By Dominic Desmarais
At the time of the new millennium, in the year 2000, Michele experienced a descent into hell. Traumatized by the death of two of her friends in a road accident in the Gaspé, she left for Quebec City. And there, she lost the best years of her life.
The man she fell in love with was involved in drug dealing and prostitution. She didn’t know about it: “I started dealing, because I was under the influence of bad friends. It didn’t seem that bad” says the young woman candidly.
She spent her evenings in a Quebec City bar supplying clients with cocaine. When the bar closed, she kept dealing out on the street. Then she would collapse into bed, exhausted, for a couple of hours. When she got up, it was to weigh and cut the drugs she would sell the next night. “I worked 7 days out of 7” she recalls, “under the threat of death from my boyfriend and his friend. I did that for five years.”
Her Body for a Quarter of a Gram
Michelle was too scared to change her lifestyle. She put up with daily beatings. One day she was caught by the police. Her troubles only got worse. “When I stopped dealing, he forced me to take PCP. He grabbed me by the throat and sent me out onto the street. I didn’t know that life, prostitution.” The young woman doesn’t want to name her boyfriend at the time. She is still afraid of him.
In 2002 she started her new career: prostitution. “I didn’t like it. I cried with my first client. I found it tough. He was great with me. He figured out that I wasn’t used to it.” Michelle worked day and night. Sometimes she was on the street; sometimes she waited for a call from her boyfriend, her pimp.
“He would call to say he had a client for me. I didn’t want it. I went to hide with a friend. When I came home, I was beaten. My clients were much gentler with me than my boyfriend was. They knew what I was living through. I told them that I was obliged to do it, that I didn’t want to. Some gave me $20 without having relations with me.”
Michelle gave the money from her clients to her boyfriend. “He’d give me a quarter of a gram of coke in exchange. I found that life really hard. I stopped consuming. But I kept on prostituting myself, because if I didn’t I would have died.”
Beat or Be Beaten
Michelle was the victim of violence daily. She was screamed at, threatened, and beaten. She was forced to beat up some of the other prostitutes, too. “I had no choice. My boyfriend wanted me to beat up my friend. I saved myself a beating for once. I broke her ribs,” she recalls bitterly. “When I didn’t beat someone up, I was the one who ate it. He buried a friend of mine, a girl that wanted to leave the world of prostitution. All those who wanted to leave ate it. He would beat them to death. I didn’t leave because I was scared. But I didn’t stop being beaten.”
Over this period of time, Michelle found refuge in music. She would sing at events. In 204 she won a first prize for excellence, awarded by the Saint Sauveur Maison des jeunes youth centre. It included a cash prize of $4,000. But it was a poisoned present: “When he found out, he grabbed me by my hair and yelled, “You’re MY singer. You belong to me.” I was beaten.”
This turn of events was the electric shock that led Michelle to abandon her miserable way of life: In 2005, her boyfriend went nuts. He tried to kill her. “He ran after me with a 12-inch knife. He broke my leg with a kitchen table leg. I ran away on my broken leg. I had no choice but to jump from the 2nd floor. He found me outside. He had his knife blade on my throat.”
Michelle endlessly revisits her huge psychological scars. She is treated at the Dollard-Cormier rehab centre in Montreal, where she gets help rebuilding her psyche after these devastating violent events. “Every time I receive my letter for victims of criminal acts, I cry” she says. She sobs just taking about it. She reflects back on her hellish years, and on the music that helped her pull out of it. She has written a song about prostitution, in which she labels clients as “vultures.”
Saved By Helping Others
Michelle ended up rebounding. She moved to Montreal to start afresh. With the love and support of her mother, she regained confidence in life. She does volunteer work with female victims of violence. She helps out at Dopamine, an organization that works with prostitutes.
“I’ve been a prostitute. I’ve been an addict. I was beaten. I want to help them. It’s a hard milieu. You have to know how to understand them. They feel that they’re safe when they’re with me. I don’t judge them.”
Michelle is slowly recovering from her five dark years. She had no idea how much time it will take for her to fully heal her wounds. She has just ended a relationship: “I saw that he was getting aggressive. When he raised his voice I was scared. I panicked. I cried a lot afterward. I don’t want to be demolished again. I’m just starting to get better.”
The young woman is pursuing her treatment and is looking for organizations to help that could use her experience. She wants to record an album. Michelle smiles like someone who has experienced a miracle. She thinks of all of her future projects. A nice way to stay optimistic.
French version on the Reflet de Société website