We talked for over an hour about the significance of the case. "Black women need to be held accountable for their actions," she said. She preached about the need for African-American women to reject stripping as a legitimate profession. We shared some notes on life in Durham versus her backyard--Baltimore. Our conversation came to a close with a challenge. "You need to talk to a stripper," she said.
That's the one thing people in Durham fight hard not to talk about. A few days after my conversation with Garrett, I listened as Tom Joyner made an interesting point during his nationally syndicated radio show. "All across the country people are saying 'She's a stripper,' but not in Durham," Joyner said. Others are willing to engage in a dialogue involving the profession of the alleged victim. People in Durham protect her. Even the most conservative ministers are calling for justice void of mentioning the ethics of her vocation.
I decided to take Garrett up on her challenge. I found a stripper on the same day the grand jury ruled to indict members of the lacrosse team. "Please don't use my name," she began.
"Can I use your stage name?" I asked.
"I'd rather you not," she responded. "I'm well known in the city, and if you give my name people will know it's me." She mentioned some of her clients were police officers and attorneys.
I asked her to pick a name to be used. I was more interested in getting some insight than bickering over a name. "Call me Sky," she said.
I asked for some basic background information. She's 30 years old, and stopped stripping when she was 27 years old. She started when she was only 18. "I needed money," she said. "I moved out of my mom's house. I was working at the Footlocker. I would go out to the clubs. A guy approached me and asked if I was interested."
She started working at a club called Foxy Lady. She did bachelor parties and worked for the 14K (a former club on the corner of Alston Avenue and Juniper Street). "I got pregnant with my first child and stopped working for a while. Then I went back to work," she said. "I was at Brothers III for eight years. I helped make the club." The former club on Angier Avenue was closed after a number of incidents that caught the attention of the police and city leaders.
Sky has two children. She met both of her baby's fathers while stripping and is married to the father of her youngest child. "I'm married, have a nice job and my own home," she said. "That's my past."
"When I started at 18 we gave a man a fantasy," she said. "Now it's whatever. To me it's not the same." I asked what she meant by whatever. "Whatever you want. You can have whatever, but that's extra."
"During a weekend you can make between $700-$1,200, depending on your clientele," she said. "You can make that kind of money if you're well known. You're not gonna make that if you're new. It's like being a barber or hairstylist; you have to build your clientele."
She said it took her time to build a reputation. People would get her card and call regarding a party. She was paid a base rate of $150 for a party plus tips. The $150 guaranteed her services for one hour. "Once they stopped tipping we would leave," she said.
"There was no way you would know them or what they were about," she said of the men at the parties. "It's the chance any woman takes when you do a party."
"I personally never had a problem," she said. I've heard of girls being raped, robbed and beaten. Grandma prayed for me all the time. I was riding on God's grace."
I asked if women reported crimes that took place while stripping. "Who they gonna tell?" she asked. "First of all, stripping in North Carolina is not supposed to be done nude." I asked if there are some cases where women go nude. "In every case they go nude," she responded.
"The extras are not done by everyone," she said. "If I'm not one who does that, they would say bring a girl who did. They would do what they do. That's it. We meet at the place and leave together. We knew what each other is about."
Sky said she decided to get out of the business because things were changing. "The money I used to make wasn't making it any more," she said. "If you have a girl who offers everything, what's a lap dance gonna do for you?"
"I stopped when I got engaged," she said. "I got tired. I was pushing 10-11 years doing this and there wasn't much accomplished."
Sky said she has some advice for anyone wanting to get into the business. "I discourage them," she said. "Guys are much meaner now. They have the mindset that if you come over to do that, you should do what they want you to do. They think since they pay the money you should do what they want."
"I carried a gun with me," she said. "I didn't trust anyone. You're not gonna take anything from me if I didn't give it to you. It's so easy to get a female who's a dancer to come to your house. If you get there and you're not prepared for what is going down, you'll get hurt."
I asked her about the benefits of using an escort service. "That's crazy," she said. "You get $150 for a date and you give them half of your money."
Having a child made her take being safe more seriously. "That's why I had a gun. Because I had to get back to her," she said. She was surprised that the alleged victim didn't receive protection from the escort service.
She fell in love with her husband while dancing. "He took the time to meet me," she said. "A lot of men wanted to be with the dancer and not who I really was. There was more to me than being a dancer."
"You decided to be a writer and you still have who you are," she said, using me as an example. "I was a dancer but I was always who I am. I know many girls who are dancers. They have families. They do homework with their kids. When we go out we're not dressed in hooker gear. Like everybody else, that's our job."
There are a number of lessons we can learn from Sky. The first is the business of stripping has changed over the years. Those who do it put themselves in harm's way, and are well advised to consider another way to make a living. The money is good, but there are far too many examples of women who are taken advantage of because the work is outside the law.
More important than those lessons is the one that touched me the most. These are real people. Many have children. They love their children; they desire the same things most of us seek. They provide an illusion for men who want an escape from the mundane. Stripping is not who they are, it's what they do.
Sky's past is stripping. The lesson learned is stripping never fully defined her.