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Tracy's World

Inside the wicked web of a Charlotte pimp

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She could stay as long as she liked, Tracy told her, because he loved her. She was low on clothes, so over the next couple of days, he took her out and bought her some outfits, nice ones. It was all straight out of The Pimp Game Instructional Guide, by Mickey Royal:

"You rescue her from her nightmare temporarily and show her the fantasy that comes with you. She cannot receive the fantasy until she has decided to deliver you some reality. If she says she loves you, it should go in one ear and out the other. If she delivers something you can touch, like a cheeseburger, you then can touch her. Trust me. The deliveries will increase in value. She gets nothing without giving something."

The house on Grenelefe was all part of the mirage, a portal through which lonely and desperate young women passed on their way to hell. Eventually, they'd be shuffled off to an apartment somewhere to be kept under near-constant surveillance. In the beginning, the girls always thought they'd hit the jackpot, but the bill quickly came due.

Tabitha had sex for money, Tracy soon told Carrie. If Carrie wanted to stay, she'd have to do it, too, but just a few days a week. To Carrie, it didn't sound like too bad a deal at first. She recalled the first time Tracy drove her to one of the apartment complexes where the johns he called "the Mexicans" would line up when they saw Tracy's car pull in. Tracy handed her a condom. (The girls were always supposed to wear condoms. Only Tracy had sex with them without one.)

Tracy had let the first customer know that he could hit Carrie if there were any problems, and when Carrie panicked and tried to back out, Tracy told the man, "No fucky, fucky." The man promptly smashed his fist into Carrie's face.

"I felt like I had to do it," said Carrie, who was 16 at the time. "It was either I have sex and feel disgusting or get my ass whooped by two men."

That may explain the first time Carrie had sex for money, Howard's defense attorney pointed out while grilling her during the trial. But what about the hundreds of times after that? What about the 6 to 10 men she did a night?

By then, Howard was beating Carrie on an almost daily basis, and she was terrified of him, she explained to the jury. To Ron Simmons, a Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Vice and Narcotics Bureau detective, it all makes perfect sense.

"It takes place very quickly -- isolation, praise, building up," said Simmons, who has spent the past two decades helping prostitutes get off the street. "Once she does it the first time, he can turn around and say, 'You're just a freaking whore. You can't tell me you didn't like this. You think anybody is going to believe you? I'll go back and tell your mother. I'll tell all your friends, whore.'"

Most of these girls have been sexually abused, he says. For the first time, they're being paid for what they've been doing most of their lives for free. The sick and twisted rhythm of their new lives is the only security they've known.

"If you beat someone long enough with a stick, they'll come to love the stick," said Simmons.

"As hard as it is to comprehend when it would make sense to you and I to just leave, these girls become so dependent on these guys, their self esteem is so low they will take a butt whooping in a heartbeat just to be able to stay with a guy, even if they are not exclusively his. They'll say to themselves that he sleeps with the other girls because they're just little whores, but he loves me. She's willing to make a compromise just to keep the peace, just to keep that roof over her head."

"You'll start to dress her, think for her, own her. If you and your victim are sexually active, slow it down. After sex, take her shopping for one item. Hair and/or nails is fine. She'll develop a feeling of accomplishment. The shopping after a month will be replaced with cash. The love making turns into raw sex. She'll start to crave the intimacy and be willing to get back into your good graces. After you have broken her spirit, she has no sense of self value. Now pimp, put a price tag on the item you have manufactured."

-- From The Pimp Game Instructional Guide

Like Carrie, Tabitha Johnson was homeless, desperate and broke, owning only the clothes on her back when she met Howard and started working for him after friends abandoned her in Charlotte. But Tabitha was a woman in her mid-20s at the time, a decade older than most of the other girls. She had an addiction to cocaine and knew the game.

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