PATRICIA CHATMAN isn't sure where her path to prostitution started. There are so many tragedies she could blame.
Like the stepfather who molested her as a child and frequently showed up at her school drunk. Or her desperate decision to drop out in ninth grade and run away from her North Philadelphia home. Or the job she took at a bikini bar, where she started dancing at 16. She had her first taste of cocaine there - and first sold her body for sex there, too.
She can't forget, though, where prostitution took her: the streets of North Philadelphia and Washington, D.C., where her pimps brutally beat her, and Phoenix, where a customer and his friend kidnapped her, held her in a basement for four days and took turns raping her until she fled when she realized she'd been momentarily left alone.
She never reported any of her troubles to police, she said, because "I don't talk to cops."
To many, such things sound ripped from a Quentin Tarantino movie. But they are exhaustingly familiar to the women participating in Kathleen Brown and Michelle Simmons' Breaking the Cycle program at Why Not Prosper? Most tell variations of the same story, with common threads of drug addiction, homelessness, physical and sexual abuse, and frequent arrests.
But they have different reasons for deciding they're done with their dangerous profession.
"If nothing don't change, nothing changes," said Artech Jones, 38, of North Philadelphia, who says she serviced as many as 100 men on a busy day where she used to trick on Frankford Avenue under the El. "I want change. I'm tired of standing on the corner. My soul is tired of doing the same thing and expecting different results."
Chatman joined the program late last month.
"I decided I just couldn't hurt my mom anymore," said Chatman, who just turned 23. "I could see the look in her eyes."
Simmons visited her at the Riverside Correctional Facility, where she was jailed on a probation violation, and invited her to join Breaking the Cycle.
"I feel as though God is working through me in mysterious ways: He put Michelle in my life," Chatman said. "I was at a point where I really didn't think anyone would help me."