Volume 76, Number 53 | May 30 - June 5, 2007

Villager photo by Jefferson Siegel

Brigitte Farrison in Union Square.

Vet is waging own battle to get her life together

By Jefferson Siegel

On Memorial Day the city was filled with the sights and sounds of remembrance. Small flags fluttered at the Eternal Light Monument in Madison Square Park; at the Vietnam Veteran’s War Memorial Plaza Downtown, almost two dozen vets lined up in formation to pay tribute to fallen comrades.

At the little traffic triangle of green space between Zeckendorf Towers and Union Square Park on E. 14th St., a memorial of a different sort caught the attention of passersby used to seeing panhandlers and the needy.

Brigitte Farrison sat on a milk carton, barefoot, her sneakers off to one side. Propped up next to her was a crudely drawn cardboard sign that caught everyone’s attention: “Tired of Prostitution. Need Money Please Help,” it read. Farrison sat quietly, holding a plastic cup half filled with coins and dollar bills.

An electronics specialist in the Army National Guard for eight years, Farrison, 41, said she left after having a nervous breakdown. She said she became addicted to crack cocaine and, unable to work, turned to prostitution to support herself and her habit.

For the persistently curious, Farrison had a small slip of paper that she handed out, recounting sexual abuse as a child.

“When you have sex with your father at age 7,” the crumpled paper read, “it tends to make you sexually traumatized.”

Farrison credits her boyfriend of three years, Carlton Phillips, for helping her quit prostitution and kick her drug habit. The two are homeless, living infrequently in the city’s shelter system. The system requires them to leave the shelters after 10 days for a two-day period before allowing them to reapply.

“We sleep in the train station,” she said, nodding her head toward the subway entrance. “This weekend, we slept in the park,” she added, pointing to the greensward behind her.

When asked what kind of reaction she had experienced since posting her sign, Farrison replied, “Some people want to know stuff about sex.” Others tell her to be proud, to stay off of drugs and avoid returning to prostitution.

Farrison would like to return to work in electronics, but for now, she said, “I just need some extra money to get myself stable.”

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