Sasha had worked at the club since she turned 18. Her senior year included homecoming, prom, finals, and graduation. Before each of these life events, she would head to the club to dance. That money paid for her gowns, shoes, hair, and nails. Her junior year she had given birth to a beautiful baby boy she named Jamen. Her parents had kicked her out shortly after graduation because they could no longer handle the ups and downs with Jamen’s father, Thomas. Sasha picked up more shifts at the club after that because she wanted to do everything she could to make sure that Jamen was cared for and that she still was able to enjoy life. The club seemed to be her only option to do this and pay for their small one-bedroom apartment.
Three years later things started to go downhill. Sasha had plans to go to college and get a better apartment for her and Jamen, but customers were just not coming in like they had before and when they did, their tips for dances were minimal. On top of that, she was taking care of Jamen’s half-brother from his father, Tyler, because his mom was away at rehab and Thomas was just not responsible enough to take care of a 2-year-old. College, a bigger apartment, and a car did not seem like possibilities when she would look out from the stage and see just a few customers that she knew were not tipping.
Another dancer, Holly, felt bad and knew that Sasha was about to lose everything, so she stepped in to help. She quickly taught Sasha how to make extra by setting up “dates” after her shift was over. Simple, easy, and straightforward. She would leave the club at the end of her shift, head to the hotel for a couple of hours and then go home and get the kids ready for daycare so she could sleep.
For the next year, everything seemed to be going well. Sasha was making enough money to keep their apartment and care for both kids. She had Tyler all the time because his mom had relapsed again and she didn’t want him to go to foster care and be separated from his brother Jamen. Plus, she really loved Tyler like he was her own. Thomas never came around because he was living with another woman that he had a baby with. He did work through temp agencies and would give Sasha some cash once in a while to help out.
Sasha’s dad is a big fan of politics and would get enraged every time he watched the news, which was on non-stop in their house. She decided when her parents kicked her out that she would never watch the news again. She was, however, a huge fan of social media; it was a great way to add “customers” and keep in contact with everyone she knew. She had seen some crazy posts about people buying all the toilet paper and people being concerned about some cold called a Coronavirus but it didn’t really affect her life, so she didn’t give it much attention as she posted selfies and watched Tic Tok videos.
Three weeks ago she grabbed some cigarettes and snacks at the store, got her nails done, and paid her rent. She spent the last of her cash figuring everything was fine. She knew could make some money that night between the club and her regular that she was meeting at the hotel afterward. He had just gotten his tax refund which meant he would throw her a little extra cash.
Then her phone rang. She could not understand what the manager from the club meant. “We have to close by 8pm.” “The governor is closing all non-essential businesses.” “We have no idea when we can open again.” Within minutes of trying to wrap her head around what she was just told, the text message from her customer came. “Hey, I need to cancel tonight. I just got laid off so I can’t spend any money. Plus, my wife is now working from home and is going to be watching me, so I can’t slip away. Catch up next month?”
It was time to start hustling. Sasha started texting her regulars to meet up. Some never replied. One response came from a wife telling her that she had destroyed their marriage. One told her he wasn’t willing to risk it; she was probably infected from one of the other guys she messed with. Another offered to meet for less than half the normal fee, and not at the hotel because he wasn’t paying for that too. Sasha had a strict policy of no house calls.
She messaged Thomas. He needed to step up. She only had enough food for the next couple of days for the kids and her cell phone was going to be shut off next week. He just got his taxes back and he claims both kids because Sasha doesn’t file – most girls at the club don’t report the money they make there and you can’t really report your hustle money. Thomas finally replied a couple of hours later. He said he had no cash left, he just bought new furniture for his place, but his baby momma would get some food together to drop off for the kids.
As a last resort, she called her parents only to find out that both of her parents were laid off, her younger brother was on his way home from college after it closed and her grandparents were on their way to stay with them until this was done. The only help they could offer was some toilet paper they had stocked up on and some chicken nuggets from the freezer.
Sasha turned to the news to try to understand what was going on. It didn’t seem that bad to her, but all these states were shutting down and the president was telling everyone to stay six feet apart. Stores were running out of everything, and even with the “help” from Thomas and her parents, they only had enough food for less than a week. And soon she would have no phone.
Desperate, she messaged her customer back that offered her less than half at his house. She had messed with him for months, so she should be safe. He replied 20 minutes later. “Sorry Sash, Holly just left. She needed some cash to get her through this. Maybe we can hook up in a few weeks when things settle down and I am back to work.”
She only had one option left that she could think of. The guy that always came into the club after work covered in sweat that kept trying to hook up with her. Sasha always turned him down, but things are different now. Now she had to hook up if she was going to keep her phone on and the kids fed. She called him and it went straight to voicemail. About 4 hours later he texted her to say he was sorry and that there was no way he could hook up. He works at a warehouse and they are pulling double shifts six days a week trying to keep the stores stocked. He was too tired to even think of doing anything but crashing when he got off.
Sitting in her little apartment over the next few days, with the kids running around asking for snacks that she was trying to ration out, she watched the news – all the time. They talked about a stimulus package and expanded unemployment to cover independent contractors and self-employed. She watched the number of cases of confirmed Covid-19 increase daily and heard the leaders of our state and nation tell people to stay home, schools close indefinitely, and people being told to wear masks in public. Her anxiety increased, she wondered how she was supposed to tell the kids there was no food in a few days and if anyone even cared. She called a local church that had a food bank, but their message said they had shut down due to lack of food and for the safety of the volunteers.
That stimulus package sounded great, but they said that they will get the money direct deposited and that if the IRS doesn’t have your account information you will need to submit it online. Sasha doesn’t have a bank account to do direct deposit and she has never filed taxes. Since Thomas claimed the boys on his taxes he is going to get the money for them too, and she already knows he won’t give it to her. It will probably be months before her money comes since she will have to request the check. The kids need to eat this week. Plus, when her phone gets shut off she won’t be able to send them anything online to get her stimulus because she doesn’t have a computer or internet.
A couple of girls from the club work part-time jobs and file taxes. They also tell the IRS that they dance and they pay taxes on that money, so they will qualify for the expanded unemployment, but Sasha has never thought she would need to do that. On top of that, most of her money comes from her customers and no one claims the money they make tricking on taxes. Expanding unemployment to include independent contractors and self-employed will not help Sasha.
She decided it she was going to have to try her luck on the streets to try to find some dates. It was something she had never done, and she knew it was more dangerous. But she could not look at the kids and let them go hungry or end up homeless.
Then Sasha remembered something she saw a few days before. She had been on Facebook and saw one of the ladies that brings food into the clubs doing a video. The lady said that the video was specific to her friends at the clubs and she wanted them to know that their group, Peace Promise, had not gone anywhere. The girls could message her to talk if they were anxious, and if they had needs, they could ask and the Peace Promise Team would try to help.
Sasha decided, after being rejected by everyone else, she had nothing left to lose and reached out. She did a video chat with the lady and talked about all the stuff going on, how hard it was and how hopeless she felt. She fully expected the lady on the chat to simply say, “I’m sorry, we really can’t do anything” but instead she heard “Text me your address, I can drop off some basic items on your porch, and I will leave a grocery card with it so you can walk up to the store and get some food. Just be careful and disinfect everything. Send me the information for your cell phone bill and we will work on getting that paid because it’s not safe for you to be alone with 2 little ones and no phone to call for help if you need it. Let’s talk again tomorrow and see what else needs to happen for you to stay safe. Please don’t go out on the streets looking to make money, it’s just too risky. This is why we come visit every week, so you know we will be here when you need us. We care about you and we want the best for you. I will message some friends and see what else we can get together for you. Maybe some hand-me-down toys to keep the kids busy.”
Sasha ended the video chat in tears, saying she would really like to try going to church when it opens back up and maybe they could help her figure out how to get a different job, and a bank account so she can file taxes next year. She has never met anyone like the Peace Promise team before and right now she needs them more than ever.
Sasha is why we need your partnership more now than ever. More “Sasha’s” are just starting to reach out. They are feeling the weight of this pandemic in ways most of us never will. We are all stressed, thousands are combatting depression and anxiety, and a large portion of Americans are counting on their expanded unemployment and stimulus checks to kick in. But the population Peace Promise serves is still, in many cases, disqualified for these types of assistance.
They are looking to us. They are looking for HOPE. We might be their only HOPE.
While we know that many of you are living with uncertain circumstances right now, we also know that many of you want to know what you can do to help. The needs of the friends we work with are only going to increase and we need the funding to respond quickly to those needs.
That is why we are asking you to consider a monthly commitment to become a HOPE Giver in any amount you can. You can sign up through our donation link at www.peacepromise.org by selecting the re-occurring option or checks made payable to Peace Promise can be mailed to: Peace Promise; PO Box 1502, Mechanicsburg, PA 17055.