s first forays into prostitution started as an attempt to win back a boyfriend’s attention.

Then, in her late 20s, Harvey was straight-laced and admittedly naive. Her then-boyfriend was a heroin addict and a gambler who spent nights on Grand Rapids’ streets.

Lonely nights left her wondering what kept her boyfriend away, so Harvey, now 60, began prostituting herself. She thought it’d make her the only woman he needed.

She just wanted a taste of living on the edge. She said she didn’t foresee a decades-long entanglement with a dangerous, addictive lifestyle.

The new habit earned Harvey a reputation and fast money. She grew up in a small town in Indiana, and South Division Avenue in the 1980s seemed like a mini Las Vegas. Men had suitcases of money to offer, she remembers. It was thrilling.

“Pimps, hustlers, players. I loved it. I loved people saying, ‘You look good. You’re fine.’ I wanted to be a part of it,” Harvey told The Grand Rapids Press. “I learned how to hustle.”

Harvey was a prostitute for more than 20 years, and she lived clean for an eight-year stretch before relapsing and later re-entering recovery at House of Blessings, a transitional home in southeast Grand Rapids for women with addiction run by Shellie Cole-Mickens, a former drug addict.

Harvey recently moved to Indiana and has reconnected with family. She said faith in God helped her forgive herself.

She now speaks openly about her experiences as a former prostitute; it’s who she was but doesn’t define who she is now. During an August visit to House of Blessings, Harvey reflected on her past. She, as a young woman, was ignorant to where prostitution and drugs could lead.

“I look back at it and I’m like, ‘Wow, how did I allow myself to get back entrapped in this?’” Harvey said.

She was last arrested for prostitution at age 57.

“When I got caught this last time. I’m like, ‘What’s going on?’ It was humiliating. It was shameful,” she said.

Harvey, a mother and grandmother, asked herself then if she’d have to be dead for the madness to end.

Harvey always worked independently without a pimp. People on the streets recognized she made a lot of money, and their talk invigorated her.

“When another girl was on the track we would compete like, who’s the baddest ho. That’s where I learned to get my praise from,” she said. “Being a hooker, ‘That girl get money’ (they’d say). I got hyped on that.”

One night on the streets earned the equivalent of a week’s worth of pay at Family Outreach Center, where Harvey was a secretary. The cash fed a cocaine addiction she developed when she began prostituting.

“I vowed to myself that — I had given up my character, respect for myself — I would never work again. This was the fastest way to get money,” Harvey said of prostitution. “My mother used to say whatever you do, be the best at it. I didn’t go to college or anything like that, so I’m like OK, I’m a professional hooker.”

Harvey spent 17 collective years behind bars, beginning with an arrest in 1980. Misdemeanor prostitution offenses grew to felony convictions over the years, and she also went to prison for selling cocaine. She’d return to the streets after each arrest, making a promise to herself she’d be more careful next time. Police didn’t scare her.

“That was my way of life and going to jail just wasn’t the answer. That came with the territory,” she said. “If you’re a trooper you’d do what you got to do, get back out and get on with the program and I’m going to do it a little slicker this time where I don’t have to get caught.”

Harvey never feared street life and the inherent dangers of prostitution. She was once denied money and raped, and held at gunpoint on another occasion. Other women fared worse.

“There were a lot of women who died in my circle, in my lifestyle of prostitution. I had a lot of people that got killed,” she said.

Harvey came to forget the “clean side of life.”

“And sometimes, most times, I was more comfortable in my element of chaos than I was in a serene, clean-type life,” she said.

Still, she found the strength to give up prostitution and cocaine for eight years.

In that time she formed healthy relationships and made the dean’s list at Grand Rapids Community College. Harvey for six years helped other women overcome their addiction as a supervisor at Degage Ministries Open Door Women’s Center.

She thought she’d never return to street life.

Harvey lost control when her mother died. Her mom was her emotional rock, the person who stood by during stints of jail time. Harvey was crushed by her sister’s death three months later. Not wanting to deal with grief, she picked up drugs and returned to prostitution. This time she was met with the shame of relapsing after being a mentor for others.

She said “thank you” to the police officer who arrested her in 2011 for a felony count of commercializing sex. Before the unmarked car rolled up, Harvey remembers praying to be arrested so she wouldn’t end up dead. Jail would be a chance at finding recovery again. That saved her, she said.

Harvey looked over her life. Nearly two decades were spent behind bars.

She turned to Shellie Cole-Micken’s House of Blessings for a new approach at recovery. She’d tried rehab programs across the state but this time she wanted to recover where temptations abounded.

“I wanted to get clean in the hood,” she said. “I always admired people who could get clean in the hood where a dope house is every other house around you.”

Harvey for the first time wasn’t blanketed by the support of her mother or a significant other. Cole-Mickens challenged her to come face-to-face with deep-rooted pain, such as molestation she suffered as a child. She credits Cole-Mickens’ “uncanny” ability to guide addicts to the nature of their illness.

“This is where I really recovered,” Harvey said of House of Blessings. “I was just staying clean that first time . I had to dig deep. I had to forgive myself.”

Harvey has stayed clean since her last arrest. She’s rekindled a bond with her son and is forming a relationship with her grandchildren. She’s still confronted by guilt but is moving on with the freedom of a fresh start.

She doesn’t feel like an ex-prostitute.

“I feel like I have wings now,” Harvey said. “It’s shameful but I’m no longer caught up in the shame of it. I’m caught up in the success of making it out again. I have a chance at life again, even at 60 years old.”