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cover story

A Way Out
Rescuing women
from prostitution,
strip joints, and drugs
by jonathon seidl in Memphis, Tenn.

Warning: Contains sexual content

t 14 Megan Kane ran away


from home; at 15 she was a mother.
At 19 she came to Memphis, Tenn., and
began stripping at Platinum Plus, a club
known for its live lesbian sex shows and
rampant drug culture. There she found
the attention and the money intoxicating. She made $300 the first night and
wondered, Why have I been struggling? Soon she was making $1,300 on
a good night, and with the cash came a
raging methamphetamine addiction.
At first Kane took meth to stay thin,
but eventually she was downing a
concoction of prescription stimulants
and caffeine to get her out of bed every
morning, followed by a bowl of crystal
meth. Her appetite disappeared. I was
completely empty, she recalled.
Nothing left inside of me.
Two years ago she faced felony drug
possession charges and serious jail
timeand that meant she could lose her
daughter, Taylor.
Then she saw a news story for a
recovery program called A Way Out. A
year and a half later, Kane, now 29, has
graduated from the programs new
16-week outpatient program (IOP). She
received three years of probation after
the charges were reduced and she never
lost custody of Taylor, now 15. The life
has returned to Kanes blue eyes and
shes studying nursing at the University
of Memphis. The important thing, she
said, is where shes going, not where
shes been. She wants to become a
medical missionary and help refugees:
Sign me up for a hut.
Since 1992 A Way Out has been
rescuing women from Memphis prostitution, stripping, and drug culture. The
IOP, added this year, consists of 15
classes (which the women attend four
days a week) dealing with problems
such as sexual addiction, depression,
and boundaries. These womens spirits
are broken and their souls are damaged,
and they need time to heal, said director
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Megan Kane (right)


with her mentor

Carol Wiley, an elderly former counselor with a sweet Southern accent. (A


Way Out has been a finalist in the
Samaritan Awards program two years
runningand is now going for the
grand prize again with a focus on its
outpatient program.)
When Wiley first came, A Way Out
was a fledgling, sometimes disorganized
service. Now the ministry requires a
rigorous entrance interview before
giving the women clothing, counseling,
financial assistance, job training, and,
among other things, a Bible. Clients sign
a lifestyle contract and are on probation
for the first 60 days. While the program
works with the women for up to five
years, most graduate after two.
According to Wiley, out of 248 women
helped, only seven have ever returned
to the industry after completing the
program.
A recent Tuesday Bible study started
with a meal at 6 p.m.: a mound of pulled
pork with two bottles of barbecue sauce
on either side. The smell of Southern
baked beans drifted through the room. At
6:30 volunteer Karen Andrews, a petite
woman with a Miss America smile,
began the nights study on Genesis.
After the women pulled out their
homework, Connie Reed, who has
attended for five months, recalled a
recent epiphany: I blamed God for
things because all I knew about Him
was that He was all powerful. I didnt
know we lived in a fallen world, you

know what I mean? The other women


nodded.
A Way Out teaches that Jesus is
essential to recovery. I had recovery
before, but it didnt last. So theres no
doubt about it, you got to have Christ,
said Reed, an IOP graduate who joined
the program after a near-fatal car
accident and her sons suicide. She now
lives in one of the programs safe
houses, nestled in a small neighborhood
just south of I-40. Instead of doing
drugs, she grows tomatoes.
Across the table, Hope Stansell,
about 5-foot-4 with side-swept bangs
and a toothpick frame, told the circle
that she wants to understand and dig
into spiritual warfare. Shes also
hoping for a job after recently graduating from cosmetology school. Near the
end of the study, Wiley reminded them
that God created us for such a time as
this, and Andrews assured them that
no one is a mistake.
Mentors are a key part of the
program. Pairings last as long as the
women are enrolled, and mentors have
daily contact with their mentees and
access to the womens counselors. Kay
Montague has mentored Stansell for
over two years and volunteered with A
Way Out for 11: Theyre pretty real and
honest. Mentoring is fun and rewarding, she said, but it can also be emotionally draining. Its more like being a
parent sometimes than it is a friend.
Many of the girls operate from the

mindset of a teenager, because thats


what they were when they entered their
destructive lifestyle.
Its a hard lifestyle to leave. Bonnie
Brown came to the program just three
weeks ago. A volunteer known as Big
Dog who roves the streets looking for
girls to rescue, brought her in. I never
had anyone genuinely tell me I was
beautiful. They always wanted something in return, Brown said, barely
able to sit still, her lips blistered and
cracking. She has an associates degree
but lost custody of her children. Last
month she was living behind a Texaco
station, turning tricks for crack and
blow-drying her hair with the washrooms hand dryer. She relapsed last
weekend but came back a day later: It
is hard for me to believe that someone
cares for me this much.
But Brown must also show she is
committed to the program. It always
bothers you [to turn some away],
Wiley said, but I cant be their enabler
if Im going to love them like Christ
does. She treats relapses like Browns
on an individual basis.
George Kuykendall is a former
helicopter pilot whose bear-like frame
would barely fit in a cockpit now. A

father of three girls, hes also executive


director of A Way Outs parent organization, Citizens for Community Values.
He and Wiley took WORLD for a tour
of Memphis sex trade, pointing out
strip clubs and ho tracks, blocks of

wall of fame: Pictures of A Way Out


women and their mentors.

dirty streets lined with cheap restaurants and dilapidated office buildings
where prostitutes sell themselves. One
club peaks at 3 a.m. when FedEx, the
heart of Memphis economy, lets out its
night shift.
What Carols doing is the first thing
they have seen thats making a difference and getting these women off the
street, he said. They are the police,

who now refer clients to the program


and work with Kuykendall to stop the
problem where it starts: in the clubs.
Memphis has been the rape capital of
the country for several years, he said,
and thats a byproduct of the other
things that go on.
For the last nine years Kuykendall
has campaigned successfully for various
city ordinances designed to curtail the
clubs; now laws limit operating hours,
ban alcohol sales, and keep strippers at
least six feet from patrons. They seem to
be working. When Kuykendall came to
Memphis there were 13 strip joints; now
there are nine. Sometimes he visits the
remnants of the citys former No. 1 club,
Platinum Plus, the site of his greatest
regulatory achievement. Chains bar its
doors and the only thing thats naked is
the parking lot.
Kuykendall drove on and the club,
about 20 miles from Graceland, faded in
the mirrors. Wiley peered out the
window of the SUV, scanning the sidewalks for prostitutes and hoping to give
them a small care package of tissues,
lipstick, lotion, and some information
about A Way Out. We find them
dancing in the dark, she said, and we
want them living in the light. c

Hope Stansell (center) attends


a mandatory parenting class

jonathon seidl

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