MA: Please help me welcome today’s guest-blogger, Joseph B. Haggerty Sr. Joe retired from the Metropolitan Police Department of Washington, D.C. after 35 years as a police officer, detective and later an instructor at the Maurice T. Turner Jr., Institute of Police Science (Police Academy). He is married and has six grown children, five boys and a girl, and ten grandchildren. He is currently the President of the Writers’ League of Washington and his writing credits include many short stories, articles and poems, which have been published in various newspapers and newsletters in the Metropolitan Washington area. One of his poems was recorded on a commercial CD as a tribute to the National Law Enforcement Memorial. Joe has also written several articles for government publications, which have been distributed nationally. He has been an advocate for victims of prostitution and pornography both as a professional law enforcement officer and as a private citizen. He is the author of two novels, Shame: The Story of a Pimp, which is available at Amazon.com, Barnes and Noble.com, or Borders.com and, of course, through the publisher Trafford.com. With his other novel, Pimpel, he is seeking a publisher.
It sounds like law enforcement has been in your blood for a very long time, but was that what you always did professionally before turning to writing, or did you have yet another professional life, as well?
JH: Way back when, before I became a police officer, I worked for Western Electric, which was known as the manufacturing arm of AT&T. I was much more into movies then, so I made up movies in my head and cast my various co-workers in the parts. I had one story about pirate hijackers in New Orleans where a Pinkerton man went undercover to expose who was really behind the thefts. Another was a war picture involving several of our soldiers being captured by the Viet Cong. One of the soldiers was a sailor, who the others thought was a coward and who eventually saved the whole group. I also had a western and a race riot. All of these topics were current at the time except the pirates, who seem to be current now.
In the early seventies, as a vice detective, I started working prostitution cases and quickly realized that arresting prostitutes was nothing more than a numbers game the police department played. The real criminals on the prostitution streets were the pimps. Pimps are biggest child exploiters in the world and, at that time, got the least amount of attention from law enforcement.
I had the biggest case of my career in the mid 80’s with the help of an Assistant U.S. Attorney who defied his office policy and presented my case to a Federal Grand Jury just under the radar of his superiors. Eventually he got consent and we presented eleven young women before the Grand Jury, all of whom had been turned out by the same pimp over a five year period. Only two of them were 18 or older. The rest ranged in age 14-17 years old.
I was sickened by the way Hollywood and television portrayed pimps and wanted to write what the prostitution streets were really like. Three times I started writing without ever getting past the second chapter. Then one night I started writing and it all came to me. I knew exactly where I wanted to go and how I wanted to get there. Shame: The Story of a Pimp is the story I wanted told. The book is fiction, but a lot of my experiences and the people I encountered are intertwined in the story.
MA: Why a novel? With all your experiences with real pimps and prostitutes, why not tell real stories about the gritty world of the sex industry?
JH: With Shame, I wanted to tell the whole story. I wanted to show his life from the beginning. His mother was a prostitute. As for his father, he really didn’t know. His mother would always say it was her pimp, but she couldn’t say for sure. As I say in the book, she would never admit Shame was a trick’s baby. I wanted to show how he learned the pimping game and how he developed his distain for society. How he became a pimp and how he learned from other pimps the best practices in maintaining your stable. A story like this cannot be written as a short story. It is far too complex, not just in understanding how a pimp works, but also in understanding how his victims fall under his spell. I also wanted to show the whole street, not just the women involved with Shame, but the other women on the street, where they came from and how they interact in the whole picture of prostitution.
I’ve written several short stories, poems and a novella about victims of prostitution. I’ve also written another novel, Pimpel, which is about two private investigators who specialize in finding runaways. If a sexual predator victimized them, the child’s family was offered an additional service that guaranteed the child would not be bothered by the predator again.
MA: You’ve got to have guts to take on a subject most people would find revolting, and then turn it into a novel…something many people look to for entertainment. Why prostitutes and their pimps?
JH: I’ve heard, on more than one occasion, write about what you know. I interviewed well over 5,000 prostitutes that came through the District of Columbia over my 27 years on the street. Although there were common denominators among many, each one of these young women had a different story. I had one woman who had done concerts as a cellist, who became involved with a pimp and was subsequently murdered, another who had been a criminal investigator with the IRS, worked for a pimp from Pittsburgh, another who had three children at the age of 13, another who had lost her virginity at the age of 13 by a trick.
I also interviewed many pimps, not just arising from arrests, but candid talks on the street. It always amazed me the things they would tell me, even knowing I was a cop. I had pimps report their women missing to me and, of course, some made pretty good informants.
My next book is going to be about a male prostitute (not a female impersonator). I probably don’t need to tell you, but other males, not females, use male prostitutes. There were many similarities between male and female prostitutes, but there is much more politics involved in arresting them. This particular character has worked the street, escort services and clubs and actually performed in porno movies. He has worked in establishments owned by organized crime figures and observed child porn being made. He later became a professional informant and worked for several different police departments across the country helping to solve murders, robberies and in identifying child predators. The book will be fiction even though the character that inspired me to write this story is real and is no longer among the living.
MA: Tell me more about Shame’s character.
JH: Shame is the protagonist and he is developed from many different pimps I encountered on the job. In the beginning of the story the main character is his mother, Latisa. She is my vehicle for showing the street before Shame becomes a pimp. The other main character is the street or the ‘ho stro’ as it’s commonly referred.
I’m not sure that you would consider anyone a hero in Shame. I consider the heroes in my story the women that fought back, the women who sought justice, the women that survived the sexual slavery that is prostitution.
Their strengths were how they survived. Their weaknesses were their emotions, lack of maturity, their need to be special, to be loved. Over 90% of these women started in the ‘life’ (prostitution) as juveniles. The average age of the juvenile prostitute is 14.
MA: This may be tough to nail down, but if your main character is really a “bad guy,” then who are the antagonists in the story?
JH: To Shame, his antagonist was the police. Of course, he always had a need to correct/punish his women when they broke the pimp law. The D.C. vice detective and the Detroit policewoman were really Shame’s folly, but in the end justice came from a much more deserving source.
MA: You mentioned that Shame and the other characters in the novel are based upon many different people with whom you interacted over a long law enforcement career, sort of composites of pimps and prostitutes. How close to real life do the characters come to actual people and situations?
JH: Latisa, Shame’s mother, worked for a gambling pimp who provided sex shows to lure in more customers. We had a local pimp in D.C. who did the same thing. The fate of Latisa and her pimp actually happened in New York to a prostitute and her man, not necessarily for the same reasons. In the book there is a group of pimps from California, headed by Demon. We had a similar group in Washington. This group used a human sized cage to lockup their women for punishment and terrorized them with a dog. I arrested some pimps who used a human size cage for the same purpose, but used a monkey to terrorize the women. I thought a dog was more believable. There are many other circumstances that actually occurred, but I changed the location and embellished the story a little.
MA: Beyond Shame, what’s next?
JH: As I mentioned before, I will be writing that book about the male prostitute, but I have another novel I plan to write about a former prostitute, who like many of the women on the street, was sexually molested as a child. She was a masochist and equated, in a strange way, pain with love or attention. She frequently broke from her curse, but would fall back into it when she felt abandoned or craved attention. Through some street ministries and the Catholic Church she was able to break away for good and went to college to become a nurse. While in college she is raped and all of her demons return.
I’m also planning to expand some short stories into novels and I want to publish a book of poetry about the street and police. I entered Pimpel, a short story called A Father’s Honor, an article about hurricane Katrina and two poems in the contests for the PSWA conference.
My plan is when I finally retire, which I hope will be next year, I want to write full time. I probably will not just do novels; I love writing short stories and poetry too.
I’m really looking forward to going to the PSWA conference and meeting so many of the talented and successful writers I’ve learned about through the PSWA website. I’m also hoping I can interest a publisher in my new novel. I will be bringing copies of Shame: The Story of a Pimp to the conference to sell.
Lastly, I want to thank Mike Angley for interviewing me and allowing me to talk about what I love to do, write.
MA: It’s my pleasure to have you on my blog, Joe. I recommend folks take a gander at Joseph Haggerty’s blog where you can learn more about his fascinating career and writing projects: http://haggertyswritings.blogspot.com.