Friday, May 25, 2012

WHERE DO YOU LIVE?


“Where do you live?”
I get that question a lot as I’ve been getting to know the people of the Hartbeat Ensemble and their wider circle of talented friends and collaborators. They’re developing a theatrical production called, “Project Turnpike,” partly based on a book I wrote. As we discuss the schedule of upcoming meetings and rehearsals, someone is curious about how far I’ll have to travel to their studios on Pearl Street in Hartford.
“Where do you live?”
It’s a normal question to ask someone you’ve just met. But nothing about this is normal. I try to act like it is, like I’m completely there in the room when we’re discussing the play’s script, like I’m not wondering what will happen tonight .  .  .  when I go home. I’m not fooling anyone.
“Where do you live?”
These are smart, intuitive people. So when I’m vague in answering their question, I feel exposed – and a bit silly. So be it. That’s the way it has to be. Right now, only two people know where I really live. The two people who were compassionate enough to lend me a home when I needed a safe place to go don’t tell anyone I’m there. My name isn’t on any utilities. My mail goes to a PO box. And I sleep better knowing I’m off the grid.
It’s hard to live a normal life when you speak truth to power, corruption and evil. You pay a price. And constantly looking over my shoulder is the price I’m paying now.
My book, “The Berlin Turnpike: A True Story of Human Trafficking in America,” tells the story of several women who were victimized by pimps in and around Hartford. Like the play, the book exposes the truth behind the abuse these women suffer and the tyrannical behavior of their violent pimps. I want to help Hartbeat make this an excellent and accurate portrayal of what victims of commercial sexual exploitation go through. We all want to give these victims a clear voice so people will see them as the valuable women they are.
The book focuses on a man named Dennis Paris. He ran what he called an “escort” service in Connecticut for years. Except it wasn’t just an “escort” service. It wasn’t even a prostitution ring. It was human trafficking. In 2007, that was the crime he was tried for in Hartford Federal Court, human trafficking. That and “sex trafficking of a minor.” One of his girls he sold to men through ads he placed in the Hartford Advocate was 16. Another was 14.
As part of my research for the book I attended Paris’ sentencing in late 2008. It was there that I met his brother, Jaykuan, who defended Dennis to the very end . . . even as they led him off to Federal prison for 30 years.
Although he didn’t like the idea that I was writing a book about the case, Jaykuan seemed to be a nice enough guy. He lived in a pleasant Glastonbury neighborhood with his wife who was a Connecticut State Trooper. I wasn’t surprised that he would defend his brother. They shared very strong family ties.
At the time, I didn’t know that they also shared the family business.
The reasons behind my present seclusion started in 2011. Strange emails, texts, and Facebook postings started to arrive sporadically. Someone was angry with me and my book. At first, I didn’t think much about it. Human trafficking is a sensitive topic. It can polarize people. So I shrugged it off and kept plugging away at everyday life.
Then, on November 15, 2011, things got very strange. On that day, Jaykuan Paris was arrested for “promoting prostitution.” With his brother serving time in an Arizona penitentiary for human trafficking crimes, State and Federal law enforcement had been investigating Jaykuan for the very same crimes for at least two years.
According to the 35-page arrest warrant, Jaykuan Paris was also a pimp for several women in Connecticut. The women under his control told police that Jaykuan would beat them if they received “bad reviews” on “escort” service websites. The users of these sites, often men who refer to themselves as “hobbyists,” readily “chat” about the prostitutes whose sexual services they have paid for.
And like his brother Dennis, Jaykuan did not operate his business alone. He had a partner: his wife, Pearl Kelly-Paris, the State Trooper.
How involved was she? Very. On one occasion, Pearl met her husband at a motel in Rocky Hill – driving her State Police cruiser – and handed him a digital camera. He then proceeded to photograph the two of “his girls” along with his wife – the Trooper – to post in online “escort” listings. All three women, including the State Troooper, wore black lingerie and face masks for the photographs. The “escort” ads would then generate calls from men looking to pay for sex.
Together, the couple arranged “for the prostitution of several females, in some cases by means of force, fraud and/or coercion,” explained investigators, further stating that they regularly advertised in the “escort” section of several websites.
After the arrest, the intimidating messages only increased. I still don’t know the source, but I wasn’t going to wait out in the open to find out.
So now, I go to script readings and rehearsals. I try to focus on this great play the Ensemble is building. I know it’s going to help a lot of people. It will expose a truth that has been hidden for far too long. We will finally experience the full humanity of these incredibly brave survivors.
And I try not to think about where I live. When people ask, I just say, “Connecticut.”
Jaykuan Paris is currently free on $250,000 bond.

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