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First in a three-part series. Nashville, Tenn. But it thrives there just as in any other major American city. It's also trying to break the cycle of prostitution, and often that begins with an arrest.
One afternoon in February when the vice squad went out on an undercover detail looking for prostitutes, it almost immediately found Brittany Messina. Messina is a year-old prostitute. She's been arrested four times for prostitution in five years; she has a boyfriend who may be a pimp; and she's a drug addict. The police found her on a relentlessly forlorn stretch of Dickerson Pike, home to low-slung motels, bail bond joints and payday loan storefronts. And it's the strip where prostitutes can easily be found walking.
But there is something that she wanted first: crack cocaine. It bumped this sting up a notch, particularly since the drug deal ended up going down near an elementary school. Messina is the mother of a 4-year-old daughter. Pretty, with long flowing red hair, Messina has a delicate, narrow face, but the half-moon shadows under her eyes give away her addiction.
As the bust unfolded, it seemed somewhat routine for Messina. But then, under the weight of felony drug charges, she seemed to grow desperate, and her alarm was evident. She tried to bargain with police and ended up ratting out her best friend, the suspected drug dealer.
I have never met a women coming off the streets of Nashville, Tenn. When the police started asking follow-up questions, she asked fiercely: "Will this benefit me? But she was going to jail, and she admitted to the police she's not ready to leave this life.