Classwork: Read the story on the left, and answer the questions on the right.
I Ran a Crack House
A True Story by Angel Coombs
Angel isn't my real name. It was a nickname given to me by some of the girls when we worked on the streets together. I liked it and had the name tattooed on my back. When I started to mix with armed crack dealers, I didn't want them to know who I really was, so Angel stuck.
I hadn't planned to become addicted to heroin and crack, nor to get involved in prostitution, and I never expected to find myself running one of London's busiest crack houses, but the drugs and the sex work, and the alternative society that is the inside of a crack house, are all so tightly bound up that once you lose your footing, it's easy to tumble further into the darkness than you'd imagine possible.
I have always had a strong entrepreneurial streak. My father is a convicted murderer whom I've never met because my mother left him before I was born. She was a hippy and I spent my childhood moving across Europe with her and her friends, living in squats and tents. I had my first magic mushroom trip at seven, a comforting experience full of unicorns and other images from children's fairytales. When I was 14, I joined the cool kids at school who ruled the toilets, selling cannabis to those not daring enough to approach the real dealers. It was my first business venture. When I wasn't selling the stuff, I was skipping school to go and smoke it at the homes of dealers more mature and experienced than I was. I left school at 15, having become expert at dodging teachers and able to roll particularly fine joints.
I became pregnant at 16 by a much older boyfriend. He was violent and I escaped to London hidden in the car of a couple of friends. Once in the capital, I craved excitement, probably to anaesthetise myself against the recent violence and the sense of unbelonging that had dragged me down throughout my childhood. I became involved in the club scene and an even more violent relationship. Again, my son and I managed to escape, this time climbing down a drainpipe. More traumatised and more desperate to numb the pain, I slid into prostitution and began using crack. I didn't really mind having sex with strangers - at least I was getting money out of it, instead of the beatings I'd experienced in my relationships.
I was simultaneously drawn to and revolted by the crack house lifestyle. Crack houses are male places, run by men with guns, guarded by men and frequented mostly by men. But a Mr Big of the crack world we called K decided that I could run his crack house more reliably than some of the male dealers he had recruited who smoked too much of the crack they were supposed to be selling, fell asleep on the job or made off with too much of the profits.
I took pride in my work, kept my crack house clean, unlike the vast majority of these establishments, and imposed some kind of order on the place. Installing a woman as top dog in a crack house is almost unheard of, but I succeeded.
My tenure lasted several months. As was typical in crack houses, one dealer moved in violently to take over from another, and I became surplus to requirements. As my life spiraled further and further towards chaos, I was no longer able to care for my son and a daughter I had from a subsequent relationship. I surrendered them to my daughter's family and devoted myself to the round-the-clock miseries of addiction, prostitution and desperation.
But in the end it was my children who pulled me out of the black hole. I knew I had failed them terribly, and all I wanted was to be a good mother to them and to lead the sort of normal life I had dreamed of as a child. I started seeing them regularly, and the more I got involved in the sane, ordered life they were leading, the more guilt I felt about my own. I started to have counseling and on April 2, 2011 I stopped using drugs, stopped selling sex. I no longer cross the threshold of crack houses. I am rebuilding my relationship with my children, and since February I have had the thrill of a real job with a desk and extension number all to myself.
The desk and extension number belong to a church-based charity that helps disadvantaged people, including women involved in prostitution. My son is 15, my daughter is eight and I'm 32. I've reached "normal" by a long and tortured route, but I've arrived and I'm overjoyed.
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