You’re listening to the Survivors’ Summer Season of the Trafficking Dispatch, a special series that interviews those directly affected by human trafficking in a brief amount of time. I’m your host, Victoria Erdel. In this episode, we’ll hear from a former pimp turned anti-trafficking advocate.
Welcome back everyone to our second Survivors’ Summer Season. For the previous survivor interviews we’ve had, we interviewed male and female survivors of sex trafficking, as well as the daughter of a labor trafficking survivor. For this episode, we’ll be looking at human trafficking, sex trafficking specifically, from a different perspective. Our interviewee for this episode, Armand King, is a former pimp who was involved in gang activity starting in his teenage years. Now, however, he is a co-founder of Paving Great Futures, an anti-trafficking organization in San Diego.
You might wonder why I interviewed him for this Survivors’ Summer Series if he was a pimp, not a survivor, of sex trafficking. Interviewing him isn’t meant to justify trafficking, but simply to begin to help us understand why some people become involved in it. If you’re interested in learning more before continuing on with this episode, I’d encourage you to go back to our third season and listen to these episodes: Episode 3 titled, “Child Soldiers in the USA,” Episode 8 titled, “Reforming Traffickers to End Trafficking” and Episode 9, “Working with Perpetrators of Trafficking.” Again, these are all in our third season. I’ll include links to these episodes in the shownotes. Now let’s turn to Armand, who may not be a survivor of sex trafficking, but is still a lived experience expert of sex trafficking in his San Diego community.
Victoria: So I watched a video interview that you did for KPBS about how you started Paving Great Futures. But for our listeners who may not be totally familiar with it, could you first explain what Paving Great Futures is, and then in as much or little detail as you want, how your own upbringing motivated you to found this organization?
Armand: Paving Great Futures is a local community-based organization here in San Diego. We have several programs that we run out of Paving Great Futures -- youth mentorship program, we have a women’s entrepreneurship program, we have a co-ed entrepreneurship program, and then we also have a financial literacy program. We do a lot of different events throughout the city of San Diego and intervention and prevention of gang activity and domestic human sex trafficking here in the city, [INAUDIBLE] drugs and other criminal activity that stem from the community that I grew up in. Which, we’ll kind of segway into why this program and this organization exist. It comes out of, you know myself, just living through all the not good lifestyle that come from street life. I’ve pretty much dibbled and dabbled in all of them. And being actually one of eight friends who -- let’s start all over. I had eight core best friends that I grew up with. At this current state there’s only four of us still physically alive. One of those four is really, really -- couldn’t take the stuff that we had to grow up through and he’s kind of lost his mind a little bit and got addicted to alcohol, it’s really bad. So, it’s like, he’s alive but not the same person that I grew up with. So pretty much all of my friends, not one of us had a father in the household. All of us grew up together and taught each other how to be men, how to be friends, brothers. And unfortunately the street was our father, so we followed the direction that it led us. And when I was finally able to get old enough to think about my past actions, how I was as a young man, and reflect and be just happy to be alive. Coming up how I come up, you don’t really have a true understanding of the value of life and how precious time is and just being able to be here on this earth. You don’t know it. That’s why it’s a lot of people from my neighborhood, it’s easy for someone to kill somebody else. Not because you don’t value them, but it’s really a deeper insight, you don’t value yourself, so you’re able to do other people wrong and bad. And mostly people that look like you, because of an inner hate that you have for yourself. So I grew up through that, got old enough to realize that what I had been doing to myself, my family, other individuals, both male and female, was wrong. I had already calmed down in life. I didn’t know what I was going to do with myself, and I realized how much my negative influence had on the next generation and younger people that were looking up to me when I was doing bad stuff. I had a big influence on them. I realized I had a pressure now, or a responsibility to do something better for them than what I had. I didn’t have an older male role model around me. Me and my friends, we didn’t have that guy that would teach us that being in a gang was wrong. That guy wasn’t there in our lives. There wasn’t anybody that taught us that getting involved in pimping was wrong. No one did that. Matter of fact, it was okay and a better thing when we presented that type of lifestyle to our elders. But there was never a male role model that I could look up to that guided me in the correct direction. So that needed to be created. Our organization came from realizing that there was a gap missing that was going to keep this cycle of people going into not good, unhealthy lifestyles. It’s going to continue to happen unless we created this change from within, with this respect that we had doing the negative stuff, but change that around, be the new cool by being good people and teaching people what was not taught to us. First, Paving Great Futures, 2012 we started doing the work. 2013 we actually got our 501(c)(3) nonprofit status and we’ve been non-stop ever since then.
Victoria: Alright, well it sounds like you guys are doing some great work, so thank you so much for doing all of that. I have a few follow up questions. The first is more about you. So you were talking about how growing up you didn’t really have that male role model to teach you that being involved in gangs or pimping wasn’t good for you or your community. So would you be willing to tell us more about that turning point of when and how you came to that realization that you wanted to go down a different path?
Armand: Okay, well I get asked this question frequently, and it’s kind of like we’re looking for a point like, “This just happened.” Or we’re looking for point for something drastic or dramatic happened. But I think it was actually kind of like a gradual process and it started when I was in prison. I was serving three years for a conspiracy charge that had to do with marijuana. I was in the feds, and two months before I came home, my younger brother was murdered by four kids on a shooting spree. So, at that point, right before I came off, even though he was younger, he was more of a mentor to me and taught me more than anybody -- my biological father, anybody that I’ve been around -- it was him. And his loss was kind of like a starting of me jolting back into reality of how easily life can be taken from you. From there, when I came home from prison, it was kind of just a process of me still not being able to mourn. It was a crazy couple of years. Just throughout that time, just locking myself away, being away from people, I ended up having time to grow and develop and think. And what happens is, when you’re in “the game” like myself and my friends, we got into “the game” early. We were like 16, 17 years old. So a 16, 17 year old with no guidance, all they know is the streets, is not thinking properly at all. So when you enter in at that age, male and female, as you get involved and you find yourself chasing after this carrot that’s really an illusion, but you don’t realize it’s an illusion when you’re in it. You're just chasing after this carrot, that carrot being whatever your prize is. Monetary, whatever it is you want. Just happiness, you’re chasing after it. You might get a little taste of it and that just inspires you more, and you keep going. But it’s on the end of a stick, you can’t get it. Then, by the time you look up, after chasing it for so long, you are not 16, 17 anymore. You’re 28. You’re 30. All of your potential school, college years seem to be gone, no work history, none of this. So it’s like, while you’re in it, you kind of realize that at points to and it’s like, “I can’t stop now! What do I have? This is all I know.” So it just motivates you to stay in longer. And then before you know it, you get old enough to really just look back. Like my mom says, a man doesn’t become a man until he’s 30. And if you can make it there and you’re alive still, you didn’t get a long time in jail and you can look and reflect on life, at your 20s at your teens, and you realize, “I was living an illusion.” I don’t know any retired pimps that actually made it out. Even the ones that appear and act like they’re on and happy, they’re really living lies. So, it’s not a good lifestyle, but you just don’t realize that unfortunately when you’re young and caught in it. So, it was a gradual process of being able to age out. To be able to really think and not fall for the trap that was around me. I grew up in a trap where the only options that I possibly knew were selling drugs, gangbanging, and eventually pimping. I didn’t believe I could do anything else, you know? For a young black man in America, sports, or entertainment, or rap and sing? I can’t do those things. So what other opportunities were there? So I went, unfortunately, young-minded, went for something that I thought was achievable, something that I could actually attain and have success in. Then I aged out, and in the meantime, I lost every friend, I was broke, busted, mad at the world, and that’s how you leave this game.
Victoria: Okay, yeah thank you so much for explaining that. And what you said makes a lot of sense. It’s not really one single turning point, you know like a “Eureka!” moment. Because, it can’t really be if you have a whole lifetime backing it up, it makes sense that it would have to be a gradual process. But going back to your organization, Paving Great Futures. I know of a lot of organizations that do a lot of different programs. They have one specific program that works on just human trafficking, and then they have another that works on another issue, like food insecurity. But it sounds like your organization has multiple programs and they all contribute to fighting human trafficking, is that correct?
Armand: Absolutely. So, when I got involved in the lifestyle, it wasn’t just a couple sprinkles of people here and there that did it. It was the biggest epidemic of domestic human sex trafficking in the United States. Seventy percent of my peer group all went into the lifestyle together. It was heavily promoted by media, it was in every rap song that we were listening to, it was on HBO. I can go on forever. It was like a heavily pushed influence on us at one particular moment. So the impact of human sex trafficking in my community, where I’m from, now being, this is 20 years later, of us not knowing anything really. There were a few people that were involved in the lifestyle, but then it became an epidemic. So we’re like almost on the second generation of this epidemic in our community. That’s a demographic of people that were [INAUDIBLE] and helping the people within our community. You cannot -- there’s no way possible, for us to have a program to help anybody in our neighborhood that’s not been directly impacted by human sex trafficking. That’s how big it was in our community. In two of our programs, we have the kids of survivors, we have survivors, we have former pimps, we have it all because we are them. They are my family, you know what I mean? We can’t differentiate, “Well you have this specific problem, you have that,” because we’re all been influenced by the same stuff. We have not a program to date, in seven years, that has not had survivors of domestic human sex trafficking. The women’s program we just launched was specifically for that demographic and we did that for a particular reason and it was needed. All of our programs have been fighting and helping and really, really relating and being people that are comfortable. We’ve had programs where it’s been people that were formally pimps and, you know the women in the game as well, we know each other. It’s like it’s a whole different subset. And I guess it’s that we are so close and it is our community, so it’s a different mind frame than I see in a lot of different, other areas. The understanding of what we’ve gone through is not out there, it’s not being spoken about. I go to these conferences and I’ve been to different meetings and I’ve heard people talking about my community and things that are happening in the community and people getting locked up, but no one ever comes into the community to teach us about this issue, to educate both males and females about what can happen going down these paths. That’s something that’s really, really touching me that I hear talked about but not talked to. You know, I’m in the trenches with the people and I still hear of the idea of getting into the lifestyle being flirted with. I talk to them every time I can but I know these conversations are happening in circles that I’m not in and people still want to get involved because they don’t know the devastation at the end of it. They’re not hearing or getting this awareness that the rest of the world is, the rest of the United States is, that suburban is getting.
Victoria: Got it. And I really like that holistic approach that your organization has and that you recognize that it’s a community effort and you need to cover all of the bases. To talk about another aspect of your work, I know that you also have your own podcast, Raised in Pimp City, and I’ve actually listened to it some. But you also told me that you’re about to release your own book. So could you tell us more about the book and what made you want to do this jump from podcasting to writing a book?
Armand: So the book was actually the first thing. It’s been in the works for a couple of years now. The beginning of the book -- a friend of mine who we’ll keep nameless right now, but she’s an amazing attorney that’s actually a prosecuting attorney, and she’s definitely involved in the [fight against] domestic human sex trafficking and human sex trafficking period, and labor trafficking -- it’s one of her big interests. We had become friends and just throughout our conversation and the different things that she was asking me as somebody extremely interested in human sex trafficking, but had only been hearing this one perspective and, you know the things that I was saying and that we were talking about, she hadn’t even heard in her years of research, and she had a lot of questions. And you know, you can have three people watching the same movie and come out with three different perspectives on that movie. If you’re just getting one perspective or two perspectives, you don’t have everything that you need to combat an issue that’s this important. She saw the value in what I said of my experiences, so we sat together and the idea of creating a book came about. What we were talking about could actually go to people and advocates everywhere, because this information is needed and valuable. So we looked at this process of basically asking questions. Things that I personally, that I grew up in that lifestyle, you know I’m very familiar with it. So it’s things that I take for granted that I would never think of another person wanting to know. It’s things like that that are in this book. It came through us working together and just breaking this book down to pieces. It’s an educational book. The plan is to have this being able to be used as a tool. It’s questions out there that I couldn’t even just answer if someone asked me the question, I would answer it and then just go deeper into it, deeper into it. And when I thought I was done, I had her question me even more: “Well, what do you mean by this? What do you mean by that?” Stuff I would have just figured anybody would understand, but it didn’t. The book goes very, very much so in depth in different categories on even just the mentality of a pimp when someone is right. It goes that deep and it’s the breakdown of how the explosion of domestic human sex trafficking happens here in San Diego. We end the book on really focused on solutions. We never want to end it with just a bunch of awareness and now you’re educated on this and no action items or things you can do. So far my book has been read by two college professors, one who’s a huge person in the anti-human sex trafficking movement as far as research. He’s gone through it, went through his edits, him questioning me on things. They ransacked the book, they destroyed the book to bring the quality and information out of me that I wouldn’t have just brought on my own, you know? We’re making sure this product and this book is a teaching vessel and can help save lives. I’m not taking this lightly, I’m not taking this as just an ordinary project. My heart’s in here and it’s real life episodes in here. And at the end of the book, I have several friends that survived the game 14 years, 20 years, that have added their own pieces to the back of this book. Yeah, definitely, definitely different.
Victoria: Yeah, I would love to read it. It sounds like a project that the whole anti-trafficking movement really needs right now. Um, do you know where and when it might be available for us to read?
Armand: Right, so you know I’m a self-publishing fan. It’ll be on Amazon. Everybody’s ordering through Amazon, Barnes and Noble. You use Create Space -- easy peasy, there it is. The book will be released, ok?
Victoria: Yup, well I am definitely looking forward to it and I would love to have a copy. Um, I want to go back to something that you said earlier about how you don’t want to just create awareness, but you want to give your readers actionable steps on what they can actually do. So this leads into my last official question. What is some advice that you have for young anti-trafficking advocates?
Armand: Ok, so recently we did a -- me and a couple of friends, survivor leaders, lived experience experts -- did a two-day training for USC grad students. It was a two-day and the most intense training I’ve ever experienced in my life. [INAUDIBLE] Someone else putting on the training -- I actually broke down and cried, it was so crazy. What we did was, to sum it up, all three of us represented a different perspective in the game. You have the john, the buyer, the pimp, or the exploiter, whatever you want to call him, and then you have the prostitute. So you have the three of us speaking on those different things, breaking down all of the imagery and all of the over sensationalized stuff that’s being pushed down your throats. And I’m speaking specifically to these young anti-trafficking movement people, whatever field you’re in, you need to get rid of the imagery that’s being forced down your throats. Find you, not just any lived experience experts, but get with people that can provide the perspectives of all three sides. I’ve recently added a fourth side, because you also have the law enforcement that’s involved in this movement, or in the game, too. They’re right there, the vice agents, they’re right there too. It’s like four wheels on a car. If you don’t have one of those wheels, how far is your car going to go? You have four legs on a table. If one of those legs, two of those legs are missing, you’re going to have a lopsided table, all the food’s going to fall off. You’ve got to have all perspectives at the table, okay? I may seem like, right now, when I look throughout the country the only person really outspoken from this former pimp side. But there are others out there willing, that I even know but I’m not really trying to have them come out there because this is like a new territory. I’m pioneering here and even sometimes attacked, but most of the time loved. But I don’t want to get the wrong person out here and they’re not mentally ready to deal because this is a new ground. Some people might be offended by my past. I hope not, we all should deserve the opportunity and the time to do better, and to be better people. But, young advocates, I would say to get rid of the imagery, get full perspectives, learn as much as you can. People claim to be experts that are putting up power points and beautiful presentations and pointing to these big numbers, and watch it, be careful. Check everybody’s data, don’t be a headline reader and take what you just read as the truth. Research it for yourself, break it down, because a lot of false information is being provided for you. And it sounds good, it sounds entertaining, but there’s a lot of missing features, okay?
Victoria: That was all stellar advice, that was great! Like I said though, that was my last official question, but is there anything that you would like to discuss or add that I didn’t bring up?
Armand: Can I ask you a question?
Victoria: Oh yeah, sure.
Armand: What got you involved in doing this particular podcast?
Victoria: So, the podcast specifically? Um, I had been interested in the issue of human trafficking for quite a while. I first learned the term when I was 13 but I -- I was 13, I falsely believed I couldn’t really do anything about it yet. When I was 19, I went to intern at an anti-trafficking organization in Asia. And I had a lot of downtime when I wasn’t at my internship, so I would listen to podcasts on human trafficking just to learn more. But the episodes were generally pretty long -- like 45 minutes to an hour -- so if I was like washing the dishes or something, it didn’t take me that long. So I would have all this extra episode footage that I still hadn’t listened to, and I was thinking, “I feel like there should be a podcast with shorter episodes on human trafficking, and I feel like there should also be one targeted at young adults and students.” Because the podcasts I was listening to, they were also targeted toward professionals, like law enforcement, lawyers. Like the episodes were very informative but they weren’t really relatable for me and their tips weren’t possible for me yet because I was still a broke college student. So I was like, “I wonder if there’s a podcast out there for young adults like me!” So I looked into it but I couldn’t really find one, so I was like, “Okay, I guess I can start it myself.” But then I thought, “Girl, you don’t know anything about podcasting.” But like you said, thanks to apps and the power of Google and YouTube tutorials, I kind of figured it out as I went. That’s basically how it got started.
Armand: There’s nothing you can’t do. It’s even easier right now. Get your voice out there. Whatever it is that makes you happy, there’s a way you can do it. One last thing, you made me think about it when you said anti-trafficking group you worked with. I just also want young, new advocates to understand that human sex trafficking, the way it’s used currently, is like a big umbrella with a bunch of different types of human trafficking that fit underneath that umbrella. They’re not one and the same. There are different lifestyles. There’s stuff that is happening like the movie Taken, you know you have [INAUDIBLE], you have all of these different forms in the porn industry, but they are not one and the same. They should not be bulked together. Learn them as individuals, and when you hear these numbers and hear these stats -- and they’re not breaking down those numbers, they’re not talking about those things -- so if you really want to know -- like, I can’t stress hard enough -- do your own research. Don’t take what this PhD, blah blah initials after it, just don’t take that for truth. For full truth. They may be all the way telling the truth. They might not even know. A lot of them just recycle information they’ve been taught. Okay? So, be careful.
Armand gave a lot of great advice and insight into the complexities of sex trafficking. In our next episode, we will bring you more information from another lived experience expert of human trafficking, so stay tuned for more!
In the meantime, you’ll have some time to reflect on what you currently know about human trafficking, and what you want to know. Don’t be afraid to investigate the complexities of human trafficking on your own -- we certainly have a lot of episodes to help you get started!
But if you want more direct inspiration, look no further than our next Audible Audience submission! This submission comes from Brittney Heffner in South Carolina. Take it away, Brittney!
Brittney: Hi, my name is Brittney Heffner, founder of WASH Foundation, a non-profit aimed to combat human trafficking by washing out lust, washing in grace, and washing with living water by raising awareness through education, providing free online courses, prison ministry, hosting events, international missions, and more. If any of these excite you, you can learn more about what we do and follow us on our journey by checking out our website: www.wash-humantrafficking.com. Again, that's www.wash-humantrafficking.com. On our website, you can learn more, book us to speak, read our blog, and join our WASH community! You can also find us on Instagram and Facebook: wash.trafficking. Join the fight against human trafficking by starting a conversation alongside of us. You have a part in this fight too. Thank you.
This has been the Trafficking Dispatch with Victoria Erdel. You can subscribe to our SoundCloud channel and tune into our next Survivors’ Summer Season episode which will be released on August 9th at 5 pm. Or, if you would like to interact with us before then, you can visit our website at thetraffickingdispatch.com, follow us on our social media accounts – our handles are below – or email us with any questions or suggestions at firstname.lastname@example.org. Thank you for tuning into this episode, and we hope you’ll tune in again to join the fight against human trafficking.
Paving Great Futures: pavinggreatfutures.org
Raised in Pimp City Podcast: anchor.fm/ripc
WASH Foundation: wash-humantrafficking.com/