By Chuck Strouse
By Scott Fishman
By Terrence McCoy
By Ryan Yousefi
By Ciara LaVelle, Kat Bein, Carolina Del Busto, and Liz Tracy
By Pepe Billete
By Ryan Yousefi
By Kyle Swenson
In 1976, at age sixteen, Roxanne met a mechanic just out of the army. They moved in together, and in 1978 Roxanne gave birth to a daughter. She was working as a cashier at Pantry Pride at the time. "Yeah, I got them for a lot of money," she says. "Because I'm good with figures. I'd just leave the cash register open and when someone bought something, I'd be able to add it up real quick and put money in my purse. I'd come home most nights with $100 or $150." Eventually her thievery was discovered and she was fired. Short-term stints at other markets ensued. For a time Roxanne ran a dancewear shop on Biscayne that her parents bought for her. But business was never good, and she closed after about a year.
In October 1981, Bryan Falco walked into his parents' bedroom, pulled out the .38 Smith & Wesson revolver Rocco kept in a cabinet next to the waterbed, faced the mirror near the door that led to the patio, and shot himself in the head. He was 24. Roxanne, 21 years old and six months pregnant with her second child, says she "never cried. It was kind of a relief. He was a very hard person to get close to. But then, so am I."
Rocco and Gloria had already had a few brushes with the law here, but after Bryan's death they were arrested several times on drug charges. "They had made it okay. They just got greedy," Roxanne says. ("Rocco was the only unemployed bartender I knew who drove a Rolls-Royce," a neighbor recalls.) In late 1982, they were tried on cocaine-trafficking charges but were acquitted.
In 1982 Roxanne and her two children, Gina and Rocco Ernest, moved back in with her parents. "He was an asshole," Roxanne says of her husband, who she thinks is in Fort Lauderdale now. "He just wouldn't work." She supposes Rocco Ernest is with him; she hasn't seen or heard from her son, now twelve, in a few years. Sixteen-year-old Gina, who lives in Miami, recently gave birth to a boy -- Roxanne's grandson.
Meanwhile, the Falcos were having money problems. The house was lost to foreclosure. The family moved into an apartment down the street, and subsisted mostly on welfare checks, according to Roxanne. In 1985 she turned to hooking; "I don't know A it was something that was just there, and I did it," she says. She speaks of her four years with James, her first pimp, with almost as much affection as she reserves for her mother, daughter, and grandson. They met one afternoon when she was drunk and he was sitting on a bus bench. "He was just cute," she remembers with a smile that would be bashful were it not for the context. "I needed money, he needed money. We just got together. He had a room."
She and James had two boys, born in 1986 and 1987. Both children were taken from her by the state Department of Health and Rehabilitative Services (HRS) and put up for adoption; she hasn't seen James since he was sent to prison in July 1989 on attempted-murder charges. Rocco Falco disappeared one day in 1987. Neither Roxanne nor Gloria has any idea where he is. Family members back in Easton say the last they heard, Rocco was in Delaware.
Until about seven years ago, Roxanne says, she and her counterparts on the boulevard wouldn't even let anyone who smoked crack work near them. But these days, just about everywhere the majority of the prostitutes on the streets are addicted. (Though she smokes it, Roxanne says she's not crack-dependent. She admits to being an alcoholic.) A high percentage of hookers are also HIV-positive; during the past six months, voluntary testing of women arrested for prostitution by the Metro-Dade Police Department revealed 26 percent are infected with the virus that causes AIDS. Enslaved by crack, members of this new prostitute underclass are willing to work for whatever money it takes to stave off the jones, and are more vulnerable than ever to brutal pimps, crime, and disease. Most long-time prostitutes complain that nowadays it's much harder to make a decent living; desperate addicts have driven the prices down.
Despite repeated arrests, hookers are almost always back out on the street within hours or days, because prostitution charges are misdemeanors and aren't given high priority by law enforcement. With this in mind, Ernestine Stevens and other like-minded activists in northeast Miami thought it might be a good idea to target the clients. Since this past August, the names, addresses, and birth dates of men convicted of prostitution-related crimes have been displayed several times per week on the city's cable-TV channel. But the impact of that effort, too, is limited. Most defendants are able to plead no contest, and in exchange for a fine and community service, they keep their records clean and avoid television exposure.
Many people who work in law enforcement are convinced that the only way to put a stop to the cycle of degradation is to legalize the sex-for-money industry, require that prostitutes be licensed and submit to regular medical tests, and restrict the trade to one or more strictly delineated zones. Not surprisingly, that idea -- with its requisite suspension of moral and social taboos -- has never caught on with Florida politicians.