It was an average Thursday night in Fort Worth when I had the opportunity to participate in a ride-along with a Fort Worth Police Officer. We journeyed down Berry Street across I-35 to some of the most impoverished areas of the city.
Four students squeezed in Jimmy’s white pick-up truck and left the yellow TCU brick behind and entered into the South Riverside neighborhood.
|Driving directions from TCU to the South Riverside neighborhood|
Our first stop was to a self-service car wash. We pulled into the lot of All American Car Wash and for 9:15pm on a Thursday it was surprisingly busy. Jimmy explained to us that the majority of people there were there to buy or sell drugs. My eyes probably got to be the size of baseballs when he said that because I was simply in shock that something like that was happening so close, but literally out in the open. Jimmy explained as we were pulling up that typically two to four people run the show – selling crack and weed among other drugs. As we turned the corner we see two cars, three people – one was the dealer and the other two were the holders. The timing could not have been more perfect as we got to witness a transaction take place.
|All American Car Wash on Berry Street|
Our next few stops was to a series of motels in the area. The white pick-up truck backed into a parking spot next to a beat up blue car and Jimmy honked. Moments later five girls popped their heads out of various motel doors. My mouth dropped to the floor. What I had just seen with my own eyes, 10 minutes away from TCU, looked exactly like what you see in movies with a scene depicting street prostitution. A girl started walking toward the car and asked what we wanted. Jimmy made up a story about looking for a guy just so he could speak with the woman who approached us. She was visibly a drug user – clothes were dirty, makeup was smeared and teeth and hair didn’t look healthy. Soon, another woman came out and started raising her voice and Jimmy decided that was our hint to leave. As we pulled out of the parking lot he explained that we were parked in a spot that “wasn’t ours.” From the reaction of the second woman who came out of the room Jimmy concluded that we were parked in her pimp’s spot that he designated for customers and that was a territorial threat to him. It was interesting to see this woman’s pimp standing in the doorway, clearly unhappy, but refusing to come out and show his face. Instead, he sent this woman out to fight his battles for him.
|Ace Motel was one of three motels we observed|
With Jimmy’s experience as an undercover officer and as a current member of the Fort Worth Police Department I never felt unsafe during the ride-along, but I felt a slight uneasiness. This feeling wasn’t even because we were driving through “unsafe” neighborhoods; it was because I was genuinely shocked at the sight of street prostitution happening only 10 minutes away from my comfort zone.
As we continued to drive around the neighborhood, myself and the other girls in the car were surprised to learn that a “half and half” (a term used to describe oral sex and sex) has a starting cost of $20. Not only this, but on average women have six to ten clients each day during the week and serve 15-20 johns (a common term to describe men who buy sex) during the weekend. The life I saw these women living was an ugly one.
During our drive back toward the perfectly manicured lawns of TCU Jimmy told us stories from his time undercover. Unsure of what questions to ask or how to respond I stayed quiet. Despite the few words that escaped my lips, for the next hour or so my mind raced. All I could think about were the women standing on street corners 10 minutes away selling their bodies, drugs and anything else they could to please their pimp and the girls in the motel rooms getting high waiting for men to show up and buy sex from them. Thinking about it made my stomach hurt.
|Image of girl talking to a potential john (source: Google)|
Come Monday, nearly 5 days later, myself and my peers sat in Dr. Bouché’s class sharing our experiences during the ride-along and I quickly realized that my experience was not unusual. My group was the last of three groups to accompany Jimmy through South Riverside on Thursday night and as I sat in my chair on Monday I realized my experience was nearly identical to that of my peers. I quickly realized there was nothing unique about my experience and that is when my stomach started to ache again. Every Monday for nearly three hours we sit in class and learn about human trafficking, but never in my life have I witnessed it. On Thursday I sat helpless in a car watching these women struggle and hurt. That was the most challenging part of this experience was feeling powerless and knowing I couldn’t get out of the car to save these women from the ugly life I saw them trapped in. I feel called by the Lord to serve these women and after Thursday all I could do was pray fiercely for each of the women I saw and all of the ones I didn’t.
“For I am the LORD your God who takes hold of your right hand and says to you, Do not fear; I will help you.” – Isaiah 40:12