Jane, 41, is a Yale dining hall employee. She has four children — two sons and two daughters — as well as a two-year-old granddaughter, and she lives in Westville, although until last month she lived in Fair Haven. Jane has worked at Yale for three-and-a-half years.
And on Sept. 18, Jane pled guilty to prostitution.
Jane — whose name is being withheld in order to protect her privacy — continues to work in a residential college dining hall five days a week. After she was arrested, Jane said, she was the target of rumors and gossip, and she does not want to encourage any more whispered insults from her co-workers or neighbors.
“That was embarrassing and humiliating,” Jane said. “That’s not even my style.”
Jane was arrested at 12:45 a.m. on Aug. 22 during an undercover prostitution sting conducted by the New Haven Police Department. She was one of eight individuals arrested that night. Since that date, the NHPD has arrested 39 men and women in a series of high-profile stings aimed at eradicating the sex industry in New Haven. The latest of these stings occurred last Tuesday night, when five more women were charged with prostitution.
But Jane said she is not a career prostitute. She had only been arrested once, in 2001. She had a steady job at Yale with great benefits — health insurance for her family, dental care, a 401(k). And even with these safeguards, somehow, Jane could not escape the fate of so many other women in her neighborhood: being arrested for selling her body.
Although she maintains that she is innocent of the accusation, Jane pleaded guilty to one count of prostitution and was sentenced to one year of self-probation, allowing her to stay out of prison without having to check in with a probation officer. She continues to work at Yale, and she has moved to a new home in a new part of town that she hopes will be less violent and crime-ridden. But now, Jane faces her most difficult challenge: regaining her reputation and keeping her family together.
Jane always wanted to go to Yale.
Although Jane was born in New Jersey, she grew up in the Westville area of New Haven, and whenever she passed through the streets of Yale lined with stone archways and towers, she found herself in awe of the campus, which she said was “always beautiful.”
And Jane didn’t just want to go to Yale. She wanted to attend Yale Law School and become a prosecuting attorney. She liked “to get her point across,” she said, and she thought the law would be the perfect career for her to practice her love of argument. Studying prosecution at one of the top law schools in the nation was a dream she had for herself throughout her high school years.
“Yale was always popular, it was big,” Jane said. “It seemed like a lot of important people came out of Yale.”
But once Jane graduated from James Hillhouse High School in 1986, that dream was pushed to the wayside. Jane was pregnant with her first child, and she knew it would be impossible to study for a law degree while caring for an infant son. In the 1986 volume of the Hillhouse High yearbook, Jane’s picture appears next to a single phrase, “Career: Undecided.”
After high school, Jane worked at a myriad of jobs: She was a school bus driver, a bank teller, a maid, a chauffeur for Connecticut Limo. Her favorite job was working on school buses, she said. During that time between high school and now, Jane had three more children. And her fiance — the father of her first two children — was shot to death in the back a short time into their engagement.
Now, at least, Jane has the opportunity every day to experience the Yale charm she idolized in her childhood. She has worked in five different residential college dining halls since the beginning of 2005. Along with her benefits package, she enjoys working at Yale because she is a “people person,” she said.
While working in the dining halls, Jane always takes the time to be friendly and introduce new employees to the rest of the dining hall staff, said Rosa Ayala ’09, a student dining hall manager. She said Jane liked to joke around with her co-workers, but was also an “all-around hard worker,” often picking up a broom to sweep during every lull in traffic.
Jane said this is one of the most satisfying parts of her job, providing tasty food for students and tidying up after they finish.
“I like cleaning up, keeping the dining hall looking beautiful,” she said.
Plus, she said, the job is conveniently located in downtown New Haven — it is easy to reach and a nice part of the city, only a half-hour bus ride from her new home in Westville.
‘The lowest place you can live’
After being arrested, Jane moved from her boyfriend’s third-floor apartment in Fair Haven to her sister’s home in Westville. She said she could no longer deal with life in Fair Haven, a neighborhood ridden with drugs and violence.
“I hated it in that area. Oh, I hate Fair Haven,” Jane said. “That’s the lowest place you can live.”
Jane said her former street block was a hub of city prostitution, and she often drove by local women soliciting on street corners. One of Jane’s good friends has been arrested numerous times for prostitution, Jane said, although her friend contracted HIV from sharing needles. That is why Jane has kept herself away from the sex industry, she said — there is too much risk of contracting a life-threatening disease, especially in the drug-infested neighborhoods of Fair Haven.
Yale epidemiologist Mark Kinzly said drug abuse is exactly what has kept Fair Haven streets teeming with women looking to prostitute themselves for money. The city government needs to provide more rehabilitative services to female drug users if they are to get themselves off the streets. Until that time, he said, prostitution will continue to define Jane’s old neighborhood in Fair Haven.
Jane said she has tried her best to keep herself and her four children away from this culture of drugs and prostitution, but it is difficult, she said. Before she left the neighborhood, she said, she witnessed drug dealing and streetwalkers everywhere she turned. She said she wants something better than that for her children, especially for her oldest son, who she said has been heading down the wrong path.
“He wants to hang out with the bad people, people who don’t want nothing,” Jane said. “And I worked too hard for him not to want nothing.”
A tarnished reputation
Jane insists that it was her shorts that got her in trouble.
“I had on some little pair of short pants that I shouldn’t have walked out of the house with,” Jane said. “Those are my around-the-house short pants. They make my legs look big, and they were real short.”
Jane was wearing these shorts, her black work sneakers and a residential college hoodie when she left her home in Fair Haven late at night on Aug. 21 in order to walk to a local gas station and buy a pack of cigarettes, she said.
On the way, she said, she was stopped by a middle-aged man in a green car. He pulled his car up alongside her, she said, and asked whether she needed a lift. She told him she was going to the gas station. She asked him whether he was a cop. He said he was not.
That night, NHPD officers were planning the second in a series of undercover stings — the week before, “johns,” or patrons of prostitutes, were arrested by female officers posing as prostitutes on the streets of Fair Haven and Dwight neighborhoods. This night, they were performing a reverse operation — the undercover officers were male, and female prostitutes were their targets.
When Jane entered the man’s car, she said she noticed the tattoos running up his arm. He asked her whether she wanted to “party,” and she responded that she only wanted to go the gas station, Jane said. The driver of the car told her that a group of his friends were waiting for him at a bachelor party, Jane said. He offered her $50 to come back with him to a hotel room, and she refused, she said. She berated him for cheating on his wife, and she warned him that he could easily contract HIV from a prostitute, Jane said.
The driver of the car asked Jane once more whether she wanted $50, but he said he was not demanding anything in particular — he just wanted to “hang out,” Jane recalled. She said she considered, said she might accept the money, as long as they were just going to “hang out,” and nothing else, she said. He had not yet given her money and she had not yet taken it when she realized that the car was not headed for the gas station, Jane said. The car pulled over, another police officer showed up, and she was handcuffed and taken to jail, she said.
Jane said she never accepted the money. But NHPD Assistant Chief Peter Reichard said this claim cannot be true, although he declined to comment on Jane’s case in particular. Officers conducting the stings are trained on exactly what constitutes probable cause for a prostitution arrest — once money has been offered and accepted, the arrest may occur. Undercover officers know they cannot take an individual into custody until money changes hands. Every arrest during the prostitution stings occurred “by the book,” Reichard said, and after all, there are so many prostitutes on the streets of Fair Haven that there is no need to conjure up false charges, he said.
“We’re not looking to set people up,” Reichard said. “We don’t need to set people up. Right now, prostitution is at a high point.”
Four weeks after being arrested, Jane pleaded guilty to one charge of misdemeanor prostitution. She said she agreed to a plea deal following the recommendation of her public defender, Trey Bruce, who declined to give comment to the News. Jane said she maintains she is innocent of the crime, but Bruce told her that it would be difficult to go against the word of a police officer, she said. Jane received one year of self-probation. She can continue with her day-to-day life and keep her job at Yale.
But Jane said she is considering filing a civil suit against the police. She did not know the man whose car she entered was a police officer, and that is entrapment, she said.
After her arrest, Jane’s name, photo and date of birth were published by the city’s Office of Public Information, and were subsequently published in the New Haven Register, the New Haven Independent and the News. She watched her mugshot come up on the local evening news. This, she said, was the worst part — having her reputation tarnished for her family, neighbors and co-workers to see.
“Even my kids’ friends said, ‘Why did they do that to you, and why they have you looking like a murderer on TV?’ ” Jane said. “That was embarrassing. You know that is not of me.”
A future after Yale
The manager of the dining hall in which Jane currently works declined to comment on her situtation, but Dining Services Executive Director Rafi Taherian said he was not aware of the prostitution charge until the News informed him. He said he cannot say for certain whether her arrest would be a fireable offense, and he declined to comment further.
But Jane does not plan on working in Yale’s dining halls forever.
“I’m not looking to be working in a dish room five years from now,” she said. “I’m looking to be somewhere else. I’m gonna have something by the time I leave Yale.”
Right now, Jane’s hope to be “somewhere else” includes her current plan of becoming a trained chef. Working in the dining hall was the first step towards that plan — she often takes note of recipes she likes in the dining halls, then tries to recreate them at home for her family to enjoy.
Her favorite Yale dining hall dishes? Broccoli stir-fry and teriyaki steak, she said.