HOUSTON (AP) — Tricia Chambers began her life heavily dependent on heroin and methadone. From there, she was peddled into child pornography, and by 9 she had a full-fledged career in prostitution, alongside her mother.
Now 42, Chambers is getting what she believes to be her first real chance — in a downtown Houston cellblock.
There, in stark contrast to Chambers and the other orange-clad inmates, is Kathryn Griffin Grinan — a former prostitute who now dons a business suit and heels as she transforms her nonprofit, We’ve Been There Done That, into a taxpayer-funded program that is teaming up with law enforcement and the court system to reform these women.
“You can be healed from this. You just got to be ready and want to,” Griffin said, recalling how she went from being a college student to the lowest of street walkers. “We just prostitutes … nobody cares about us. Well, because I was there and I felt that same way and I broke it, I knew that I could share it and break it in others.”
The program has been so successful that Texas this session passed into law a bill that requires other large cities to create their own.
Adopted at birth, Griffin had a 28-year-old boyfriend at age 14. Two years later, she found herself among the youngest in a Houston college, racing to keep up with the drugs, alcohol and sex. In 1983, she joined funk singer Rick James’ drug-infused “Cold Blooded” tour, developing a $30,000-a-month cocaine habit.
When the tour ended and the drugs disappeared, Griffin turned to prostitution — from call girl to mistress and finally to doped-up street hooker — to pay for the habit. After entering and failing nearly two dozen drug rehab programs, Griffin got clean 10 years ago through Houston’s drug court. From that she learned what worked, and understood what didn’t, and she tailor made a curriculum for prostitutes.
“There are those who have secrets,” Griffin explained. “They just hold on to it, and it keeps making them sicker and sicker and sicker and sicker, and I go in and I’m like the Colonix. I go in and go deep and clean it out.”
Houston, Dallas and several other Texas cities began changing how they treated prostitutes after the state Supreme Court ruled in 2010 that girls 14 and under could not be prosecuted for prostitution. The ruling has been a game changer, for juveniles and adults.
Dallas and Houston are among the cities nationwide that have set up special courts to deal with child prostitutes by putting them in recovery programs. Many, they found, had been victims of sexual or physical abuse. Some were born to mothers who were drug addicts and prostitutes themselves. Others were sold to a pimp, sometimes in exchange for a box of cigarettes.
In Houston, the court, called GIRLS or Growing Independence and Restoring Lives, was loosely modeled after other specialty courts, such as the drug court that has successfully reformed 80 percent of the nearly 400 people who have graduated since it started in 2003, including Griffin.
In September, Harris County law enforcement focused on adults, teaming with Griffin. Judges began in January sentencing women with numerous misdemeanor prostitution convictions to her program.