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MOYA'S STORY

  Moya only showed up on the block for short stints, in between long stretches of prison time. I first met her at the beginning of one of her regular cycles; getting high, getting busted, getting locked up. After her arrests, Moya would be given a psychological evaluation (bipolar disorder) and the option of a 2-year treatment-program sentence with a penalty of 4-8 years in prison if she failed to complete it. Her other option was being incarcerated for a year or more upstate. Not surprisingly, Moya always took the in-patient program but she never managed to stay clean. Something always happened, Each time Moya approached the final phase of her treatment, during which she was allowed to leave the facility, she would go back to the block and get high. Sometimes, Moya was in prison upstate for leaving a drug program; at other times, she spent months at Rikers after being arrested, waiting to get placed into yet another program that could accommodate her psychiatric disability. Moya spent 36 months in "treatment" before completing one 24-month program, only to get picked up for a parole violation and sentenced to repeat the entire process.

   Then there are the aliases. Moya always has a warrant out for her, stemming from some piece of time that either she or one of her aliases owes the state. Whenever Moya gets arrested on a drug charge she gives a phony name in an attempt to evade either the warrant squad or her parole officer. Each alias breeds its own criminal record, and at one point, Mary Watson, a fictitious character, owed more time than Moya herself. Then, of course, Mary Watson or Tarnia ( another favorite name of Moya's) would have to begin the process of satisfying the requirements of drug court to clear her record. One of the running jokes in the neighborhood is that Moya is serving a life sentence for parole violation.

   If, practically speaking, Moya lives in prison, her home away from home is the block. Like most of the women who get high in the neighborhood, the emotional support of her birth family and the boundaries between the home and the street have disintegrated; her most intimate moments are lived either within the rigid structure of the penal system or on the outside, where there are no rules at all. Moya gave birth to both her first and third child in jail; her second child was born in the hallway of Tata's apartment building. Moya was in prison when the aunt who had helped raise her died. When her father died, she was on Riker's; she called to ask me to take pictures at his funeral. She was out on parole, however, when she got word that her mother was in the hospital, and she left her post on the corner to visit. When she got there, her mother had already died. Moya immediately came back to the block to grieve, where sympathetic homies offered her condolences and dimes of crack. She left again only to attend the funeral, and then returned clutching her mother's mass card. Shortly afterward, Moya was back in prison, where a mandatory physical revealed her third pregnancy – a girl that she would name after her mother. Three years later, Moya would be brought to the funeral of her maternal grandmother in handcuffs. If incarceration and the streets offered her a life, Moya's childhood prepared her for it. Moya told me that the first time she ever smoked crack was with her mother when she was 12. Her stepfather would abuse her mother when the drugs ran out; soon Moya was dealing to support their habits. She was also repeatedly sexually abused by the men who came in and out of her life along with the drugs. But even her first willing sexual experience with a man didn't feel right to her. Men were the people who paid you for sex, but with women you could feel intimate. This was an advantage of prison: it was a female world. Each time Moya was incarcerated, she got a new girlfriend. More often than not, Moya remained inside after the women were released, and yet they often stuck by her--visiting, writing letters, sending money for commissary.

   Whenever Moya got out, she always showed up with a proper Sunday hairdo. Her cell-mates would have gotten together with rollers and hair grease to give her a charm-school send-off. But the vulnerability and strain of being female on the outside was always too much for her to handle. After a few days of using and dealing, she would have shaved her head again and the other hustlers on the corner would be calling her "son". The male version of Moya was always the one who went back to jail.