Amy B. Smoyer, PhD

Incarcerated Lives, Health & Social Work

Boycott the New Haven Register

Today, I transcribed two interviews and read the New Haven Register to learn about the outcome of our city's electoral primaries. As it turns out, that was not such a great combination.

These two interviews began, as most of them do, with me asking the study participant to describe her life at the time of her most recent arrest.  The point is to have each woman start at the beginning and tell the story of her incarceration through a food lens.  Had you been eating regularly at the time of your arrest?  Describe the food that was given to you while you were in police lock up.  Tell me about what you would eat on a typical day in prison.  With whom?  Where?  etc.

One of the common threads that runs through nearly all of these stories is the utter chaos that proceeds their arrests.  It's not like the women happen to get busted for lifting some eyeliner from Walgreens.  These are women who have struggled against almost every imaginable demon for a very long time and spin, spin, spin, until they slam into the criminal justice system.  At the time of their arrests, most (not all) of the women were homeless, on the streets and spending every minute and every single resource at their disposal to get drugs.  Shoplifting, burglarizing their mother's home, selling drugs, trading sex for drugs and money, you name it.

So, let's talk about the sex work part.

As you can imagine, there are a lot of reasons why people sell sex for money.  For the women in this study, the decision to sell sex appears to be a move of desperation fueled by their addiction and poverty.  This is not Julia Robert's Vivian who fixes her hair and puts on the high boots for a night on the town while working towards her Hollywood dream.  This is not the Lewis & Clark Women's Studies major who harnesses the power of her vagina to undermine patriarchy.  This is not the unionized brothel worker in Calcutta who has chosen the job most likely to support her family.  These are exhausted, sick women who are performing oral sex in cars and abandoned buildings for $10 because it will all be better with one more fix.

Sex work is illegal in the US.  So is shoplifting, burglarizing your mother's home and selling drugs.  However, sex work is apparently the only misdemeanor crime for which the New Haven Register chooses to publish photos of the offenders. Here is a list of some of the incidents that were reported (and I use that word loosely) in the "Crime" section of the Elm City daily today:  car crash injures three, man arrested for hit-and-run involving a bicyclist, people arrested for stealing from Walmart, breaking into a house, trying to snatch a purse, crack recovered in drug raid, man charged with sexual abuse of a child.  You get the idea.

The only crime "article" with pictures was this one:  Seven Arrested in New Haven Prostitution Sting. (Why the police are running prostitution stings when there are people breaking into houses and abusing children is a whole other can of worms.)  I think it is unnecessarily, unethical and downright mean for the Register to publish these photos.  What is the point?  Is this a public service announcement?  "Do not offer to trade sex for money with these individuals because they might agree."  Good to know.  Personally, if they are posting mug shots, I'd prefer to see what the house burglar and child abuser look like.

So these are the photos that the Register deems newsworthy.  OK.  Go ahead and click on the link above, if you haven't already.  Look at the photos and see what you can see.  This is what chaos looks like: spin, spin, spin.

To go along with the photos, here is a quote from one of the interviews I transcribed today:

"I was like kind of excited [to go to prison].  To take a shower, to meet the other girls, to go to sleep, to be safe somewhere, to stop running."

Perhaps my reaction to the Register's editorial choices is misguided. Maybe they got consent to publish these photos from the 7 individuals and their intent is to raise awareness in the community about the unmet needs of low-income and drug-addicted people living in our city.  If so, bravo.  But if this is a misguided attempt to try to humiliate the humiliated into recovery by publicizing their chaos then shame on you.  I can get my election results from the New Haven Independent.