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A Way Out

"A Way Out" Continued...

Issue: "The audacity of real change," Aug. 23, 2008

It's a hard lifestyle to leave. Bonnie Brown came to the program just three weeks ago. A volunteer known as "Big Dog" who roves the streets looking for girls to rescue, brought her in. "I never had anyone genuinely tell me I was beautiful. They always wanted something in return," Brown said, barely able to sit still, her lips blistered and cracking. She has an associate's degree but lost custody of her children. Last month she was living behind a Texaco station, turning tricks for crack and blow-drying her hair with the washroom's hand dryer. She relapsed last weekend but came back a day later: "It is hard for me to believe that someone cares for me this much."

But Brown must also show she is committed to the program. "It always bothers you [to turn some away]," Wiley said, "but I can't be their enabler if I'm going to love them like Christ does." She treats relapses like Brown's on an individual basis.

George Kuykendall is a former helicopter pilot whose bear-like frame would barely fit in a cockpit now. A father of three girls, he's also executive director of A Way Out's parent organization, Citizens for Community Values. He and Wiley took WORLD for a tour of Memphis' sex trade, pointing out strip clubs and "ho tracks," blocks of dirty streets lined with cheap restaurants and dilapidated office buildings where prostitutes sell themselves. One club peaks at 3 a.m. when FedEx, the heart of Memphis' economy, lets out its night shift.

"What Carol's doing is the first thing they have seen that's making a difference and getting these women off the street," he said. "They" are the police, who now refer clients to the program and work with Kuykendall to stop the problem where it starts: in the clubs. "Memphis has been the rape capital of the country for several years," he said, "and that's a byproduct of the other things that go on."

For the last nine years Kuykendall has campaigned successfully for various city ordinances designed to curtail the clubs; now laws limit operating hours, ban alcohol sales, and keep strippers at least six feet from patrons. They seem to be working. When Kuykendall came to Memphis there were 13 strip joints; now there are nine. Sometimes he visits the remnants of the city's former No. 1 club, Platinum Plus, the site of his greatest regulatory achievement. Chains bar its doors and the only thing that's naked is the parking lot.

Kuykendall drove on and the club, about 20 miles from Graceland, faded in the mirrors. Wiley peered out the window of the SUV, scanning the sidewalks for prostitutes and hoping to give them a small care package of tissues, lipstick, lotion, and some information about A Way Out. "We find them dancing in the dark," she said, "and we want them living in the light."

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