New City Trick

Judge Jim Sullivan has a different way of dealing with crack whores -- don't just jail them, treat them for their addiction

The four-hundred-plus women Sullivan sees are, on average, over the age of 31 and sexually abused drug addicts; some are mentally ill, dropouts with an eleventh-grade education and the mothers of two children. Some have HIV, and at least one study suggests that close to 30 percent of the women have hepatitis C, another deadly disease.

And no one resembles Julia Roberts.

Many are overweight, filthy from living on the streets, sick and desperate. They don't wear seductive garb; instead, these women sport dirty T-shirts and shorts or discarded clothing thrown away in alley Dumpsters.

If Major Roy Joachimstaler had his way, the names and addresses of johns would be published in the newspaper.
Jennifer Silverberg
If Major Roy Joachimstaler had his way, the names and addresses of johns would be published in the newspaper.
Tammy Curtner on Judge Sullivan: "He offers you everything you need to stay sober."
Tammy Curtner on Judge Sullivan: "He offers you everything you need to stay sober."

When they appear in his court, Sullivan lays out their choices:

One possibility is the "blue-light special," 45 days in jail -- half of the 90-day maximum sentence. The only thing the woman has to do is wait out the time behind bars.

The other choice is to accept the help Sullivan offers -- drug treatment and extensive counseling.

Sullivan, a former prosecutor and public defender, is pragmatic. This second option is no get-out-of-jail-free card.

"It takes a number of times for an individual to go through drug treatment programs. A 30-day drug-treatment program is good, but in and of itself, for a longtime user, I would not be so naïve to think it will be successful and the person will never use again," Sullivan says.

So he holds a great big club over the women's heads:

Screw up, and you'll do more time -- much more time -- than the blue-light special.

Sullivan owed that much to the neighborhoods.

And the women owed that much to themselves.

Tammy was one of the first women to take Sullivan up on his offer.

She had fifteen tickets: prostitution, street demonstration, even one for walking on the street instead of using the sidewalk.

Tammy took the help. But she also accepted the consequence; 90 days on all fifteen tickets, to run consecutively. It came out to 45 months. Slipping up meant she'd spend close to four years in jail.

Tammy messed up.

The first time, Sullivan let her sit in jail for about eight months before letting her out. The second time, she did about four months in the workhouse. The third time, she sat for another eight months.

On June 21, 2002, she was telling Sullivan she was ready to try again.

He relented and placed Tammy on probation. She was ordered to report to Mission Gate, a place for homeless women; to get outpatient drug treatment at Queen of Peace; and to attend a multitude of Narcotics Anonymous meetings.

But instead of following through on the treatment plan, Tammy slipped back onto the streets.

When Sullivan found out, he issued a bench warrant for her arrest. Several days later, after Tammy had already eluded a probation officer, Sullivan decided to drive by Tammy's haunt. He was returning from a community meeting when he spotted her. The judge summoned the police, but by the time they showed up, he'd already tackled Tammy.

Thirty years ago, prostitutes and johns gathered at Gaslight Square.

On hot summer nights, women lined the streets, openly advertising sex. Cars, sometimes bumper to bumper, snaked down Olive Street, drivers motioning for hookers to hop in.

But after the fatal shooting of a police officer, a few street sweeps and the introduction of crack, the concentrated strolls gave way to scattered pockets of prostitution.

Prostitutes work in neighborhood pockets throughout the city, as well as in a few St. Louis County municipalities.

They work all hours.

During the day, they're hard to spot.

At night, they're impossible to miss.

On a recent Thursday after 11 p.m., men wearing white sleeveless T-shirts sit in tiers on front steps of a house on Wyoming Street, about a block west of Jefferson Avenue. Some of the guys hold open cans of beer. A couple of women stand on either side of an open front door. Bodies spill out onto the walkway, cascade into the street. Men watch the cars that periodically crawl past.

A young man breaks from the crowd and approaches a slow-moving car, its windows down, the occupants strangers.

"Hey!" he shouts, a slight smile on his lips. He clearly wants their attention, and he wants them to stop.

Nearby, a man is passed out under a bench at a bus stop.

A guy standing in the bus shelter yells to a passing car: "Looking for some pussy?"

A woman in a silky nightshirt, robe and hospital scrub pants stands on Jefferson, a foot or so away from the parked cars, out in traffic. She, too, watches the cars go by.

Down the street, a woman's figure is illuminated by a humming streetlight. Minutes later, she's gone.

A middle-aged man driving a 2001 Dodge Grand Caravan also roams the streets -- Jefferson, Utah, Texas, Wyoming.

White police cruisers, gleaming against the inky darkness of night, haunt the same streets.

Everyone is playing a part.

There are crack dealers out, hoping to make a sale. But they're smart enough not to hold. That's the job of the seven- or eight-year-old standing nearby.

Women out on the street tell cops they're just outside to get relief from the heat. One woman clutches a videotape in her hand as her alibi -- she was about to walk down to a relative's house to return the movie, she says.

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