New York, NY —Earlier, I a mentioned a prostitute I called Latosha we had celebrated her 100th criminal conviction the night before the night before Christmas. When we left her, she had just pled guilty to possession of a controlled substance, and prostitution, promising Judge Arthur Birnbaum, that she would come in the next day and meet with a social worker. I've been through these promises many many times, and the truth is, I had my doubts about whether I'd ever see Latosha again.
But when I returned from court the next afternoon I was surprised to see her, waiting in our reception area. She had been waiting for me for nearly three hours. "You surprised to see me" she said nodding like she knew it was so her face twisted into a crooked smile. "Yup" I said giving her a little hug, "But I'm really glad you came wait here"
Upstairs the social worker on call had some disturbing news: "I already spoke to her and she says she doesn't need a social worker" "Trust me" I said "She'll be needing one in about five minutes"...
About three minutes later, Latosha was perched on the chair in my office, looking at me with a slightly standoffish scowl. "Sweetheart, do you even know what a social worker does?" I asked her "Yes" she said understandably annoyed at the tone of my question. "Ok What" I challenged her. "She like you like talk to her about your problems but I'm good. I ain't got no problems" Latosha said clearly believing the statement.
"Sweetie" I said, "last time I checked, you've gotten arrested 100 times, and you spend your time giving blowjobs for heroin. I just don't believe that that's making you happy" For a moment, her face betrayed a sadness of almost unfathomable depth. "I don't need no social worker" she said resolutely.
"Latosha" I tried again. "You never have to talk to her about your feelings if you don't want to, but you can talk to her about what you want--It's like this" I fixed her with a hard stare, eyebrows slightly raised: "What do you want right now?" "Food" she said testing me, "I'm hungry." "Ok" Hold on I told her.
There wasn't much food around, but a few offices down, a colleague who had brought her kids in for the day had ordered some pizza. The kids hadn't finished their slices, and so, cutting off the gnawed at parts I returned to my office. "Cheese or mushroom?" I asked her, awkwardly holding out the oddly shapes slice remnants "Both?" She asked a slightly pleading tone creeping into her voice. "I really am hungry" Both it is I told her.
Smiling now as she dug into the pizza, I pressed the advantage. "Ok, sweetie, tell true, if you could change one thing about your life, what would it be?" There was a pause, but whether from contemplation or mastication, I'm not entirely sure.
"Drugs" she said definitively. And then again, but softer this time. "Drugs".
"So why don't we get you into a drug program?" "You could do that?" She asked me. "Really?" "Sure" I told her "But I got no Medicaid" She said skeptically, "So we'll get you Medicaid, it might take us a month or so, but Latosha..." I paused for effect. "That's why we have social workers" "Yeah?" She asked amazed. "Yeah" I said definitively. "Don't you think it's time we brought one in?"
"I don't gotta talk about my problems?" She asked me. "No sweetie. You just gotta tell her how you want to change your life, and let her help you do that."
"Cool" she said, actually clapping her hands with excitement.
Minutes later, still perched in the chair, Latosha and one of our social workers were deep into the intricacies of Medicaid applications, program requirements, and making the transition from heroin to methadone. Latosha seemed downright radiant. "And so, then if I get the methadone, and then the Medicaid comes through, Then all I gotta do is stay outta trouble for a year and then we can tell the judge right?" she asked "That's right" I told her. "That'll be the first year in long time" she grinned shaking her head in wonderment at the idea that she might be able to avoid arrest for an entire year.
"But Sweetie..." I said, feeling the need to make this one last point "How long is our little project here?"
Narrowing her eyes slightly, and nodding her head as if knowing she had the right answer, she looked up at me stoically
"Forever" she smiled.