One night, Lucilia went to the store, where a guy asked if she wanted him to pay for her. She said sure. Then he said he was a pimp and she’d just gotten a charge. She bolted out of the store and ran back to the house, terrified. The pimp from the store called Romeo and said he had to give her up or pay a $5,000 fine, but Romeo refused. “Well, if I see your bitch on the street,” the other pimp said, “I’m-a just snatch her and beat the shit out of her and then make her go make my money.” And that’s what he tried to do. One night, he jumped out with a bunch of other pimps and tried to pimp-arrest her. “I ran,” Lucilia says. “I ran so fast I was like a mile away already.” She ducked into a building where she knew some teenage guys who sometimes came to the house to smoke weed or buy sex. “I was like, ‘Yo, call my daddy for me,’ and they knew who my daddy was. Romeo came and got me in the car, and he’s like, ‘Oh, my God, this is why I made you my bottom bitch, ’cause you know how to follow all the rules!’” A week later, she was arrested on the track at Pennsylvania Avenue. She did what Romeo had trained her to do: She told the cops that her name was Sharlene Brown and that she was 16—ensuring that she would be sent to Rikers and processed as an adult. She was back out in a week.
On Memorial Day weekend, Romeo and another pimp, Sticky, who had moved in with them, decided to bring the girls to Atlantic City for a week or so to make some big cash. The morning of their return home, they stopped for breakfast, and Lucilia got sick from something she ate. The pain was so sharp by the time they got on the bus that she cried and vomited all the way to Manhattan, with Romeo shouting at her to shut up. The police were called and met them at the Port Authority Terminal. They arrested Lucilia, but Romeo got away.
The arrest was on June 10, 2004. This time, Lucilia admitted that she was 13. She was locked up behind razor wire in Bridges, a juvenile jail up in the Bronx. She was issued a blue jumpsuit and assigned a number. Her case was prosecuted over the summer. She was transported to and from Family Court in handcuffs and leg shackles.
Sergeant Sue McConnell, the commanding officer of the NYPD’s Juvenile Crime Squads in Brooklyn and Queens, met with Lucilia and asked her to help build a case against Romeo and Sticky. Despite the risk to herself as a state’s witness, Lucilia cooperated, and Romeo’s arrest was announced with great fanfare on August 23 by the Queens D.A.’s office. (He and Sticky pleaded guilty and got two-to-six years and three-to-six years, respectively, in state prison.) Then it was Lucilia’s turn to be sentenced. “We’re locking up girls,” says Rachel Lloyd, the founder of GEMS (Girls Educational and Mentoring Services) a nonprofit in Harlem led by survivors of the sex trade, “for things that have been done to them.”
On August 24, Lucilia’s 14th birthday, right after she testified against Romeo and Sticky to the grand jury, she was sent upstate for a year to Edwin Gould, a juvenile-detention facility. Soon after Lucilia arrived, she was hospitalized and put on psychotropic medication. “I started suffering depression,” she says. “Nobody wanted to be involved with me. I had counseling, but the counseling didn’t help. You haven’t been through what I’ve been through, so don’t say you understand me and you understand how I feel, because you don’t know how it feels.”
In the summer of 2005, after Lucilia had done her time, she was moved to Leake & Watts, another state juvenile facility, in Yonkers. She could have been released if there were somewhere for her to go. There wasn’t. The state was prepared to keep her in the system another three years, until she was 18. Instead, on May 17, 2006, she went AWOL.
Lucilia didn’t run back to the streets. She showed up at her mother’s door. But she got into a fight with her mother’s boyfriend, who screamed at her, “You just came out of prostitution, you a little whore, a little slut!” Her mother told her she had to leave. She stayed with friends and got a job bagging groceries, saving up to get to Virginia, beyond the reach of the state warrant that had been issued after she went AWOL. The same week in December that she left for Virginia, Lucilia’s mother got a subpoena to come to court and give up any information she had about her daughter’s whereabouts. The day after Christmas, Lucilia got a call from her half-brother, who told her that her mother was sick in Kings County Hospital. She got on a bus and went back to New York. She bought presents and balloons and a get-well card and met him across the street from the hospital. It was a setup. The cops were there, too.